Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Review: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

There seems to me be only two schools of thought possible regarding Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights--it is either a work of genius rivaling the canon of Shakespeare or it is just plain bad. I happen to believe it is the worst book I've read in a long time, made only worse by the fact that an entire group of people think that it's brilliant.

According to the very superficial web search I conducted, much of the praise heaped on Wuthering Heights is given to Bronte's characterization of Heathcliff, a villain purported to rival Iago in spite and malice. (This comparison seems misplaced, however, as Iago had very little motivation to be an asshole and Heathcliff has the power of a broken heart fueling his rampages across the moors.) In fact, I have no problem with the character of Heathcliff--he is consistent in his behavior and poses no real problems to the reader. He's a cruel man and so behaves in a cruel manner.

No, my problem with Wuthering Heights is with one of the female leads--Catherine Earnshaw/Linton. Though she professes love for Heathcliff, she marries another man, is surprised when Heathcliff leaves town for three years as a result, goes crazy when he comes home again, dies, and then proceeds to haunt him. She's erratic and unstable, as inconsistent as Heathcliff is consistent. The problem comes in because she serves as one of the anchors of the story--for being absent for much of the novel, she plays a very important role in determining how the other characters behave even after her death.

This shifting anchor, in my opinion, weakens the novel's stability as a work of fiction. Furthermore, the story is funnelled through two very unstable narrators (Mr. Lockwood, a pompous London gentleman with little common sense) and Nellie Dean (a woman who seems to know what is right but is unable to stand by her convictions), which made the book a chore to read and a relief to finish.
In the words of George Barnet Smith in 1873, Wuthering Heights is "perhaps one of the most unpleasant novels ever written." The only good thing I can say about having read it is now I don't have to ever again.


nishitak said...

I wouldn't quite say that it was bad, I read it for the first time when I was a teenager and found it to be very romantic.

However, am now older and much wiser. And on rereading the book, couldn't help wonder how much my tastes have changed over the years...

I think it all depends on your state of mind at the time.

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

It's entirely possible that I would have LOVED this book if I had read it in high school. I loved Jane Eyre when I read it when I was 16, and now I think the story line is a little disturbing. I think I just get tired out by the melodrama required by the Gothic Romance genre.

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