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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.

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