The Imaginary Heroine

searching for the plot

Wuthering Blights March 10, 2010

Furze aka Gorse, a spiny plant found on the English Moors frequented by the ghosts of Catherine and Heathcliff.

Wuthering Heights might be one of my least favorite classics. So, why have I read it so many times? I honestly couldn’t tell you.

7abibi recently brought to my attention a Lewis Black sketch about candy corn:

I’ll never forget the first time my mother gave me candy corn. She said, “Here – Lewis, this is candy corn. It’s corn that tastes like candy.” [high-pitched scream] This tastes like crap! And every year since then, Halloween has returned and I, like an Alzheimer’s patient, find myself in the room, and the room has a big table in it, and on the table is a bowl of candy corn. And I look at it as if I’ve never seen it before. “Candy corn”, I think. “Corn that tastes like candy. I can’t wait.” Son of a bitch!!

This is me and Wuthering Heights.

The first time I read it, I think I was in sixth or seventh grade. My dad despaired of my fantasy addiction and wanted me to break out of the Young Adult section and into adult literature (adult as in grown up; not “adult” as in pornographic). He probably could have found a drearier book…but not by much. I hated every moment of Wuthering Heights. It took me ages to finish, mostly because I kept reading other, more exciting books in the process.

I read it again in high school, thinking that maybe my first reading was marred by the fact that I was too young to understand the love story or that I was not yet a good enough reader to comprehend the flowery prose. By that time, I was a great believer in the Austen Canon and was on the look out for more Great Books by Women. Unfortunately, I hated it. Again.

I tried to read Wuthering Heights in college when an English professor referred to Catherine and Heathcliff as an example of great lovers in literature. I still didn’t get it. Sure, the language is beautiful. There are some great lines:

“You are a dog in the manger, Cathy, and desire no one to be loved but yourself!”
– Isabella Linton

“Tell her what Heathcliff is: an unreclaimed creature, without refinement, without cultivation; an arid wilderness of furze and whinstone.”
– Catherine Earnshaw Linton

“By God!  Mr. Linton, I’m mortally sorry that you are not worth knocking down!”
– Heathcliff

“He might as well plant an oak in a flower-pot, and expect it to thrive, as imagine he can restore her to vigour in the soil of his shallow cares.”
– Heathcliff

“You and Edgar have broken my heart, Heathcliff!  And you both come to bewail the deed to me, as if you were the people to be pitied!  I shall not pity you, not I. You have killed me–and thriven on it.”
– Catherine Earnshaw Linton

This passage especially sums up a particular brand of black melancholy that comes over me from time to time:

“[Heathcliff] yielded completely; and there was no prevailing on him to take a step in the way of moving upward, when he found he must, necessarily, sink beneath his former level. Then personal appearance sympathised with mental deterioration: he acquired a slouching gait and ignoble look; his naturally reserved disposition was exaggerated into an almost idiotic excess of unsociable moroseness; and he took a grim pleasure, apparently, in exciting the aversion rather than the esteem of his few acquaintance.”
– Ellen “Nelly” Dean

If I enjoyed any part of this read through, it was finding in Heathcliff someone more savage than myself at the moment. I may have bouts of irascibility, pessimism, and utter self-immolation. The Scottish thistle is deep in my genes. But I am not so far gone as Heathcliff.

Ultimately, my summary of Wuthering Heights goes like this:
Awful people are awful to each other for YEARS and then they die.
The end.

Imagine my chagrin when Wuthering Heights took me in again just yesterday!

I blame Twilight. In Eclipse, we learn that Bella has read Wuthering Heights so many times its binding is creased and the pages are dog-eared. Edward, like me, can’t understand why she reads it over and over, saying “It isn’t a love story, it’s a hate story.”

As you can probably tell, I’m inclined to agree. Despite Bella’s insistence that Catherine and Heathcliff are supposed to have no good qualities and the point of the novel is that they are redeemed only by their love, I still can’t be persuaded to like Wuthering Heights. Catherine is obnoxious,Heathcliff is sadistic, and they make a good go at destroying everyone around them for their “great love.”

Wuthering Heights was re-released in the US and UK last year with Twilight-esque covers that bore the line "Bella and Edward's favorite book!"

Stephenie Meyer has said Eclipse is based in part on Wuthering Heights. I think rereading the latter helped me gain some insight to the former I might not have had otherwise. The Bella-Edward-Jacob triangle is clearly similar to Emily Bronte’s Catherine-Heathcliff-Edgar. Although I’m not positive who is supposed to be Heathcliff in Eclipse. Is it Edward, because his love trumps any other responsibilities he might have, but will eventually turn Bella into a monster? Is it Jacob, because he loses Bella in the end to the wealthy, elite Edward and then disappears into his wolf self for months on end? What is Meyer trying to say about love if her examples are taken from Romances of Mass Destruction like Adam and Eve, Romeo and Juliet, and Catherine and Heathcliff? What does it mean that she subverted their tragic ends, giving her trio a faultless ending?

I suppose these questions make Wuthering Heights a little more interesting, keeping this fourth (and final?!) reading from being a total waste. Had any of the Wuthering Triangle been a little more personable, like, say, Bella, Edward, and Jacob, I probably would have enjoyed it more.

I guess if I learned anything, it’s that I really, truly do not like Wuthering Heights and I will never be convinced to read it again. Although, I’m guessing like Lewis Black’s prohibition on candy corn, this resolution will only last about as long as it will take me to forget it again.