I chose “Wuthering Heights” as my Barnes & Noble Classic for the reading challenge. It has been on my to-read list for years and I figured this was the perfect opportunity to finally check that one off. However, although I feel impressed with myself when I look at my list and see “Wuthering Heights” printed there, I am not a huge fan of the book.
To be fair, perhaps my distaste for the book came from my complete lack of preparation going into the novel. Once I started reading, I became painfully aware of the fact that prior to opening that book I had absolutely no idea what the actual plot was. I knew only that it centered around two characters, Heathcliff and Catherine, and their (perhaps doomed) romance. Naturally I pictured something more Jane Austen-esque and thought it’d be a happy story where a woman gets swept off her feet while out for a stroll. Not so.
“Wuthering Heights” is not a love story. It’s not even romantic. I have come to understand that many movie adaptations make the romance between Heathcliff and Catherine appear passionate, but the actual romance in the book is not passionate; it is better described as obsessive. The entire plot of “Wuthering Heights” revolves around two terrible people who have an unhealthy obsession with one another and do horrific things to the people around them, destroying many lives in the process.
I have never before read a book where I hated the main characters. Certainly I’ve read many where the characters annoyed me or I felt they were rather weak, but outright hatred is new to me. When Catherine died halfway through I was relieved until her death made Heathcliff even more despicable. Not that he was a great catch to begin with.
Now, I can sort of see why the book is so famous. In terms of realism, it is far ahead of its time. Emily Bronte does not sugar-coat the realities of that time. People were just as despicable then as they are now and often took advantage of one another for personal gain and not everybody had a happy ending. Not to mention there were many traditions and customs in place back then that certainly put women at a disadvantage (although referring to the unlawful captivity and forced marriage of a man and woman or the forced removal of a woman’s child from her custody as a “disadvantage” is certainly putting it delicately).
From the beginning of the book the reader is prompted to dislike Heathcliff. However, at the time when I was first starting the book I could not fathom a main character being so loathsome so I kept waiting for him to redeem himself in a Mr. Darcy fashion. Now that I understand the book is more of a Gothic romance, perhaps I will reread it and find new perspective.
And my final thoughts on the book: why did people in the Victorian era have such delicate constitutions? There are multiple instances in this book where a character faints as a result of a mild illness or else an emotional moment. I have to say: I’ve been pretty ticked off once or twice in my life and not once did I keel over as a result. No wonder 3/4 of the characters in this book only lived to their mid-30’s.