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Amanda Grange

Emily Bronte
Wuthering Heights

73 posts in this topic

I'm very happy that I've finally read this. I started it once in my early teens and I couldn't get beyond the first few pages, but now that I have read it, I flew through it and enjoyed it so, so much.

 

It's certainly not a nice or a lovely book, but Brontë successfully isolates you in that remote setting with her characters and her words. There aren't many times when I have felt like I was in a place while reading, but this is one of them. She compels you to read.

 

Heathcliff is a fascinating and extraordinary character and everything about him fits with his surroundings, even his name. He is an outsider, but he belongs on the moors as much as Cathy, who is another extraordinary creation.

 

Regrding Ade's post above about Heathcliff's origin, I think he could have been Irish, though the famine that caused the mass exodus didn't happen until the 1840s, so too late for Heathcliff. He's referred to as having a gypsy's appearance, so perhaps he's of gypsy stock, or latin (it would fit with his tempestuous nature).

 

I thought the relationship between master and servant was interesting. It seemed more familiar than in Austen, possibly to do with the isolation from society. Ellen Dean was very much a friend to young Cathy and Edgar and wasn't afraid to speak on equal terms. And the fact that she was called 'Mrs' Dean interested me - I take it it was the done thing to call a housekeeper Mrs for the sake of respectability, like Mrs Danvers for instance.

 

Heathcliff's Cathy inhabits the second part of the book as much as the first, despite the fact that she's not physically present. It's here that the haunting nature of the book really comes to the fore, particularly when we are in company with Heathcliff. The joining of his soul with hers is one of the most powerful aspects of the book and how he suffers without her (he does, I think) is never really known by us. We're hearing of him from Mrs Dean and Lockwood, but imagine seeing it all through his eyes: that would have been shocking, probably too much so for the audience of the time. I wonder how they took to this watered down version of such a vicious, yet charismatic man.

 

Then we have young Cathy standing against him and his removal from society. He doesn't seem to have the heart to hurt her, though he says he wants to. It's interesting that, towards the end, we see more of her mother in her and Hareton than we saw before. It's also interesting that it's Cathy who is pitted against him.

 

It's an extremely complex book - my favourite kind :) - and there's so much to talk about with it. I agree that Emily, had she lived, would have outshone Charlotte. You can see her talent in just this one book. A new favourite and a new friend. :)

 

Now that I've finished it, perhaps Kate Bush will stop singing in my head. :)

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Hello to all lovers of Wuthering Heights. I just want to let you know that this novel has inspired a marvellous ballet of the same name. The choreography is by Kader Belarbi and the music by Philippe Hersant. Commissioned by the Paris Opera, it was premiered in February 2002. Composed as an opera without words, or a vast symphonic poem, it does justice to the novel.

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Composed as an opera without words, or a vast symphonic poem, it does justice to the novel.

How interesting! I'm not normally someone who goes to the ballet, but I did enjoy Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet when I saw it several years ago and I think I would be intrigued to see how they handle Wuthering Heights.

 

Welcome to the group, Nive. Perhaps you'd like to tell us a bit more about yourself and your reading on the Please Introduce Yourself thread?

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No, not the greatest... but an awful lot of people's idiosyncratic favourite, I'll grant that.

I always think the most astounding thing about Wuthering Heights is how it got written in the middle of all that Victorian omniscient realism. I last re-read it a couple of summers ago, and it really weaves a very weird web indeed.

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No, not the greatest...

Well, so says you, of course, though Phoebus would argue otherwise! ;)

 

It sounds like you'd have some clear ideas to contribute to the Greatest Novel thread, jfp. A question to which obviously there is no definitive answer and I suspect not even an uncontentious shortlist!

 

You can find the thread here.

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Yes, I should have added a symmetrical IMO to match Phœbus's...

 

I'll be checking the thread, David... but it may take some time... ;)

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No, not the greatest... but an awful lot of people's idiosyncratic favourite, I'll grant that.

 

Can you expand, jfp? The reason I said the greatest (not the most enjoyable by any means) is because it is a book that can change your life. Few, if any other novels, fall into this category but none other so frequently and for so many people.

