As I recently wrote, The Bronte Plot had me itching for some actual Brontes. I decided to go with Wuthering Heights because it was shorter than Jane Eyre and thought that it would be more romantic.
This novel was published in 1847 when Emily was 29 years old. She died the next year (source). Emily and her sisters, Anne and Charlotte, all wrote and published novels while living at the secluded Parsonage in Haworth (source). The landscape that surrounded them inspired the scenery in all of their novels, which is exactly what an angsty teenager would love to read about (I’m not saying that I was an angsty teenager or anything).
And truly, as a teenager, I would have loved this love story.
This is the story of Heathcliff and Catherine, as told by Ellen Dean (or Nelly), the maid who helped raise Catherine at Wuthering Heights and then served her when she became mistress at Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff was found as a small child by Catherine’s father and brought to live at Wuthering Heights, the long time home of the Earnshaw family. Heathcliff was poorly treated by his adopted family, other than by his adopted father and sister, Catherine. He and Catherine were instant friends and were fiercely protective of each other. It only made sense that they would fall in love.
And they fell desperately in love. But of course, this was a marriage that wasn’t meant to be. Catherine and Heathcliff each married someone else and had children while continuing to pine for the other. The quotes in this novel are timeless and endlessly romantic.
I have spent so many years reading arguments over who was the most ideal man: Heathcliff or Mr. Rochester? I thought for sure that I would be in the Heathcliff camp – I knew him to be a brooding, mysterious, and passionate man.
And then I read the book.
Catherine and Heathcliff were both crazy — super cray. Heathcliff was an abusive cad who purposefully ruined people’s lives — even children’s lives. He used children for his own means, including his own son. He didn’t care to provide a better life for children than he had – he had custody of Catherine’s nephew and raised him like a feral animal out on the moor. He beat children, locked them in the house, and verbally abused them.
Catherine was a histrionic spoiled woman. She was exactly what you’d think of when you hear the words dramatic Victorian — prone to fainting and spending weeks in bed when upset.
The only sane person was Nelly, who was exhausted by the drama. She was constantly trying to reason with everyone and to talk some sense into them. She had no patience for what she saw go on around her and was always a straight shooter.
The themes in this novel were compelling – the inability to let go of a first love and trying to decide between what you really love and what is expected of you were the two that most stuck with me. And in all, this was an excellent novel to explore those ideas in a gut wrenching way.
But a man to want as the love your life? Heathcliff is not that man! Thousands of young girls have idealized him as the perfect man, which is preposterous and scary. I’m only hoping that it’s a desire that is snuffed out by truly wonderful partners.