Want to read with me? Follow this link to view the list and pick a book (or a few!) to read along with me. I'd love for this project to be collaborative, and will post anyone's thoughts beside my own.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Is Mr. Heathcliff a man? If so, is he mad?

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Wuthering Heights is a story of torrid love, violent hatred, revenge, passion, and one very small community in England. The story is told from the perspective of Mr. Lockwood, who is renting Thrushcross Grange (the neighboring estate to Wuthering Heights) from Heathcliff. Mr. Lockwood pays Heathcliff a visit at Wuthering Heights, and is astounded by the rudeness with which he is received. Heathcliff is a rather savage man, and the only other occupants of the house are a servant (Joseph), a gruff young man (Hareton), and Catherine Heathcliff, a young woman who we discover was married to Heathcliff's son, who is now dead. After Lockwood's horrendous visit to Wuthering Heights, he returns home to Thrushcross Grange. The housekeeper at Thrushcross Grange, Nelly, used to work at Wuthering Heights, and when Lockwood falls ill after his return, Nelly relays the story of Heathcliff's torrential past in full to Lockwood.

Wuthering Heights used to be owned by the Earnshaw family - Mr. Earnshaw and his daughter Cathy, and his son, Hindley. The family is getting along well until Mr. Earnshaw returns home from a trip with Heathcliff. Mr. Earnshaw found Heathcliff, a boy of seeming gypsy heritage, on the street with no family and decided to adopt him. Mr. Earnshaw spoils Heathcliff, to Hindley's dismay, and breeds discontent in the family. Cathy loves Heathcliff, and they frequently play together. When Mr. Earnshaw dies, Hindley relegates Heathcliff to the position of servant in the house, much to Cathy's dismay. Cathy continues to rebel with Heathcliff, spending most of her time contemplating running away with him. After Cathy and Heathcliff get caught out in bad weather, Cathy is taken in by the neighboring house (the Lintons) who own Thrushcross Grange. While there, Cathy develops a friendship with Edgar and Isabella, the Linton children.

Heathcliff disapproves of Cathy's new friendship, and resents Edgar. Cathy confides to Nelly that she has been seeing Edgar, and that she has accepted Edgar's marriage proposal, and Heathcliff overhears. He disappears for two and half years. Cathy and Edgar are married. (Hindley married a woman, Frances, but she dies after giving birth to their son, Hareton. Hindley resents Hareton because he is too grieved by the loss of Frances, and refuses to educate Hareton or bring him up as he should.) Nelly follows Cathy to Thrushcross Grange after the marriage, and Heathcliff suddenly reappears. After a few weeks of renewed friendship and passion between Cathy and Heathcliff, Isabella falls in love with Heathcliff. Cathy is jealous and resentful, mocking Isabella and revealing Isabella's feelings to Heathcliff. Edgar is horrified at this news, and almost comes to blows with Heathcliff.

Cathy is distraught after the confrontation between Edgar and Heathcliff, and she starves herself into a fever. Isabella runs off with Heathcliff and they marry. Edgar disowns Isabella and shuns Cathy for a few days. Too late, it is discovered that Cathy is dying, and just before her death, she gives birth to a daughter, Catherine. Heathcliff is distraught after Catherine's death, and Isabella bears the brunt of his grief. Heathcliff savagely maintains Isabella as a prisoner, treating her with malice, not affection. Isabella eventually succeeds in running away, and she gives birth to a son, Linton Heathcliff. 12 years later, Isabella dies, and Edgar is called to London to her deathbed and to retrieve Linton and raise him.

Edgar brings Linton back to Thrushcross Grange and Cathy meets him briefly, but the very next day, Heathcliff takes Linton away from Edgar. Catherine is restless with her confinement (as per her father's orders) to the Grange, and eventually discovers and befriends Linton, much to Edgar's dismay. They sort of fall in love, and exchange a series of very passionate love letters. Edgar disapproves of the match, but Heathcliff forces them together for his own financial benefit and to punish Edgar. He captures Nelly and Catherine at Wuthering Heights and forces the marriage. Edgar dies, and Catherine escapes from the Heights just in time to say goodbye. She is then forced to return to the Heights, where Heathcliff delights in making everyone miserable. (Hindley drank himself to death earlier in the story, leaving himself completely indebted to Heathcliff, ergo, Heathcliff is now master of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange.) Linton (who was sickly for his whole life, and of a very delicate disposition) dies. Catherine and Hareton strike up a bond (she tries to help him educate himself, after having scorned him and made fun of him for years for not being educated) and eventually fall in love. Heathcliff dies (Finally) after starving himself during an illness, and Hareton becomes master of both the Heights and the Grange. Lockwood returns after a few months away to hear the end of the story from Nelly, who is delighted at the way things have turned out. The book ends with Lockwood looking at the side-by-side graves of Edgar, Cathy, and Heathcliff.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