 

I don't want to sound pretentious but the book is a riddle with the response but with no solution. Those that no longer search for it, are the most likely to find it. If you have experienced what I'm talking about then you will know what I mean.

 

Phoebus

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the book is a riddle with the response but with no solution. Those that no longer search for it, are the most likely to find it.

Gosh - I'm imagining you now in a small dusty cave high in the Himalayas with a little wispy beard and loincloth!

 

;)

 

I'd be quite interested if you expanded on that, Phoebus! There is certainly a mystical dimension to the book and it is emotionally charged in a quite extraordinary way, though as I noted earlier, far more in the first half.

 

As a book of personal significance I can see your claim for the greatest, though it didn't have the strength of impact with me that it seems to have had with you. I admire it hugely but I can't say it was life-changing. Perhaps I didn't read it in the right frame of mind? As I said, I'd be interested if you could say some more.

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it is a book that can change your life
I can't say it was life-changing

I'm slightly intrigued by the notion of a life-changing book... Does it merely change the way you think about your life... or does it involve the actual implementation of changes? I remember one book was life-changing for me in both ways, but it was something highly personal that I wouldn't want to develop here...

 

A friend of mine has a very personal thing with Wuthering Heights, and has been reading it again and again for years and years...

 

We don't need to read very far before we realise that this is a very different kind of Victorian novel:

[...] terror made me cruel; and, finding it useless to attempt shaking the creature off, I pulled its wrist on to the broken pane, and rubbed it to and fro till the blood ran down soaked the bedclothes [...]

I still can't quite believe the nastiness of that... Cruelty in the strictest etymological sense of the word, i.e. delight in drawing blood...

 

And yet, much as I admire it for its unconventional structure and its treatment of unbridled passion, WH has never cast its spell over me in as complete a way as it clearly does over many people...

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I'd be quite interested if you expanded on that, Phoebus!

 

On a very superficial level the book is just a love story, sold as well for children in an abridged form, but it is really a dark analysis of the psychology of human relationships, particularly sexual ones.

 

As an aside, implicit references are made at the beginning of the novel that Heath cliff (Catherine's alter ego) is the bastard child of Catherine's father, which would make Heathcliff the half brother of Catherine with the incestuous consequences that follow.

 

Each character represents an idiosyncratic type: Heathcliff the Bastard (pun intended); Edgar the Nice Guy, who could really take care of her; Catherine is the young girl's ideal of femininity (and sadly that of some older ones as well !). But does Catherine make the rational choice by choosing that man who would look after her best? Catherine is no Hamlet figure that is torn between reason and emotion ("Reason panders will") Reason does not pander will for Catherine. She is entirely irrational.

 

She chooses the person that is the most dangerous for her and it goes far beyond physical attraction - it is a need - to be abused. The ending is inevitable - it can be foreseen from the opening chapters of the novel - the true Greek definition of tragedy.

 

Catherine's actions and traits fall clearly within the psychiatric definition of a woman with a Histrionic Syndrome - often confused by modern society as representing a woman with admirable romantic traits.

 

The majority of people who read the novel believe that Catherine is a heroine deserving empathy for following her heart. This is the true tragedy. The dictionary definition of a heroine is "A woman noted for courage and daring action". But she follows her emotions blindly because she is weak - not because she is courageous. Neo-modern notions equate femininity with weakness. "Frailty thy name is woman" said Hamlet. An over simplistic interpretation of the novel only serves to prolong such stereotypes.

 

From the earliest of years we are indoctrinated into having an idiosyncratic perception of masculinity and femininity which are not entirely false but which are exaggerated- or at least perpetuated by false interpretations in literature. It is so much more complicated than that, that the reality fails to resemble what we have learnt at all.

 

The fact is, even when confronted with experiences that ought to destroy our naïve deep-rooted perceptions; we often refuse to abandon them - perhaps because they give us comfort in some way.

 

But then there is Wuthering Heights, when looked at in closer detail - a testament, to those prepared to see differently, that people ought not to function and think how we've been indoctrinated to believe.

