Wuthering Heights / Emily Brontë
November 26, 2023 5:28 PM - Subscribe

At the centre of this novel is the passionate love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff - recounted with such emotional intensity that a plain tale of the Yorkshire moors acquires the depth and simplicity of ancient tragedy.
posted by johnofjack (22 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Just posting this because I saw that it wasn't posted already, and I'm in process of reading it (about 1/3 of the way through; it's wild--extremely dramatic and over the top).
posted by johnofjack at 5:32 PM on November 26, 2023

If anyone is looking to revisit this, or have a boon companion through the twists and turns, I *highly* recommend season 3 of Obscure, Michael Ian Black’s podcast, which features this book. Sometimes I zone out listening to audiobooks but here he reads the book aloud and stops to comment on a word choice, plot development, or other aspect of the text. It’s delightful and keeps you (well, me) engaged.

I find the enduring popularity/iconicity of this book as “romantic” WILD. What a weird book! Kate Bush does a nice job selling it in her amazing song but that’s just like, a quarter of the book!! Also, this is conjecture not really a spoiler but: Heathcliff is definitely Mr Earnshaw’s illegitimate biracial son, right?? What do we do with that?
posted by kickingthecrap at 6:26 PM on November 26, 2023 [4 favorites]

oooh one of my all time favorites!! I have come to understand that many people have a misconception of this book. they think it is a Victorian romance, and are duly appalled. its a Gothic novel, as johnofjack says above, its wild, and quite dark. I first read it about age 13 and still love it today.
posted by supermedusa at 8:27 AM on November 27, 2023 [3 favorites]

Heathcliff is definitely Mr Earnshaw’s illegitimate biracial son, right??

huh...I have never encountered that theory (nor thought of it) in any analyses of the book. but its plausible certainly...so maybe we can add incest to the dark stew of drama that is Wuthering Heights?
posted by supermedusa at 8:29 AM on November 27, 2023

Heathcliff as Mr. Earnshaw's illegitimate son is a longstanding theory about the novel, yes ("hey, I just picked up a random kid on the street, huh, isn't that amazing..."). Caryl Phillips' novel The Lost Child explores Heathcliff's racial identity in one of its plotlines.

Most Victorian reviewers had no idea what to make of this book. When Emily Bronte finally started to get a legitimate reputation towards the end of the century, it was as a poet.
posted by thomas j wise at 9:32 AM on November 27, 2023

I have definitely seen (although not watched) an adaptation where Heathcliff is black, so there's that.

Am I misremembering the book, or is there no explicit romantic text? When I read it, it seemed like Heathcliff and Catherine weren't even romantically in love, they were just obsessed with each other and had to be together. Not even to be happy, just to make other people less miserable. I don't plan to read it again, although I respected it once I realized it was not supposed to be a love story.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:30 AM on November 27, 2023 [1 favorite]

I feel like this book really had almost a reverse bell curve for me - when I was young I loved it for "Wild! Tragic! Romance!" and then when I was in my early twenties I was like "uh what this is all wildly unhealthy and unrealistic absolutely not", but when I got to my late thirties I started really appreciating it as a this is how people hurt each other book. Like, this is how people hurt each other from striving for social status, from their insecurities, this is how people trying to hurt one person wind up hurting other people through collateral damage.

Like - I used to think Cathy and Heathcliff's relationship was unrealistic, and then I saw people getting married to people because the people they wanted to marry wouldn't marry them, or aging men who for whatever reason didn't want to be in relationships with women they loved who would then run through a bunch of women they didn't like and treat them badly because they were angry that they weren't with the other one. This book is like turning over a rock and looking at the worms underneath love without economic foundation, which is what, i think, makes it so great.
posted by corb at 12:45 PM on November 27, 2023 [9 favorites]

what is also particularly interesting is how the young, relatively sheltered Emily Bronte conceived of such a story, of such characters. I mean a lot of the dark stuff is fairly subtly indicated but its DARK. Heathcliff's relationship with Isabella makes the conception of a child a pretty grim thing to think about...
posted by supermedusa at 2:43 PM on November 27, 2023 [3 favorites]

I tagged this one "romance" out of deference to the way it's generally perceived, but (so far, at least) I'm having a problem seeing the romance. For me, for a romance to work, it has to be about people I care about and want to end up together, and Catherine just reminds me of one of those penpals who falls in love with a serial killer: if she sees something there to love, it's less about his personality than her psychological damage. Heathcliff is a world-class jackass: bitter, narcissistic, temperamental, and deeply entitled.