Let's see... First impressions of this book were excellent. After reading Ulysses I was thrilled at the dark humor of the beginning of the story, and overjoyed to find a storyline that followed a generally clear narrative arc. As the story wore on, however, I found myself frequently confused by the various generations and near-incestuousness, not to mention a little bored with the "who's passionately in love with who" now details. On the whole, I did like it, and would recommend that others read it, as it certainly has a unique style and parts of it are truly enjoyable.

- I really kind of hated the relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff. I mean, they had all of this unrealized potential, but they never truly dated, and Cathy was SO condescending toward Heathcliff as the story wore on. Not to mention the fact that Cathy and Heathcliff are both TOTALLY BONKERS. (Which they are. Completely off their rockers.) I mean, Cathy is a complete spoiled brat, who starves herself or throws herself into fits of hysterics every time she doesn't get her way, and Heathcliff just threatens to kill people or ruin their lives every time he doesn't get his way, and together they are just a whole kettle of crazy. If the book was about the two of them falling in love and getting married, who knows what their children would have been like, or if they would have killed each other before they got that far. I just didn't believe Cathy when she claimed that "If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it." That's a lovely turn of phrase and all, Cathy, but the fact of the matter is, you seemed to get along just fine with Edgar when Heathcliff disappeared for 2+ years. Oh, and when you follow up those statements with things like, "My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I'm well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary."

Um... that's really not what I'm hoping for in life - a love that is "a source of little visible delight, but necessary". What a winning description of passion! Cathy goes on to say, "It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now" as well as "He does not know what being in love is". I'm glad she has such high opinions of the man she claims to love so desperately. On the whole, I found Cathy to be a woman not worth desiring.

- Heathcliff, as mentioned before, was equally with faults. He imprisons women (with some frequency, I might add) abuses them physically, appears incapable of loving anyone but Cathy, and even there he seems to love with a sort of voracious and parasitic passion, and spends most of his life trying to make everyone around him absolutely miserable. I liked Heathcliff in the beginning of the book, but found very little to redeem him in the later chapters. I felt no true empathy with his character, and could not even mourn Cathy's loss with him.

- I think my biggest complaint about this book would be that there seem to be so many "stock" characters - the tenant/narrator, the tried and true servant who is right throughout the novel but to whom no one listens, the staid husband who is boring but loving, the silly fool of a little sister who makes a big mistake. Cathy and Heathcliff (though mostly detestable) were truly the only interesting characters in the whole book. I found Cathy Linton (or Cathy 2, as I like to call her) to be in some ways, even worse than her mother. She was spoiled completely rotten, and though she cared for her father, Nelly, and even Linton, she was such a jerk to everyone at the Heights that even Hareton's attempts to befriend her went unnoticed until the very end of the book because she was too busy feeling sorry for herself.

- I wanted to like this book because (a) it's so dark and twisted and gothic and cool and (b) because there are SO few women writers that got published at that time, but it was really mostly a let-down for me. I've got to reiterate what I said in my last post to Joyce - if you're going to write women, write them well or not at all. I'd rather be left out than misrepresented.

Also, on a random note, there are usually anywhere from 3 to 6 quotes in contention for my post titles. This was the first book where I spent over an hour just to come up with one, and I wasn't even really wild about the one I chose. It's from a letter Isabella writes to Nelly after she's returned to Wuthering Heights married to Heathcliff.

- Oh, and seriously. Does no one else live in the whole country? We have to marry the next door neighbors, and then our children have to marry each other? And what's with Cathy 2 and Linton Heathcliff? Now we're just reusing our last names and our first names - no originality allowed, eh? And what is Heathcliff (the elder)'s first name? We never get it. Nor do we ever get his back story. Or his medical history, which would most certainly have clued us in to those anger management issues.

