Dan

Emily Bronte
Wuthering Heights

36 posts in this topic

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."

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You're doing better than me, I find the writing a bit daunting, that Victorian? habit of never quite saying what you mean.  However, I will press on regardless interspersed with more modern prose.  :)

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I'm slightly farther on than you Dan and am enjoying it.  It does take a while to adjust to the Victorian prose but that's an attractive quality to me.

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Just got the book in from the library, WH seems a bit easier to read in paper form, surprise, surprise, can even turn back the pages to see what I missed without having to count.   :D

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I've started this, but not gotten very far.  Anytime a book opens with two misanthropes, I know it's my kind of book.  To be honest, I read this in my Advanced Placement English course my last year in high school and our AP test was on this book.  I've always liked it.  I'm looking forward to reading it again.

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Just finished chapter 11. I have been disabused of any notion of sympathy for Catherine, though I have developed some for Edgar Linton. He seems a decent enough sort, if a pure fool (as most men are) for a pretty face. I find in myself neither hope nor I'll wishings for the fate of any primary character, but only apathy. Only Ms Bronte's elegant and eloquent writing, and a certain admiration for Nelly the narrator, keeps me ploughing on.

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I have just finished four chapters and have a few points.

Firstly the first characters I read in the book was 1801. Emily Bronte was born in 1818 and wrote the book in 1845, so she set the the book way before she was born and more when she wrote it. An historical novel? Similar to someone writing a book in the 90s about the end of WW2? So not Victorian language, George the 3rd was king in those days.

Struck me how everyone was unfriendly when Lockwood visited, a strange and antagonistic welcome from his landlord and it hints at stories behind the occupants of Wuthering Heights.

The dense Yorkshire accent of Joseph hasn't changed much :)

Enjoying.

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I apologize for my imprecision, Clavain, though it was certainly written in the Victorian era. I was speaking of a tendency, which may have been even more pronounced during the Romantic era which immediately preceded Victoria's reign, towards melodrama, and characters being overwrought and overreacting to situations with emotional outbursts. It makes the scenes and characters feel unreal, and makes it harder for me to engage with them. But I have no way of knowing how the language used may have changed from 1770 or so during the childhood of Catherine and Heathcliff to the 1840s when Bronte was writing, nor how accurately she may or may not have reflected that change. But the overall 'feel' of literature changed in the late 18th century and that 'feel' lasted till the early 20th century. At least for me. And I am no scholar.

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Don't apologise Dan, I just thought it was interesting that the book was set nearly 50 years before the date she wrote it. Wouldn't know the difference between Georgian and Victorian use of language but agree the story sounds Victorian. I was just wondering if the settings and customs were more accurate for the time it is set.

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Maybe one our more scholarly members can help us with that. Nonsuch, you out there????? I'm also curious as to why she set it in that earlier time, as I often am when reading stories set in the past in relation to the author's timeline

Edited by Dan

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Maybe one our more scholarly members can help us with that. Nonsuch, you out there? I'm also curious as to why she set it in that earlier time, as I often am when reading stories set in the past in relation to the author's timeline

 

 

I've been roaming about on the internet to find information and this might be useful :

 

How could Emily Bronte write Wuthering Heights?

 

Scroll down to the second Question on the page.

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I am through chapter 17 now and am having a hard time seeing why people think this is a great novel. Some even say this is the Greatest Novel of All Time. I will freely admit that the prose is wonderful, and full of wonders. But these people are horrible. Not serial killer horrible, or genocidal dictator horrible, but just crappy human beings. Self absorbed, self centered, self important, cruel, spoiled and vindictive. It's all egos run amuck! And I know they all, well except for Catherine, received ill treatment at the hands of others. But maybe rising above that would be better than wallowing in it. Not sure I need any lessons in self inflicted despair. But I shall soldier on, hoping against hope that someone in these benighted clans, other than Edgar, will at least attempt to rise above this mean spirited muck.

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Love your review Dan, now I won't feel so bad if I don't like this book. :)

Edited by momac

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When I posted yesterday I had just spent a couple hours immersed in this book, reading the section between Heathcliff's return to Wuthering Heights and Hindley Earnshaws death, and, frankly, I was a bit sickened. I felt like I'd been confined in a room with a group of people who were either wildly flatulent, or attempting to mask a serious deficiency in personal hygiene with perfumes and colognes. The nausea I felt burst forth and I spewed my bile upon this thread. But, having breathed fresh air for several hours, and put some psychological distance between myself and that experience, I now see it in a slightly different light. For, while I might recommend to those folks a change in diet, a bit of sphincter control, or a devotion to bathing, I must allow for the fact that they may have Crohn's disease, or a spastic colon, or a severe problem with their indoor or internal plumbing. In other words, maybe they just 'cain't hep theyselves'. So, with a dedication to finding a window which can be opened, and with my perceptions set to pity and compassion rather than judgement and revulsion, I am ready to plunge back into that room.

