Goodreads: Wuthering Heights
(From the Norton Critical Edition)
Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father. After Mr Earnshaw’s death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine’s brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries. The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this unique novel a masterpiece of English literature.
I read Wuthering Heights once several years ago and couldn’t remember a thing about it except 1) there was a creepy scene with maybe Catherine’s ghost coming for the narrator, 2) it had weird framing, and 3) I hated it. This isn’t much to go on when discussing the book, so I decided to reread it now that I’m older and wiser and all that. The thing is: I still kind of hate the book. The characters are selfish and cruel, and basically none of them are “likable” besides Nelly Dean, the storyteller (and maybe she’s biased). But I also appreciate the book a lot more than I did.
I dislike framed narratives in general because I always feel as if the “real” story is the frame and then the main story is actually a digression that I am impatient to have finished up, so I can see why I struggled with the frame in Wuthering Heights. It doesn’t seem particularly necessary, except readers can see Heathcliff, young Catherine, and Hareton through Lockwood’s more objective observations. (Still unpleasant, largely). The frame also kind of comes and goes, with Lockwood starting and stopping the story and even popping off to the city for a few months. I don’t love it, but I can live with it.
The other oddity of the story is that it is in two parts. A lot of today’s books have parts, including a lot of YA, but those parts also tend to seem arbitrary to me. Here, I get it. There are almost two separate stories, one about Heathcliff and his love Catherine, and one about the next generation. It turns out that the brief things I did remember from my first reading of Wuthering Heights all came from Part I. I was initially baffled at what was left to happen, but now I would almost say that Part II is the “real” story. Sure, all of it’s important, but Part II is about Heathcliff’s concerted attempts at bringing low families he believes have wrong him, by meddling in the affairs of the younger generation.
Heathcliff, and his hate, really ties the story together to me. I know people posit Wuthering Heights as a love story sometimes, but Heathcliff is a man obsessed more than anything. He was obsessed with Cathering (did he love her?), and he’s obsessed with acquiring both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange because he knows the families would despise his ownership. I found fascinating–and yet oddly one-dimensional in the way nineteenth century characters often are. I understand his current motivations, but there’s also the suggestion that he was just always bad, evil by nature.
I could go on; Wuthering Heights offers a lot to talk about. But I will end by saying I don’t know if I can ever say I “enjoy” the book. It’s fascinating because everyone in it is just so awful, and the stop of the characters’ passions loom so large, even when the action of the story is confined to only two English estates. It’s a masterpiece, and I recommend reading it. Don’t expect it to be “fun.”