 

I'm slightly intrigued by the notion of a life-changing book... Does it merely change the way you think about your life... or does it involve the actual implementation of changes?

 

Difficult question, jlp. My first response would have been that events follow differently in the sense that they would or would not have happened had the book not been read. But then I thought of accidently burning a cake because the book was so gripping and that simply doesn't work or at least it wasn't in this sense that I meant it to be taken, of course.

 

How about that it changes your perception of people and/or the world to the extent that it affects your decision making processes? In this sense I have WANTED the book to change my life although if I'm honest I don't know whether I have succeeded.

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Have to say I really enjoyed this. Far more than I expected to in fact. I went in expecting something similar to an Austen novel, books I really struggle to get into. Probably didn't help that many people do seem to see it as a simple love story between Heathcliff and Catherine.

 

However, there is something very dark and sinister always going on beneath the surface. Even though he's a complete git, and you know you shouldn't, you can't help but sympathise with Heathcliff's torment. Despite the fact that many of his actions later in the novel are utterly indefensible when looked at objectively, the way he is treated as an outsider in his use gives some sense that he is driven to them.

 

Certainly has to be taken as a very separate entity from the simplistic (and quite frankly naff) films that seem to get made.

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It's about time for a remake. How about dropping a word in the BBC's ear, Bill?

Richard Armitage would make a great Heathcliff and the girl who plays Marion would be a good Cathy - she looks right and they have brilliant on-screen chemistry. With a good script (I'm available :) ) it could be a definitive version.

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WH has never cast its spell over me in as complete a way as it clearly does over many people...

 

I think that sums up WH though. It does seem to cast a spell over people that is inexplicable. It is one of my favourite novels, maybe even my favourite, but I'd be hard pushed to say exactly why I love it so.

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Richard Armitage would make a great Heathcliff

 

Of course, Richard Armitage played the Edgar-nice-guy character in the re-imagining of WH that the BBC did a few years ago, Sparkhouse. With Sarah Smart playing the Heathcliff character and Joe McFadden playing the Cathy character. It was a very modern re-working but I enjoyed it very much. Even bought it on DVD. Fans of WH should pick it up.

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Not surprised that Webby got a shock on opening WH if he expected an Austen novel. Poles apart of course. Can you imagine Fanny Price at the Heights? Or Heathcliff blundering into a sermon by Collins or Elton?

 

I've been picking up what's been said on BGO over the past 2 years or so. Much astute comment and barely a dissenting voice to the verdict that this is a masterpiece. And we don't know why, not for all our exquisite analyses. WH points continually to the beyond, even though cast in Yorkshire clay. It has more in common with American lit of the 19th C - Melville, Hawthorne eg.

We couldn't write a WH today, not in our age of unfaith. We offer SF in its place.

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Thought I'd throw in my tuppence ha'penny:

 

Heathcliff is presented as a more lovable character as a youth - he inspires both the love of Cathy, and that of his foster-father. Despite his foul treatment by Hindley, the watershed seems to be when he overhears Cathy telling Nelly 'it would degrade me to marry Heathcliff'. It is true that Cathy's rejection (either at this point, or upon his return years later, with wealth of unknown ,and hence it is implied, dubious source) makes Heathciff hell-bent upon revenge upon the Earnshaws and Lintons. Although I agree that the character is largely despicable, I would argue he retains just a glint of humanity - he comments that he could have loved the lad (Hareton), were his father not Hindley. And Hareton, though he is neither favoured nor cherished, is not brutalised. There is a kind of parallel story going on, as Hindley, and then Heathcliff are both consumed by bitterness and hatred. In terms of character, the resemblance between the young Heathcliff and Hareton is quite striking. Finally, with the blossoming romance between Hareton and Catherine,the book ends on a hopeful note, with a seeming restoration of birthright and happiness in prospect.

 

As an aside : there are references to Heathcliff's swarthy complexion, and if we recall he was found as a waif on the streets of Liverpool in the late eighteenth century (a centre of the slave trade), could this imply that Heathcliff is of mixed race?

 

Another book (The Last of the Mohicans) implies that Cora Munro, the elder of the two daughters, is dark in comparison with her fair-haired younger half-sister, and was born when their father was stationed in the West Indies. Also Cora's romance is with a native American, Uncas, and as far as I can recall, the only voluntary inter-racial relationship hinted at in all of the five Leatherstocking tales. Could it be that J F Cooper drew up short of appearing to sanction love between a Caucasian and native American in 1820s manifest-destiny America? However if the subject were of mixed-race, that was kind of okay?

 

Both authors are very subtle about this - nothing is explicit. Though I sense that this might be the case (racial taboos will have been very strong on both sides of the Atlantic), I remain very unsure about it.

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As an aside : there are references to Heathcliff's swarthy complexion, and if we recall he was found as a waif on the streets of Liverpool in the late eighteenth century (a centre of the slave trade), could this imply that Heathcliff is of mixed race?

 

 

Heathcliff, although of swarthy complexion, is more black-hearted than negroid. Emily Bronte relies on the typical black-white Victorian stereotype, where black stands for demonic and destructive passion, the Dionysian as opposed to the Apollonian, qua Edgar Linton, full of domestic virtue.

 

A fascinating character, Heathcliff, and it is true he does have his sympathetic side. To some he has even been seen as the first working class hero! Nelly, I think, rather likes him and the reader certainly identifies with his dynamic strength - 'Edgar Linton, I'm mortally sorry, you're not worth knocking down' etc.

 

It would have been interesting to hear Emily Bronte being questioned about her intentions in creating her manic hero (A sort of Parky or Melvin interviews Emily). I'm sure she didn't really know quite what she was doing, that the whole thing was an outpouring from the unconscious, perhaps a rebellion against her constricted life on the Yorkshire moors.

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As an aside : there are references to Heathcliff's swarthy complexion, and if we recall he was found as a waif on the streets of Liverpool in the late eighteenth century (a centre of the slave trade), could this imply that Heathcliff is of mixed race?

 

I have the impression that Heathcliff was of gypsy stock - but, as I haven't read WH, my impression carries no weight whatsoever.

 

Of course, that would indicate racial stereotyping, too

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I have the impression that Heathcliff was of gypsy stock - but, as I haven't read WH, my impression carries no weight whatsoever.

 

Of course, that would indicate racial stereotyping, too

You might be right there (in both cases). As nobody knew where the boy came from and he came out of nowhere ....

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Well, I'm blowed if I can see what everyone gets so excited about!

Elsewhere we have mentioned that to really 'get' certain books you have to read them at a particular age.
I think my first exposure to Wuthering Heights has come forty to fifty years too late.

Starting with Lockwood in the first few pages, I found every character to be self-centred beyond belief, and I had no patience with any of them.
I guess I'm much too old to take seriously the obsessive passions of spoiled and self-willed teenagers, nor be impressed by the vindictive and violent adults they grow into.

What's love got to do with it?

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Well, I'm blowed if I can see what everyone gets so excited about!

 

Elsewhere we have mentioned that to really 'get' certain books you have to read them at a particular age.

I think my first exposure to Wuthering Heights has come forty to fifty years too late.

 

I read the book two years or so ago (whilst in my late teens) and found very little appreciation for it. I had the feeling at the time that perhaps I had come to it at the wrong age- thinking I may enjoy it more as I got older, so maybe I will never love it....

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Interesting.

I think I was about 15 or 16 when I read (and reread) Wuthering Heights. I went through a bit of a Bronte spell, and while I preferred Charlotte's novels, I loved Wuthering Heights in a totally different way.

It's still on the shelf, but I think I'll probably leave it there and remember it fondly.

 

What was the ITV thing like? I purposely avoided it!

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Ooh, just remembered, I read that it's Waterstones' biggest Classics seller due to the re-issue with special Twilight tie-in cover!

I admit to having a child-embarassment-inducing rant when I first saw the book sat there claiming to be "Bella and Edward's favourite"! :o

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