December 3, 2015

Stardate: I Can Do This -- A Classic Romance

Some long years back, when I was around twelve or thirteen, I went on an airplane trip to Philadelphia. It was my first airplane ride ever. At the airport, I got the only book that didn't look scarily modern. I think I knew it was A Classic Romance, which was a draw, but, for some reason, I never read it.

It's probably good that I didn't, because Wuthering Heights is a complicated mess of terrible people and terrible actions, and I'm not sure if I would have understood it then. Maybe I would have, but I'm glad I didn't. 

I want to suggest that I might have fallen in love with Heathcliff, but I think even me at thirteen would have known better. Heathcliff is a creepy, creepy man.

From watching the Merle Oberon/Laurence Olivier movie, I thought I knew what the story was about. Little did I know that it was even more horrible than the movie! Like, ten times worse than the movie! How about that. It's true: everyone is terrible. Heathcliff is awful - at first, understandably so, but then he just goes off the rails and it's pathetic and a bit scary. (When did people start romanticizing him? I can understand some characters, but Heathcliff? His sad backstory is not nearly sad enough to warrant his later behavior.) Edgar? Kind of pathetic, but sweet... but also still a little creepy. Isabelle? Terrible. Joseph? TERRIBLE. Nelly is the only decent person in this novel, and even she has her moments of questionableness.
I had a whole essay on Cathy. Unfortunately, it's been a while since I read this (in August, ha) and I've forgotten most of it. Suffice it to say, Cathy is the most complex character in the novel, and while I still think she's an awful person - an awful, manipulative, petulant, selfish person - I also think there's a lot to explain it, more so than there is for Heathcliff. Cathy is a tragic figure, wild and untaught, and, ultimately, even if she sort of deserves what she gets, we still feel sad. Because she also sort of didn't.

All those names and family connections were a monster to get through, let me tell you. My southern skills at family trees should have made it easier, but it was really rough in the beginning. No one is judging if you have to map it out for yourself to remember, especially when children start getting named after the previous generation.

Is it worth it, for all the awfulness and the tangle of names? Absolutely. Brontë's language is intricate and descriptive, as plaintive and as wild as her most famous character. You'll be in for the long haul for this lengthy, dense book, but it's worth it. It's definitely worth it.

(If you don't put "Wuthering Heights" on after you finish this book, either the original Kate Bush version or a cover - my favorite is Hayley Westenra's - I will judge you. Hard.)

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