Friday, May 4, 2018

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

"Halloo!" I'm done. Six months later, I finally finished this book. Or 30 years later. I've started and stopped this book so many times I can't count. The deconstruction of the romance novel, unique structure, wicked villain, and unconventional female characters make it worth the effort. I have always struggled with the start of the book and I didn't understand Lockwood's ironic unreliable narration as a teen. Not to mention Joseph's befuddling Yorkshire dialect. Google helps with that nowadays. Joseph says to Lockwood:

'What are ye for?' he shouted. 'T' maister's down i' t' fowld. Go round by th' end o' t' laith, if ye went to spake to him.' 'Is there nobody inside to open the door?' I [Lockwood] hallooed, responsively.

Joseph is asking what Lockwood wants and to speak to the master who is by the barn. In a nutshell, Wuthering Heights is about the relationships between Catherine Earnshaw, Heathcliff, and Edgar Linton and their children. When Catherine chooses to marry Edgar, Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights, returning years later as a wealthy gentleman. He exacts revenge on those who have wronged him. Catherine's brother, Hindley, bullies and abuses Heathcliff when they were young because his father favored the adopted Heathcliff over his own son, Hindley. Heathcliff seeks revenge on Hindley and their son, Hareton, by being abusive and making Hindley dependent on him. Later Heathcliff goes after Edgar and him and Catherine's daughter, Cathy, in an effort to own both homes.

Lockwood begins the narration of the book giving way to Nelly, the housekeeper's narration. They both present interesting perspectives. Lockwood's narration reveals his shock at the manners displayed by Cathy, Catherine's daughter, who is unconventional like her mother. When Cathy first meets Lockwood she doesn't use the usual manners of inviting someone in. She stares at him in a "cool, regardless manner" that he finds "embarrassing and disagreeable." He describes her beauty but manner as being "singularly unnatural." She snaps at him and asks if he was invited to tea. He tries to tell her she is the "proper person to ask me" which upsets her and she refuses to give him tea. Her disregard for conventions makes him think she is unnatural and he is repulsed by her behavior.

Lockwood can't make sense of who of the domestic help or relatives and their roles in the house and much of the humor is him bumbling along making incorrect assumptions about everyone he meets. When Heathcliff and the others are in the house they are so rude to each other that Lockwood can't deal with their inability to make "sociable conversation" much less speak civilly to each other. When he asks Cathy to show him home she says to follow the path and again he is struck by her rudeness. However, her comment that she cannot show him because "they wouldn't let me go to the end of the garden wall" reveals limitations for women at this time.

Lockwood views Cathy and women as objects and reflects conventional aspects regarding marriage, looks, and domestic roles. He comments on Cathy's beauty for him to admire: " admirable form, and the most exquisite little face that I have ever had the pleasure of beholding..." He discusses another woman he was interested in when visiting a sea-coast town: "...a real goddess in my eyes, as long as she took no notice of me." He says he was in love with her and when she finally noticed, he rejected her. Lockwood reveals society's patriarchal views where the man is in control and dominant. He is clear that he rejected the "goddess" and his comment "I confess it with shame—shrunk icily into myself, like a snail" shows a man who avoids love and engaging with his feelings. When Lockwood is faced with a woman like Cathy that he can't control and who doesn't fit into the status quo of how women should act, he rejects her and claims she is "unnatural". 

When Nelly tells the backstory of Cathy's mother Catherine, the tale unfolds of a woman interested in two men: Edgar, who can give her a higher social status as he is wealthy, and Heathcliff who is wild and unconventional like herself. She is described as "A wild, wicked slip..." or a "savage" and Heathcliff as "... a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man." Catherine wants both men and struggles with self-identity. When she tells Nelly that she is Heathcliff, it shows a child-like love that never matures. Their relationship is not sexual but dependent: "My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary". When Edgar tells Catherine after they are married to choose between himself and Heathcliff she tragically chooses self-destruction that is foreshadowed when Nelly questions her about her love for the two men. She replies to Nelly that Heathcliff is "More myself than I" and that her love can't be separated from him even in marriage to Edgar. She describes her love for Edgar in a cliched way that deconstructs the romance tropes of perfect love: "I love the ground under his feet and the air over his head, and everything he touches and every word he says. I love all his looks, and all his actions, and him entirely and altogether." While she says that she knows Heathcliff more than herself, she is self-centered and assumes everyone loves her. At one point she expresses to Nelly her confusion saying she thought "everyone loved" her. She says her love for Heathcliff is like "foliage in the wind" and there is no consideration for others happiness, only her own. She is clear with Nelly that she is marrying Edgar to gain social position and wants both men; thus, when Edgar says she must choose, she can't separate her self-love as represented in Heathcliff with the love between a husband and wife. Her lack of self-identity and inability to embrace marriage conventions make her choose death.