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I'd just like to point out - not that I'm in charge in any way - that it's not compulsory to read this book.  If it's too much or you just don't like it you can pull out of the group read and go and read something else.  I'd hate anybody to think that they were stuck with this book until the bitter end because we are having a group read.  Life is far too short to be stuck reading a book you don't enjoy, I never do and I don't expect anyone else to.

 

I'm up to chapter 15 and finding that reading in short bursts is the way to go with this book.

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Oh, absolutely, Luna. Finishing books is a neurosis of mine, and only mine.Its a Dan problem. I never really feel I have the right to voice an opinion unless I finish the book.

And only because I read some commentary and it seems that things may change for the next generation am I really actually looking forward to finishing this

 

I don't think I would finish this one though, if it wasn't for the stellar prose;

"I put on my bonnet and sallied out, thinking nothing more of the matter. She bounded before me, and returned to my side, and was off again like a young greyhound; and, at first, I found plenty of entertainment in listening to the larks singing far and near, and enjoying the sweet, warm sunshine; and watching her, my pet and my delight, with her golden ringlets flying loose behind, and her bright cheek, as soft and pure in its bloom as a wild rose, and her eyes radiant with cloudless pleasure. She was a happy creature, and an angel, in those days. It’s a pity she could not be content."

It's paragraphs like this one, and they are many, that I hope I remember when I'm done, rather than the misery manifested on those moors.

Speaking of memory, I had my one and only clear memory of reading this book 45 years ago when I read this passage;

’There, I’ve found it out at last!’ cried Hindley, pulling me back by the skin of my neck, like a dog. ‘By heaven and hell, you’ve sworn between you to murder that child! I know how it is, now, that he is always out of my way. But, with the help of Satan, I shall make you swallow the carving-knife, Nelly! You needn’t laugh; for I’ve just crammed Kenneth, head-downmost, in the Black- horse marsh; and two is the same as one - and I want to kill some of you: I shall have no rest till I do!’

 

’But I don’t like the carving-knife, Mr. Hindley,’ I answered; ‘it has been cutting red herrings. I’d rather be shot, if you please.’

 

’You’d rather be damned!’ he said; ‘and so you shall. No law in England can hinder a man from keeping his house decent, and mine’s abominable! Open your mouth.’ He held the knife in his hand, and pushed its point between my teeth: but, for my part, I was never much afraid of his vagaries. I spat out, and affirmed it tasted detestably - I would not take it on any account.

 

’Oh!’ said he, releasing me, ‘I see that hideous little villain is not Hareton: I beg your pardon, Nell. If it be, he deserves flaying alive for not running to welcome me, and for screaming as if I were a goblin. Unnatural cub, come hither! I’ll teach thee to impose on a good-hearted, deluded father. Now, don’t you think the lad would be handsomer cropped? It makes a dog fiercer, and I love something fierce - get me a scissors - something fierce and trim! Besides, it’s infernal affectation - devilish conceit it is, to cherish our ears - we’re asses enough without them. Hush, child, hush! Well then, it is my darling! wisht, dry thy eyes - there’s a joy; kiss me. What! it won’t? Kiss me, Hareton! Damn thee, kiss me! By God, as if I would rear such a monster! As sure as I’m living, I’ll break the brat’s neck.’

It brought me to tears when I was 12, and again yesterday, because of my own formerly alcoholic father, whom I can remember being exhibiting behavior similar, albeit less toxic, to this.

Edited by Dan

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Have read a little bit more and am now reading about Mr. Lockwood getting the lowdown from the servant in his new home on what's been happening at the Earnshaw house.  Seems like young Catherine is a bit of a handful and Heathcliff is quite surly and brooding already in his early years, was surprised that he came to the house as a child that Mr. Earnshaw found.  He was referred to as 'it' by the other people in the house although favoured by the master. It will take a few more pages for me to become a bit more familiar with the cast of characters, Mr. Hindley being Earnshaw junior?

Edited by momac

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I have just finished Wuthering Heights, and I am glad I persevered through the depths of its darkness and thus apprehended the light which finally returned to brighten that haunted dwelling of the moors, and enliven the lives therein. But you couldn't pay me to inhabit that world again.

 

Praise be to the strong, steady, kind, and rational presence and guidance of Nelly Dean! For it was her influence alone which spurred young Cathy and Hareton to turn toward the light, rather than perpetuating the descent into darkness of their forbears. I think her love for Cathy and her wise counsel would have led to the young lovers escaping the bondage of Heathcliff's reign, even if Heathcliff hadn't exhausted himself from his vengeful machinations and allowed them their affair. And, of course, when I say 'lovers' and 'affair' I am not implying there was ever any physical intimacy. Wasn't nobody having sex nowhere within the confines of this book! Children just appeared by magic! In fact I don't recall there being even a hint that Catherine was pregnant during her madness/fever until she gave birth to Cathy and promptly expired.