Well, sorry this blog's not more enthusiastic. Like I said, I wanted to like this one. Also, I really need to get better at noticing the clues for these 19th century "oh my goodness by the way the characters were pregnant and then POP out comes a baby" moments. Reminds me of when I missed the rape in Tess of the D'Urbervilles. Mom told me it happened, and I was all, "Really? But there were just some long paragraphs about flowers and seeds? Where did the rape scene happen?"

But that's later on in the list! Off I go, to the Count of Monte Cristo!

With a swash and a buckle, tah tah.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Longest way round is the shortest way home.

Ulysses by James Joyce

Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
So, I'm not entirely sure I can say with any certainty what "happened" in this novel. Here's my best assessment of events that actually happened/facts that I garnered. The book begins with Stephen Dedalus, a young man in his 20's, in Dublin, Ireland. He lives with his friend Buck Mulligan and another friend, Haines, in an abandoned castle. After they have a little breakfast, Stephen goes off to work. (He's a teacher.) We leave Stephen here and join up with Leopold Bloom, our true protagonist. Leopold Bloom has just woken up when we encounter him, and he goes out to get some food for breakfast for his wife, Marion. While he's out, we learn that he and Marion have a daughter, Milly, and that he's having an affair with a woman named Martha (or at least that's what he knows her by). He's using the pseudonym Henry Flower. (Haha, get it - Bloom? Flower?) Bloom then goes to a funeral - Paddy Dignam's - and meets up with a few friends, other middle-aged men from the city, including Simon Dedalus, Stephen's dad. We find out that Stephen and his father are sort of estranged (Stephen's mother has recently died of cancer, and for some reason Stephen feels responsible. I think he was in Paris when he found out she was sick, and didn't immediately return.) We find out later on that Stephen has several sisters, and that his family is very poor. Stephen does not live with them. We also find out at the funeral that Bloom's father, Rudy, commit suicide, seemingly after the death of Bloom's mother. Bloom also had a son, Rudy, who died. (I'm not sure how. Not sure whether we find this out or not.) Bloom also sells advertisements for a living. Bloom goes to work for a bit, then eventually we rejoin Stephen as he debates philosophy and Shakespeare with his pals. Bloom gets it on with a girl who is lame (Gerty) [note, lame as in physically disabled, not lame as in uncool] and may or may not have relations with a widow named Mrs. Breen. I can't say for sure. Bloom also goes out drinking, he has a wild and crazy dream sequence, and then he eventually makes his way home with Stephen. They talk and debate for awhile, and then eventually Stephen goes home. Bloom sleeps with his wife for the first time in over 10 years (since Rudy died) and the story ends with Marion's recollection of the day when Bloom proposed to her.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here

Caveat: Heads up, readers - this book was pretty bawdy, so I will be making some references and allusions that are not so kid-friendly. If you are of a sensitive nature, feel free to skip this entry.

Well, hello, blog enthusiasts of mine! Guess what? I finished it! I actually finished reading Ulysses! Now granted, I had a little help from nature, what with the 4 snow days I had last week, but still - this was no small challenge. I'd like to take a moment to thank all of the people who encouraged me to continue reading. This was definitely the hardest one to get through so far, and I couldn't have continued without the support of a few key people.

In terms of gut responses to this novel, I would say that I alternated between loving, hating, and being utterly confused by this book. I'm not sure what Joyce wanted us to get out of it, but I'm happy to share what I got out of it. Also, I want to recognize the fact that I did not use any additional sources (other than the occasional dictionary reference) to understand the book. I recognize that this limited my ability to understand it, but I also wanted to experience it as a "traditional reader" would. I know I missed some of the Ireland/Dublin political references, and I didn't even TRY to get the references to the Odyssey, because, let's face it, I just didn't think they were obvious.

Things I liked about this book:

- I loved the dream sequence. It was trippy as hell, and I really don't know what it was supposed to represent, but Bloom is accosted at various points by different women he sleeps with (including, at one point, a group labeled the "Sluts and Ragamuffins"), he's named King of Ireland at one point, he's put on trial by all of the women, and there's basically just an overwhelming amount of hilarity and completely bizarre occurrences. Bloom also undergoes frequent imaginary costume changes, which are extremely detailed and completely absurd.