Heathcliff has been abused as a child and he spends his whole life seeking revenge on those he feels have wronged him. He is vindictive, vicious, abusive and his actions become more monstrous as time goes by. He hits children, men, and women. He hung his new wife's dog from a tree to show his hate for her. He forces Cathy (Catherine and Edgar's daughter) to marry his son so he can obtain all of Edgar's possessions and get complete revenge on the family that took his Catherine away from him. While he is like "the rake" in a romance novel who is dangerous and charming at the beginning, he ultimately has no redeeming qualities and gets nastier as the novel progresses thus going against the trope. Heathcliff's love for Catherine is off-kilter too. He digs up Catherine's body 18 years later and dreams of lying next to her. He, like Catherine, challenge the institution of marriage, love, and family breaking taboos and conventions. Lockwood reacts with shock to these discoveries as Nelly narrates the backstory and cannot handle wanting to avoid his emotions and their unconventional behavior says, "I felt irresistibly impelled to escape them again." His narration gets the story down while Nelly's reflects a woman's position.

Nelly is described as "a poor man's daughter" who reads books owned by her employer. She is a servant who is told to narrate the story of Catherine and Heathcliff by a bored Lockwood: "I desired Mrs. Dean, when she brought in supper, to sit down while I ate it; hoping sincerely she would prove a regular gossip, and either rouse me to animation or lull me to sleep by her talk." He keeps Nelly up until the early hours making her complete her narration at his convenience. Eventually, he takes over her own words, only a little condensed." Nelly is subtlety marginalized in the narrative structure, unable to write her own words or narrate in her own voice. However, the disengaged Lockwood says it is "her tale" and it is shaped by her words. It is also told like a romance story by Nelly: "I remember her hero had run off, and never been heard of for three years; and the heroine was married." Her gothic comments regarding "ghosts, ...ghouls, ...and vampires" shows a matronly woman on the sidelines who cannot engage in the story's passion but knows how to tell a romance story. Scholar Bette London suggests that Nelly was in love with Hindley from this sentence: "...a gush of child’s sensations flowed into my heart.  Hindley and I held it a favourite spot twenty years before." Nelly is attached to Hindley's son, Hareton, and is forced to leave him when Catherine gets married. Her distress is evident: "Little Hareton was nearly five years old, and I had just begun to teach him his letters.  We made a sad parting; but Catherine’s tears were more powerful than ours." Nelly has no control over her low social status. Her desire to love Hindley does not materialize and her lack of choice with Hareton reveals an oppressive narration that reflects her class and gender.

The structure of the story of Hareton and Cathy's romance is one that does follow the romance trope. Again, it is told in Nelly's voice. She weaves a love story that is undermined by her status and lack of choice; thus, making the story more a comment on the exploration of love versus a romantic tale the reader takes on the surface. Hareton and Cathy hate each other at first and Cathy ends up civilizing him in the end. One chapter has Cathy laughing at Hareton trying to say, "Chevy chase". I thought that was a more modern word... but I digress. Cathy seems to have adopted some of the qualities of her father, Edgar, and it leads to decisions where she learns from her mistakes.

The Lockwood and Nelly dual narrative shows the amoral and moral ambiguity of the characters and adds depth to the story as it reveals societal restraints and conditions. Women during the Victorian times had less choice than women today and the characters nonconformity to the status quo is what I found fascinating about this novel. So much scholarly work is written on this book examining the psychological, historical, social, and other aspects of the work that I am just scratching the surface. While it took me forever to finally read and finish it, I can see why it is a classic.

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