Landing : Athabascau University

A Confession

It’s time for a confession. The first time I tried reading Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, I disliked it so much that I quit. That was a few years ago when I began my own research on the history and structure of the Gothic novel. That was also a time when I prided myself on finishing any novel I began reading. I still quit. I figured the other novels I was reading, classics like Frankenstein and Dracula, would be enough research. When I saw Wuthering Heights was on the LTST 612: Gothic Novel reading list, I acknowledged I was going to have to read the entire book. I accepted there must be a good reason it was on the list, but honestly, the thought of slogging through again and forcing myself to the end was not something I looked forward to. I decided my reward would be to do the critique assignment on anything but Wuthering Heights.

When an adult friend recently admitted he had been unable to read Wuthering Heights back in his grade 12 days, and had resorted to viewing the movie instead, I empathized. Nonetheless, this time I soldiered on and finished the entire novel. To clarify, my dislike in the novel was never based on thinking that it was poorly written. It’s just that I didn’t and still don’t really like the characters. In fact, the plot and the characters angered me, which, one could argue, means the novel is well written because it garners a powerful emotion in its readership. I find both Catherines irritating as characters, and I intensely dislike Heathcliffe. While I know, as an author myself, that a novel is only as strong as its antagonist, my dislike isn’t for the evilness of the character—it’s because there isn’t enough in Heathcliffe’s character for me to empathize or even sympathize with, not when I take into account his treatment of the people in his life. Thus, while his characterization evokes a strong response, for me he comes across as too one-sided—not multi-faceted, for me to appreciate the character. My understanding is that there needs to be a bit of a positive redeeming quality and his not knowing his roots, being bullied, and not being able to be with Catherine #1 until in the grave, still doesn’t help me connect.

In completing the critical readings, however, I do see the novel beyond a visceral reading level, and I now have an appreciation for Emily Bronte and her novel. Discovering that reviewers saw the book as “morally confused” because its message is unclear (Peterson 335), provides insight. So does the fact that Charlotte Bronte, Emily’s sister, made the decision to state her sister “did not know what she had done” in writing her message (quoted by Peterson 335), suggesting the author wrote about what she knew- -life on the moors rather than in the city, and that she ultimately was not responsible for whatever the work suggested (336).

Others have strong responses to the novel, although significantly different from my own or that of my friend’s reaction. When the novel was published, reviewers often used the words “’powerful’, ‘original’, and ‘strange’, extolling the novel’s “literary merits” (334). Imagine my surprise in reading in blog post suggestions by our prof, that Kate Bush wrote a song, “Wuthering Heights”, based on the novel. Even more surprising was when I watched the youtube videos of fan followers getting together, donning red dresses, and performing their own dance on the moors because of Kate Bush’s song.

Something else I realized after absorbing Linda H. Peterson’s Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism of Wuthering Heights. My initial response to the novel likely does reveal something about me as a reader. Perhaps I do like my novels’ plot package wrapped up neatly with a strong moral bow by the conclusion. While I do not need happy endings, authentic moral resolution on the side of goodness may be my penchant. Perhaps my reaction to the plot and the characters is a result of my previously unconscious need to have at least one character truly grow in some way. To me the second Catherine doesn’t really show growth because she decides to educate and marry Hareton. To me the conclusion rings false somehow.

Whatever the reason for my reaction to the novel, the reality is that it was strong, just as many others when they read Wuthering Heights. While I’m not dressing in red and dancing outside, as the Kate Bush fans, I now have a greater understanding of potential reasons behind the responses to the novel, and I’m glad I finished. I shall apply that information as I work on my critique--you guessed it: on Wuthering Heights.

Sources:

Bronte, Emily, Wuthering Heights. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism: Wuthering Heights, 2nd ed., by Emily Bronte, edited by Linda H. Peterson, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.

Kate Bush, “Wuthering Heights”. Youtube.

Peterson, Linda H., ed. Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism: Wuthering Heights, 2nd ed., by Emily Bronte, edited by Peterson, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.

The Ultimate Kate Bush Experience, Shambush. Youtube.

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