Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë)

"The action takes place in Hell, but the places, I don’t know why, have English names”  Jorge Luis Borges

I didn’t know much about Wuthering Heights before I started reading it, but I had a vague hunch that it was some kind of society romance. I've since talked to some of my friends about it, and they all think the same thing. I had also lumped it into one of a huge pile of books in the category ‘maybe I’ll get round to it one day’. I don't know how Wuthering Heights got this kind of dull reputation, but it is utterly misplaced. This novel is full of savage, Gothic horror that is cunningly disguised amongst the routines of provincial banality.

The novel starts with Heathcliff, a boy found on the moors and taken in by a father of a young family. Heathcliffe grows up, favoured by the father but despised by the rest of the family except the daughter, Catherine. The two of them have a deep affinity and go for madcap rambles on the windswept and rainy moors. Catherine marries a bland boy, Edgar, and later dies. But Heathcliff's love lives on, deep as an ocean, bending him into a cruel and brutal revenge of Catherine's husbands family and everyone he knows.

“Be with me always - take any form - drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! it is unutterable! I can not live without my life! I can not live without my soul!”

My thoughts

This novel really is savage. In the first chapter the narrator visits Heathcliff, the novel’s main character. As he walks into the house, dogs attack him and push him to the ground. They ferociously nash at his face and arms. Heathcliff, seeing this, looks on and laughs at the blood streaming from his visitors face. This is shocking stuff. Here I was, starting a Victorian ‘romance’ novel where passions are normally kept hidden and under the table, and, in the first chapter, there is explicit and feral violence. Very quickly, this engendered in me an intense feeling of claustrophobia and unease.  I wanted to get out of this devilish house where such human shadows lurk, casually hinting at the darkness inside us all.

Reading Wuthering Heights was quite an uncomfortable experience - Emily Bronte is describing emotions powerful enough to break a human. But I loved the parts where Catherine runs away to the moor. It seemed to me to be representative of the wildness in us all. Stories really give us a narrative structure to understand our own lives - almost like lenses with different tints and perspectives, they hone the glasses through which we see the world.  Catherine breaking free, and running away to the wild moorland of moss and brackish pools of water feels to me deeply symbolic. Twisted, troubled child she is, but who wouldn’t follow her onto the freedom of the moor?

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