Read With Me: Wuthering Heights

Nadia's postcard announcing the next book for her Read With Me: A La Porte Rouge Book Club has been sitting on my table for about a week now, cheering me up every time I walk by it (I am so excited about this month's recommendation as it a book I have never read before-- eeeek!). Of course, every time I walk by it I am also painfully aware of the fact that I never did post here about Wuthering Heights- even though I had genuinely meant to. Therefore, dear Reader, (one must summon the Brontes however one is able to) today is the day I provide you with my circuitous musing on Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights.

The first time I ever read Wuthering Heights was in a Easton Press edition that exuded this aura of luxury: leather binding, gold leafing, silky ribbon, thick and creamy pages, and some gorgeous fabric lining its end pages-- it was the perfect way to experience the book for the first time. It was the summer I turned eighteen and I sat there holding the book, luxuriating in the feel of it all when Cathy's ghost scratched at the window and I found myself completely transported and seduced by the story. When I was younger I loved the Gothic atmosphere of the tale, I swooned over Heathcliff, and found myself prepetually annoyed by Linton and Cathy. It was an odd set of emotions really because like many other girls I knew, we felt that Cathy didn't deserve Heathcliff in some way (hail the twisted teenage sense of fascination with tormented souls) and we were happy when she died (one of the innocent mistakes of youth, seeing death as so much more remote than it is). In the end, I finished the book liking Heathcliff and liking the tale, but taking most of the sheer enjoyment of it from the binding of my copy rather than from any sort of sublimity brought on by the text.

But age and the experiences of life do change one (no matter how much we like to pretend otherwise, sometimes) and in this reading, I found a great deal more substance than I did in my first. I think what really captured me this time around and made me love the book was the sheer struggle of all of them- the way Cathy did love Heathcliff and wanted to take care of him by marrying Linton, and also the way that she managed to love Linton, too- in my youth I could never understand how one could love two people at the same time and now I do-- and I felt for her more in realizing this because she loved them each for different reasons and with different parts of herself. Heathcliff is still a fascinating character to me and I found that I did still sympathize with him this time around if only because I could see the heartbreak and the darkness in him more than I ever did before- to feel so betrayed, so markedly different, to let the villain in one take over and possess all-- it's absolutely relate-able if only because it's sometimes very tempting to do the same. 

I think, however, that the character of whom my opinion was most strongly changed was that of Linton. The very first time I read Wuthering Heights Linton drove me to distraction and I couldn't see why Cathy would marry someone so weak and driveling, someone so devoid of personality- and reading the book now, I don't know how I ever thought that of Linton, how I managed to miss his goodness and patience, his quietude and strength of character. Indeed, having such different feelings for Linton really changed how I viewed the book as a whole because, for me, it called greater attention to the ways in which the characters were trapped and were struggling against their choices, as well as their fates.

For really, therein lies the beauty of Wuthering Heights: in the struggle to live purely in a world which can give us such heartbreak and try so stubbornly to break our spirits. Like Tess, Cathy, Heathcliff, and Linton (and subsequent off springs) all struggle against the norms and mores of their culture and classes, of what the world tells them they ought to be and feel, and what they really are-- only with the exception of Linton, I'm not sure that any other characters come near to have a fraction of the grace of Tess.


Anonymous said...

I love Wuthering Heights, and I've found in my various readings my own opinion and response has changed in very similar ways. It's awesome to see someone express so neatly how I feel as well.

Mary said...

As always, thanks, Amber Lee! I always find it really interesting how my opinions, and those of others, change over time when in comes to the books we read- sometimes I think they're like emotional and educational height marks on the walls of our minds, these impressions. Again, thanks!