- I enjoyed the "Budget for 16 June 1904" that he created. It includes all of his various expenses for the day, and also tells the story of the entire day from beginning to end.

- I loved the dialogue between author and reader at the end of the book, where the narrator started asking questions and answering them. He asks questions like, "What object did Bloom add to this collection of objects?" (Answer: a 4th letter received by Henry Flower) and follows up with questions like, "What pleasant reflection accompanied this action?" (Answer: That three women liked looking at his face that day (Mrs. Breen, Miss Callan, and Gerty, the lame one)

- I liked that Joyce used so many different literary forms to express the contents of one single day in the life of Leopold Bloom. He writes in stream of consciousness from Bloom's perspective, in play form, in question and answer format, in descriptive narrative, in lines of music, and in a completely uninterrupted stream of thought from Marion Bloom's perspective.

Things I did not like about this book:

- I did not like that it was so unbelievably difficult to understand.

- I did not like when he stopped using punctuation entirely in the last chapter. I suppose there was some purpose to this (letting us feel the complete flow of ideas from Marion as she, I'm not sure about this, but I've been told it's the case, orgasms) but I just didn't really get why he did it.

- I did not like that there were long sections of the novel where I understood what was going on only because my parents have cultivated an insane vocabulary in my brain, as well as provided me with an understanding of most allusions. I recognize that I am by no means "normal" in this regard, and I kind of resented understanding those passages, as my idea of a great author doesn't include trying his absolute hardest to make sure only the "academic elite" understand what you're trying to say. I'm all for elevating people's vocabularies, but I just felt like I was part of some "old boy's club" of Joyce's, and I didn't really enjoy the entry requirements.

- I did not enjoy the fact that much of this book is about a bunch of Irish men and their attitudes on life, and that their wives are often depicted as crazy, needy, or a lot obnoxious. This is a common problem in the classics I've read so far. Even the women writers tend to box our sex in - unnecessary! I am not to be defined by a few lines or a sweeping generalization, thank you.

Things I thought were intriguing/did not understand completely in this book:

- I thought that the deaths were intriguing (and really defined the relationships between people, in that the funeral was what brought Bloom in contact with Simon Dedalus and his other buddies) but didn't really get explained or probed in the book. Bloom lost his father and his only son, Stephen lost his mom, Simon lost his wife, and I still don't really know much about how any of those characters felt. I mean, we get glimmers here and there that reference moments or feelings, but I found that Joyce's writing style made character development difficult to comprehend as a reader.

- Like I mentioned before, I had a really hard time fitting any of the Odyssey onto this book. (1) I wasn't really sure if it belonged there. I know the book is called Ulysses, but it's also Joyce's book about Leopold Bloom. I didn't want to plop a huge allegory on the novel while trying to get a feel for Ulysses. (2) It's been a while since I read the Odyssey, so I'm rusty on the details. (3) I get that Leopold Bloom was on a "journey" through Dublin, and that he gets drunk and hangs with his buddies, and kind of comes home with his son (Stephen Dedalus isn't his son, but there's a paternal feeling toward him and he's about the right age to be his son, if a little old), kind of like in the end of the Odyssey when Telemachus and Odysseus initiate Odysseus' return to Penelope. And I suppose the whole not having relations with Marion for 10 years is like the 9 years that Odysseus spends away from Penelope, and the fact that she ultimately decides to remember when he proposed to her instead of thinking of leaving him (which she considers, as I think she's having an affair with Blazes Boylan, a friend of Bloom's).

I feel like I'm mostly just muddling further into the mire here, so I'm going to stop analyzing and wrap it up. Basically, I didn't hate it as much as I thought I would, but I still don't think that it's accessible as a novel AT ALL, which severely lowers it in my esteem. I don't think every person should be able to read every book, but I also don't think you should write books for a handful of people. It's snotty.

In closing, I would like to add that I don't believe I am suffering from "the deficient appreciation of literature possessed by females," Mr. Bloom, (and Mr. Joyce, for that matter) I think I'm appreciating literature just fine. I'm sure that I could read this book over and over and get more out of it, but this particular blog is about giving each classic their one shot. Maybe when I'm done with this challenge, I'll return to the ones that merit a re-read. Maybe not.

This was the other quote in contention for the title of this posting, but it was too long to fit. Onwards to the olympics and Wuthering Heights.

"Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-in-love. But always meeting ourselves."