Wuthering Heights – life’s not fair

Posted on June 30, 2012

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Look out for the weather. It tells you stuff.

If your only experience with Wuthering Heights is Kate Bush wailing, then you’re not the only one. I was with you a few days ago.

It’s been on my reading list for years – by which I mean the pile of old novels on my bookshelf making me appear more cultured than I am – and while waiting for the latest fad to arrive from Amazon, I finally picked up the Emily Brontë classic.

It’s not often I call a classic gripping. Intellectually insightful, yes. Instilling a feeling of mild superiority over those reading Twilight on the tube, yes. Un-put-down-able? Hardly.

But Wuthering Heights is different. It tells the tale of Catherine and Heathcliff, soulmates from childhood but with a doomed passion, ultimately destroying all around them.

Told from the perspective of a maid (which initially annoyed me – why not just tell it straight?), we see the intricate details only a maid can see, along with the personal angle a passive third voice would miss.

Heathcliff is adopted by Catherine’s father after finding him abandoned. First welcomed, life soon alters for the young child. Shunned, he becomes bitter, angry and seeks revenge.

Generations of two families become intertwined, along with the heritage-less Heathcliff, isolated from society outside their own disturbing world. The Earnshaws at Wuthering Heights and the Lintons at Thrushcross Grange make decisions with huge ramifications for each other, all the while Heathcliff hovering on the periphery and playing puppeteer.

It is impossible not to feel their anguish, pleasure and terror. Brontë writes a brutal depiction of characters’ relationships, including painful psychological manipulation little seen in classic literature.

If you read no other classic, read this. Alternatively, for a (mildly inaccurate) summary of the tale, listen to Kate Bush having a good old sing-song.


Image from Dudeson26‘s Flickr photostream.

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Posted in: culture