I wanted to have sympathy for Heathcliff, who grieved so desperately for Catherine, but the cruelty, the vindictive bullying, the sadistic schemes for vengeance which were the expression of that grief, precluded the possibility for me. And not only did he not evince any remorse for his deeds, he denied he had ever done anything wrong! But the pages accounting Heathcliff's kidnapping and imprisonment of young Cathy, all to make certain she wed his ill starred son, whom she promised to marry anyway if the miserable bastard would just let her return to her dying father!, along with his treatment of his son and daughter-in-law, were among the most painful things I've ever forced myself to read, and were the truly unconscionable acts of a depraved mind.

 

I will always wonder why Emily Bronte chose to employ her remarkable talents, her absolute gift for evocative and lyrical language, and her rather impressive understanding of human psychology, in the service of this rather horrible little story. She could have written something which exalted the human spirit, but instead she chose to glorify the darkness and egocentricity which opposes the light.

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I read this when I was 17 and I guess I must be more bloodthirsty and vengeful than you are.  I identified with Heathcliff (let me say right now that I had a very happy childhood). I will let you know if I still feel that way when I'm finished with this reading.

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Well, even I couldn't fault his grudge against Hindley Earnshaw. It was everyone else he tried to ruin that bothered me. They were a matched pair of spiteful psychopaths

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I'm somewhere in chapter 17 and there does seem to be a lot of emotional upheaval for such a remote place.

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Just found out that it's Emily Brontë's birthday tomorrow. She was born in 1818

Well that is certainly interesting timing, Luna!

I am having a hard time getting Wuthering Heights out of my mind, which is, I suppose, one of the definitions of a great novel, though this feels more like an infection to me. And I can't help being struck by the chance aspect of Heathcliff overhearing only part of Catherine's soliloquy to Nelly about her mixed feelings after Edgar asked her to marry him. That one moment, when Heathcliff chanced to hear a negative comment, and chose to leave before he could have heard her professions of love, irrevocably changed the fortunes of those two families. Ah, the seemingly random nature of Fate!

As for my question of why Emily Bronte wrote the book she did I have a pair of conjoined conjectures. For one thing it seems she found happiness somewhat uninteresting. The 'happiest 12 years of my life' according to Nelly, the time between Cathy's birth/ Catherine's death and Isabella's passing, rate only a few paragraphs. The glorious freedom Catherine and Heathcliff enjoyed rambling on the moors, establishing that bond which each carried to their death, only gets brief mentions.(And is not utilized very well, at least for me, to promote sympathy and empathy for them, positive feelings I really could have used as a balance to their atrocious behavior later in life.) It seems possible to me that Emily found her own life, and the staid people in it, to be boring, and therefore chose to explore more passionate and conflicted ones.

And then there is the tragedy and loss in her life, which even for that time period seems extreme. In the first seven years of her life she lost her mother to cancer, and two sisters to TB, a disease from which she also suffered, and which took her life at 30, and killed her sister Anne a few month later. It seems likely that she felt a certain rage about these losses, and about a society in general which did not allow her the freedom or respect of a man, one so misogynist that she felt she had to publish under the pseudonym 'Ellis Bell' to be taken seriously. My guess is that she herself was not comfortable with the depth of her spite and so channeled it through Heathcliff and Hindley Earnshaw.

Further, it appears the the character of Catherine was an honest, if somewhat idealized, portrait of herself.

All of which leads me to believe that the writing of this novel was not a labor of love, but an act of vengeance against the cruelty and vicissitudes of life and society, and that having purged herself to some degree she could see at least the possibility of the triumph of light over darkness, and this allowed her to bring some semblance of peace back to Wuthering Heights.

But all this is,of course, merely my speculation as the result of an evening's musings. It is probable that those who have studied at length this book and Emily's life have vastly different interpretations. This is just me trying to find a way to heal myself of this novel.

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Am thinking that I'll not participate in this particular group read as I have done a fair bit of watching the US conventions, CNN news and newspapers telling of what's happening around the world, all of which have been a bit of a downer for me without reading about the malice and nastiness in Ms. Bronte's novel, although it's of literary interest.

 

However, there is an upside to this in that seeing the novel on printed paper made me realize that I miss 'real' books and think that more library visits are in order. The print and punctuation on paper seem to set out more of a word picture.

 

I still have WH on my reading table and will probably read some more but won't have much in depth commentary to add to the discussion.

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I just read through the original thread on WH, and found that most opinions diverged significantly from mine. So please don't just take my word for what's in this book, Momac!

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