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In Praise of the Classics: Wuthering Heights

Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief


A look back at an immortal classic.

Click HERE to read the intro to In Praise of the Classics

Click HERE to read about the brilliance of Anna Karenina

Click HERE to read an essay about, and like, Ulysses

Click HERE to read about the timeless beauty of Gone With the Wind

Click HERE to read about the ageless wonder that is The Brothers Karamazov

Click HERE if you think you’re man enough to read Jane Eyre

Click HERE to read about the cosmic brilliance that is The Iliad

Image Beware the Moors of Wuthering Heights

Anybody who suffered through four years of high school hell had to have experienced the joys of writing an essay about a particular novel. These largely subjective four to five pages involved offering subjective reasons for why a given book is so superlative, despite the fact that, to your teenage mind, the only thing “great” about these books was the size, and the fact that a textbook called them “classics.”  When my turn for this rite of passage arrived, I naturally turned to one of the quintessential authors for women: Jane Austen. However, I was late to the library, and all of the dog-eared and annotated copies of Pride and Prejudice had been taken. Thus, I had to settle on someone else, and as fate would have it, the book I ended up choosing was Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.

Though now I can only offer praise for this master-work,  back then I flipped through it with great reservations, wondering if ANYONE could trudge through the small print and odd dialogue. My hopes for enlightenment were also dashed by my high school journalism teacher (who shall remain nameless), who told me that Wuthering Heights was so horrible that I would be better off jumping off the roof right then and there.

It was through this inauspicious beginning that I got my first taste of one of the greatest novels ever written.

 

What is it about Wuthering Heights that can apparently drive a man to suicide? Well, that’s actually one of the themes of the book.  The novel starts with the arrival of a traveler named Lockwood renting a house at the manor, Thrushcross Grange.  Across the way from the Grange is Wuthering Heights, owned by the dour Heathcliff, who also owns the Grange.  Lockwood is mystified to see that Heathcliff is incredibly cruel to his daughter-in-law for some strange reason and asks a maid, Nelly Dean to tell him the story of the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights.

That is where the novel truly ramps up, with Nelly’s recollections of how all the characters came to interact and evolve.  In hearing this story we learn that Heathcliff was adopted by the kind Mr. Earnshaw and brought home to live with him and his two children, Catherine and Hindley.  Hindley immediately resents this new addition, as he feels that Heathcliff is trying to take everyone who is important to him, including his sister.  His suspicions are realized (to him at least) when Catherine falls deeply in love with Heathcliff.  Everything seems to be roses, until Mr. Earnshaw dies, leaving everything to his son.  Hindley returns to clean house, including making Heathcliff a lowly laborer.

Across the way from the Heights are the Lintons, the upper class members of society, and their children Edgar and Isabella.  When an accident leaves Catherine stuck at the Linton house for several weeks, she returns to the Heights as a respected young lady smitten with the Linton son.  After this the novel gets incredibly more complicated and to retell it all would take a severe amount of time. Suffice it to say there is a lot more rejection and madness that causes these two families never to be the same again.

So with a giant plot like that, why did I press on with Wuthering Heights at all?  Well for starters, surprisingly few people even know about it.  Emily Bronte was the youngest of the three sisters, along with Charlotte and Anne.  Charlotte is largely considered the most famous of the trio, having written Jane Eyre along with Shirley and Villette.  Anne also had two novels published, while Emily died before completing any other works.  That Emily Bronte was considered “the least known Bronte” made the novel more intriguing.

The relationships in Heights are what the novel is all about.  The deepest theme is how love can literally drive a person mad.  Through a diverse series of events Catherine and Heathcliff are very much doomed, much like Romeo and Juliet.  Catherine is cursed to love Heathcliff forever, despite the rejection that ultimately drives her to madness.  Heathcliff will always be haunted by Catherine, and his despicable acts are nothing more than acts of rage toward a world that took her from him.

In reading the novel I found myself incredibly drawn to the story of Catherine and Heathcliff.  For anybody who has ever fallen in love with someone who treated them terribly, they will relate to this tragic relationship.  Heathcliff becomes so consumed with revenge for the high society that he alienates the one person who ever accepted and truly loved him.  Catherine may seem, to many, to be a whiny damsel but she is very much a woman who is so in love that it hurts.  It is this dynamic, dealt with in such an unusual and compelling way, that gives Wuthering Heights its power. It’s never clear whether these two are truly in love or merely gluttons for misery, but either way you feel for them.

This idea continues into the later generations in the book, with the children of these characters: Catherine’s daughter, named after her mother but called Cathy, and Hindley’s son Hareton.  The destructive relationship of their parents seems to continue with these two, but you also see how Heathcliff and Catherine would have been if their love was pure throughout.

Books often achieve immortality for one specific character, and with Wuthering Heights that character is the despicable Heathcliff.  He’s the classic character you love to hate; you can easily see why women would be drawn to him, but he’s also an incredible bastard.  To say he’s misunderstood is an understatement; he’s not meant to be understood.  He lives a life of constant sorrow, and yet though the power is his to change this, he never for one moment attempts to change his life or his situation. It is this paradox that makes him such a worthy character for study.

There are many more things to delve into and discuss about Wuthering Heights, but not enough room to really go into detail.  Upon my first reading, I considered this novel as one of my favorite books of all time and it really holds up over the years.  The themes of love and loss are universal, even to this day, and that’s what makes this Emily Bronte book such a classic.  Do yourself a favor and go out and read Wuthering Heights but remember the old adage of the book, “Beware the moors!”

 

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Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief

Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.

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