By Amanda Grange
I'm probably being far too ambitious, but I'll try and post something every day about WH.
WH seems to come out of nowhere, like Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. With most works of art, it's easy to see a link with what's gone before, but WH is in a class of its own, I think.
Here are some things I like/find interesting about it.
Doesn't pull its punches - follows characters and their actions to their conclusions
Nature vs nurture debate. Does anyone know when this debate started? It's certainly clearly laid out in WH, when Heathcliff thinks, I'll see if one tree will grow as twisted as another with the same wind.
The 'preacher' dream reminds me of Kafka, but WH predates The Trial by (?) a lot of years
Effortlessly creates exactly the right sort of psychological climate for these kinds of characters to flourish a lot of years before Freud.
The last para - one of the most beautiful in the English language, imo
Sense of redemption
Btw, the story is based on Bronte family history. Can't remember all the details, but they had a relative in the past who had adopted a boy. The boy and old man loved each other, and the old man left everything to the boy, who had to marry the daughter of the house. The boy made the daughter's life a misery, because he was an awful character. EB changed the story, in that she made the boy and girl love each other. A way of empowering women, perhaps, and rewriting family history in a way which suited her?
1st 3 chapters
The story within a story is often criticised, but I think it works very well. It adds another layer of mystery, and allows for some very powerful images. I think the 1st person sets up the isolation of the book very well. As soon as there's a narrator, there's an extra person involved, almost a confidante for the character - at least, someone who knows and cares about them, but here Lockwood seems very isolated.
I love the atmosphere. The 'solitary neighbour', the 'wuthering' weather, and morose Heathcliff. I love the power of the writing.
I wish I could read WH for the first time again, because the opening doesn't give any sign of what's coming. The book appears to be about Lockwood.
(Joseph's speech: 'What are you doing? The master's down in the fold. Go round by the end of the lane (? I don't know laith), if you want to speak to him.' - 'There's no one but the missus, and she'll not open it if you make a din til night.' - 'Not me. I'll have no hand in it.')
I think curiosity is what keeps the reader reading in this chapter. The characters are unpleasant, but it seems like a traditional romantic set-up, with a likely outcome of the young woman escaping her awful relatives and blossoming with Lockwood. The unsettling part of this expectation is that we know Lockwood is also not very nice.
There's a kind of black humour to the writing, eg Lockwood mistaking the dead rabbits for cats. I think this is one of the things that gives the book its power. The language and incidents are not those usually found in a romance. It creates a tension in the book that drives it forward. Another source of tension here is that Lockwood is completely out of his depth, and keeps putting his foot in it.
The mystery aspects also draw me in:when Lockwood mentions Heathcliff's wife, we learn that she's dead. I think the book is interactive, which makes for an engrossing read. There's a lot for the reader to work out. Is Mrs Heathcliff's death the cause of all the hostility in the house? for eg. I think the advantage of the 1st person narrator is again evident. It's easy to empathise with Lockwood, who digs himself in deeper and deeper with everything he says.
(Joseph's speech to Cathy, when he brings in a pail of porridge for the dogs: 'I wonder how you can bear to stand there in idleness, when they're all going out. But you're nothing, it's no use talking, youll never mend your ill ways, but go right to the devil, like your mother before you.')
The mystery aspects deepin in Chapter 3, with the bedchamber Lockwood is given. Again, it's interactive. If Heathcliff doesn't want anyone in there, is it because his wife died there? It shares some characteristics with a romantic thriller - not as developed as in Jane Eyre, but they're there.
I think the flashback for the main story, and the names on the window ledge, Cathy's diary, is a stroke of genius. These are awful people, and the only way for a reader to become sympathetic towards them is to become involved with them as children.
(Working class note, following on from discussion on favourite romance thread. Cathy and Heathcliff are educated with the plough boy. Joseph takes on the role of father. There's a lot more interaction between the servants and masters in WH than there is in P&P, and they're treated very much the same.)
(Joseph's speech, when they go downstairs: 'The master's only just buried, and the Sabbath isn't over, and the sound of the gospel's still in your ears, and you dare be playing! Shame on you. Sit down, bad children. There's good enough books, if you'll read them. Sit down and think of your souls.' - 'Master Hindley, Master, come here! Cathy's torn the back off The Helmet of Salvation, and [i've no idea what pawsed his fit means) to the first part of 'The Broad Way to desturction.' It's dreadful of you to let them go on in this way. Ech! The old man would have whipped them properly - but he's gone.!')
The dream sets up an unnerving atmosphere, and prepares the way for Cathy at the window. WH is in part an excellent ghost story. Is the ghost real?
The mystery deepens as Heathcliff comes in. It's the strength of the writing I love here. 'What can you mean by talking in this way to me?' thundered Heathcliff with savage vehemence.
Savage characters, a savage setting - and then Heathcliff crying. I'm trying to think. Does the hero in any other romance cry? And not just a small weep, but 'an uncontrollable passion of tears.' This was one of the things that really grabbed me by the throat when I first read WH, and one of the reasons I think it's such a powerful romance. Love is at the centre of Heathcliff's being. Perhaps that's why people like reading about him, even though he's so unpleasant?
I am 50 pages into Wuthering Heights now, and while I'm not loving it, I certainly don't dislike it. I've pretty much adjusted now to the odd phrasings and syntax of that era, and am starting to be able to overlook the Victorian tendency to histrionics and hyperbole. The story thus far is intriguing, although Catherine is the only primary character for whom I can muster much sympathy. There is some very evocative writing; "..
for the whole hill-back was one billowy, white ocean; the swells and falls not indicating corresponding rises and depressions in the ground: many pits, at least, were filled to a level; and entire ranges of mounds, the refuse of the quarries, blotted from the chart which my yesterday’s walk left pictured in my mind."
And even some humor;" He fixed his eye on me longer than I cared to return the stare, for fear I might be tempted either to box his ears or render my hilarity audible. I began to feel unmistakably out of place in that pleasant family circle. The dismal spiritual atmosphere overcame, and more than neutralised, the glowing physical comforts round me; and I resolved to be cautious how I ventured under those rafters a third time."
And, describing Joseph; "He was, and is yet most likely, the wearisomest self-righteous Pharisee that ever ransacked a Bible to rake the promises to himself and fling the curses to his neighbours."