Maybe the book will pull off some remarkable recontextualization like Austen did with Darcy in Pride and Prejudice, but I'm skeptical. (And maybe I'm just too critical of romances; Naked in Death also struck me as a terrible example of romance because I felt like Roarke had absolutely no respect for Eve's agency. What the characters wanted there was diametrically opposed to what I wanted for them.)

I'm still reading this, marveling at how dramatic everyone is, constantly wanting to ask characters to take a deep breath, maybe go for a walk. It is, if nothing else, deeply entertaining, regardless of however I'd eventually categorize it.
posted by johnofjack at 2:51 PM on November 27, 2023

Heathcliff and Catherine are cruel, self-centered characters who, in a cosmic sense, were made for each other. They do not talk about their relationship in romantic terms, but as something more elemental, as a force of nature. For instance, Catherine says, "If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and, if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the Universe would turn a mighty stranger. […] my love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath—a source of little visible delight, but necessary."

They conceive of themselves as feeling, perceiving, and living on a level far above those around them. Heathcliff says at one point, "If he [Edgar Linton] loved with all the powers of his puny being, he couldn't love as much in eighty years, as I could in a day." At the end of the novel, Brontë intentionally contrasts them to the next generation, who are mediocre people living on a more human level. Heathcliff and Catherine are like a storm that tears through the countryside wrecking everything before fading away. It is a romance novel, just one where a hurricane and a typhoon fall in love.
posted by jabah at 5:33 PM on November 27, 2023 [4 favorites]

I mean, it's a romance novel in the sense that the passionate romantic entanglement of two characters is the driving force of the story, but I wouldn't refer to it as a romance novel for the same reasons I wouldn't refer to Anna Karenina, Dangerous Liaisons, or The Great Gatsby as romance novels.
posted by kyrademon at 5:52 PM on November 27, 2023 [2 favorites]

I remember not a lot about it, except that when I read it I couldn't believe anyone saw romance in it. Whether intentional or not, that was a book about abuse. Just incredible amounts of it.

(Meanwhile Anne Brontë somehow has a reputation as the only Brontë sister writing about non-abusive relationships and characters - a reputation that can only have been endorsed by people who never read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which has the stalkerish "hero" doing things like using his whip in reverse to assault someone he thinks is his romantic rival in the head with the handle of his whip while they're both riding, almost leaving the guy for dead once he's knocked him off his horse, finally begrudgingly going back to check on him, repeatedly insulting the poor guy, who is bleeding with a head wound in the mud, and then getting so righteously offended that the guy doesn't seem to want him to come any nearer that he does leave him "to live or die as he could". He has a bit of a temper, you see, but that's fine; the heroine and her toddler son are more than happy to end up with him once she's escaped her alcoholic first husband.)

Give me Jane Eyre demanding equality and refusing Rochester's bullshit over any of this, any day.
posted by trig at 10:07 PM on November 27, 2023 [3 favorites]

> "Whether intentional or not..."

It's intentional.
posted by kyrademon at 2:50 AM on November 28, 2023 [2 favorites]

One hopes...
posted by trig at 8:18 AM on November 28, 2023

how the young, relatively sheltered Emily Bronte conceived of such a story, of such characters

Sheltered is all relative. Because she was personally sheltered from violence doesn't mean she didn't see it happening around her, or hear about it happening to other people.
posted by corb at 4:23 PM on November 28, 2023

Tangentially: Ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier (Canada) are doing a Wuthering Heights-themed free dance this season. It's very good, and quite unusual for ice dance (which tends toward the swoonily romantic for probably-obvious reasons). See if you can find it on YouTube before the ISU issues its usual raft of DMCA takedowns.
posted by humbug at 6:21 PM on November 28, 2023 [3 favorites]

While Haworth was and is pretty remote, the sisters did have access to current periodicals and newspapers, and we have a good idea about what poetry and fiction they read. (They didn't have reliable access to contemporary fiction at all, which may be one of the reasons that Wuthering Heights is so unusual!) As for being sheltered, Emily had a front-row seat for her brother Branwell's alcoholism and laudanum addiction, and then there's this:

