Just because it’s review week, it doesn’t mean that all those reviews have to be of contemporary work. Right? Right. So, I figured I’d jump in with a 19th century Gothic novel, because that seems fitting. So, let’s do this: Jamelah Reads the Classics: Brontepalooza Part 1: Wuthering Heights.
Before now, I’d read one Bronte-sister novel: Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. I read it for a class, and I loved every second of it. But for one reason or another, this also-very-famous Bronte-sister novel had eluded me before now. Because it is famous, I had some vague idea of what it was going to be like before I started it: sweepingly romantic with dark, brooding Heathcliff brooding darkly on the moors. And I would of course develop a crush on Heathcliff and all of his dark, brooding ways. (What? Like you’ve never had a crush on a fictional character before?) But then I started reading and I realized that, uh, wow. I was wrong.
My Barnes & Noble Classics edition has a critical introduction by Daphne Merkin, and it says, “The first thing you will notice about Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights … is that it is like no other novel ever written. It reads like the work of someone who had direct access to her unconscious — or, as the New Agers might put it, was able to ‘channel’ her unconscious. Perhaps the most striking triumph of the novel is that although it is a very particular fever dream concocted by one very specific and overheated imagination, it manages somehow to take over and become your own fever dream (which is, in essence, what happens with all great novels), the exact contents of which are hard to recall once you wake up.” I don’t know about all of that, because I mostly just found it weirdly constructed and hard to imagine why this supposed great love was so great.
It’s like this. Wuthering Heights is not told from the perspective of either of its main characters, nor in a third person omniscient voice. It actually begins with a male tenant meeting a very inhospitable Heathcliff, and then he gets sick, and then he gets the story of why Heathcliff is such a bastard from a servant. So yeah, the entire story is told to an annoying, kind of wimpy guy by a maid. I have issues with novels constructed around people talking too much, I guess. I always find this device false. I probably can’t quote verbatim things I said five minutes ago, so I doubt that I’d be able to pontificate for pages and pages about something that happened years and years ago with detail and exact quotations. I’m just never able to buy stories told this way. And yes, I get that it lends an air of unreliability to the narrative, which might perhaps be intended, but I still think there are better ways to do this, so whatever. I’m not getting the fever dream thing, in any case.
What of the love story? Well, okay, so Heathcliff and Catherine were childhood sweethearts and all, but really, I didn’t like either of them, so I didn’t care if it didn’t work out for them. I thought Catherine was kind of a self-centered bitch, and Heathcliff? Well, yes, he was dark and brooding, but less in a hot way and more in a total asshole way. It’s like, listen dude, I understand that you’re dark and brooding and really busy brooding darkly about your dark pain, or something, but do you really have to be such a dick about it? For fuck’s sake, go have some ice cream and a nap, Sparky. Good lord.
Anyway, I was not all that impressed with this particular Bronte-sister novel, perhaps because I was disappointed about the fact that it was so different from my expectations, but there it is. And seriously? Heathcliff is the most overrated literary hottie of all time.