I read this years ago, and enjoyed it far more then, as I recall, than I did this time around. But having just finished “Jane Eyre,” I very much wanted another story in the same vein.
The plus: mostly the prose. I just love the Bronte sisters’ style.
But that’s pretty much all this story had going for it, honestly. First (and biggest problem): almost everybody in this story is a terrible human being. The story revolves around Heathcliff, who is constantly referred to as a fiend, and his only redeeming quality is how desperately he loves Cathy. But does he actually love her? His kind of love is tantamount to hate. He wishes evil on everyone important to her, and I suspect that if she had chosen to marry him instead of Edgar Linton, they’d have grown to hate each other too. And for her part, Cathy is spoiled, histrionic, and incredibly selfish. Her only redeeming quality is equally her love for Heathcliff–but again, does she love him? She gives a reason why she marries Linton instead, with the intention of benefitting Heathcliff with his money, but I don’t think I believed her. It was more of an excuse to Nelly (who tells the majority of the story) than anything else.
Second problem: it’s so hard to keep everybody straight, for two main reasons. It’s a frame story within a frame story: some inconsequential neighbor comes to Wuthering Heights, sees the dynamic between Hareton, Cathy (the younger), and Heathcliff, and wants to know how such a trio came to be a family. So Nelly Dean, lifelong servant to Cathy the elder and then later to Cathy the younger, tells the neighbor the story. We pass from his first person narration to her first person narration, and sometimes during chapter breaks we revert back again. Even worse than that, the same names get re-used for multiple characters, or sometimes just similar names–and then they all inter-marry, so their surnames complicate everything. The Cathy that Heathcliff loves was born Catherine Earnshaw, but then she marries Edgar Linton and becomes Catherine Linton. Then she has a daughter whom she also names Catherine, so she too becomes Catherine Linton. Just to piss everybody off, Heathcliff marries Edgar’s sister Isabella Linton, and Isabella names their son Linton (first name). So he becomes Linton Heathcliff. Then Linton marries Catherine Linton, making her Catherine Heathcliff. Then there’s Hinley, who was Cathy the elder’s brother, whose son was Hareton, but there’s also a servant named Joseph, and all of them are equally brash and rude so it’s hard to keep straight who’s talking or what his motives are.
And yet, I finished it. There wasn’t exactly redemption at the end, either–nearly everybody dies super young. Like her sister, Emily Bronte likes ghost stories, so there are several implications of ghosts throughout the story. It’s also strongly implied that Cathy the elder’s ghost is what ultimately helps Heathcliff to peace in the end as he dies.
I guess I still liked the story enough to keep reading it mostly because of the Bronte turn of phrase. But I don’t think I’ll ever read it again.
My rating: ** 1/2
Language: none, obviously
Sexual content: none, obviously
Political content: none