Mrs. C-- [wife of John Collins, a neighboring curate] came here the other day, with a most melancholy tale of her wretched husband's drunken, extragavant, profligate habits. She asked Papa's advice; there was nothing, she said, but ruin before them. They owed debts which they could never pay. She expected Mr. C--'s immediate dismissal from his curacy; she knew from bitter experience, that his vices were utterly hopeless. He treated her and her child savagely; with much more to the same effect. Papa advised her to leave him for ever, and go home, if she had a home to go to. She said this was what she had long resolved to do, and she would leave him directly, as soon as Mr. B. dismissed him. (Charlotte Bronte to Ellen Nussey, 12 November 1840)

So, yeah, she absolutely was aware of domestic violence. (Mrs. Collins did indeed leave her husband and successfully supported herself and her child thereafter by running a boarding house.)
posted by thomas j wise at 3:32 AM on November 29, 2023 [7 favorites]

I finished this last night, and wow what a book. I have rarely despised a character as much as Heathcliff or longed for his death more; surely he must be one of the greatest villains ever created.

I personally don't consider the book a romance; even the romance between Cathy and Linton was one of Heathcliff's machinations, and the brief courtship between Cathy and Hareton seemed a bit tacked on. The novel wishes us to think that there's peace ahead but I don't buy it; by the end Cathy had adopted enough of Heathcliff's cruelty and abuse that I'd say "happily ever after" is strictly out of bounds and even "happily for now" is improbable unless you read "now" as "for the next week or two."

I'm not interested in mentally broadening romance enough to include "slightly less miserably ever after, with frequent bouts of cruelty and contempt expected," so I'd exclude this book from the group. [shrugs]

This book has a lot to say about different forms of abuse, and how abuse can traumatize and damage the people subjected to it, presenting itself as the solution to the problems that it in fact caused, and I enjoyed it a lot.
posted by johnofjack at 3:50 AM on November 29, 2023 [1 favorite]

Ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier (Canada) are doing a Wuthering Heights-themed free dance this season. It's very good, and quite unusual for ice dance

Wow, that was an incredible 5 minutes of dance, thanks. The moves at 3:40 and 4:25 are especially stunning, but it's all great and the choice of Ryuichi Sakamoto's haunting film soundtrack works beautifully.

That look between them at the end...
posted by mediareport at 5:41 AM on November 29, 2023 [2 favorites]

I didn't mean sheltered in the specific sense of being ignorant of violence. she was only 30 when she died, there is only so much life you can fit into that many years. their brother was a wild one, and may have been disruptive in the home. its rather to conceive of the reasons and feelings around such violence, because a lot of what goes on in WH is driven by some fairly extreme feelings and notions. I mean, think about Heathcliff's speech to Ellen Dean after Catherine dies. I mean he dashes his head against a tree!! its so GOTH, its so crazy! he begs to be haunted (and later intends to dig her up and crawl into the grave with her!!)
posted by supermedusa at 9:08 AM on November 29, 2023

That look between them at the end...

RIGHT?! The whole dance makes it clear that these two people can pretty much only ever hurt one another... and the ending pose is them being just about to do exactly that. Piper's hand curled ready to scratch, yikes!

I wouldn't trust most ice dancers to do this in anything like a nuanced way. (There was this one pair a couple years ago that I will not watch in anything ever because they did Joker/Harley and mimed a physical assault. NOPE.) Piper and Paul, however, thought this through.
posted by humbug at 4:36 PM on November 29, 2023 [1 favorite]

I think that it works best to read Wuthering Heights as a revenge tragedy rather than a romance. Heathcliff, abused by Hareton, and betrayed (as he sees it) by Catherine and the Lintons, returns from exile, possessed of great wealth and a single purpose, to revenge himself on everyone who harmed him. Systematically, but keeping just within the limits of the law, he gains power over his enemies—feeding Hareton's addictions, seducing Isabella and treating her cruelly, and acquiring Linton's estate through the marriage of his son to Linton's daughter—but just as his scheme of revenge nears completion its hollowness becomes clear to him and he spares his last two victims. The plot is similar in these respects to The Count of Monte Cristo and the dates of the two novels make it possible that Brontë was inspired by Dumas.

As for Heathcliff's ethnic identity, it's clear that he's not white, even if his precise origins are not known—other characters refer to him as a "dark-skinned gipsy" and a "lascar" (an Indian sailor); Nelly tells him, "who knows but your father was Emperor of China, and your mother an Indian queen"; Isabella says that when he prayed, "God was curiously confounded with his own black father".
posted by cyanistes at 12:42 PM on December 22, 2023 [1 favorite]

« Older The Curse: Questa Lane...   |  Movie: May December... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments