Saturday, February 5, 2011

Book 5- "Wuthering Heights" by Emily Bronte

The first time I read "Wuthering Heights" was in 6th grade, which puts me at approximately 12 years old. I struggled through the story and declared it good, but I don't really think I ever 100% figured out what it was all about; for this reason, it was one of the first books I chose to include on my list of classics for this year.

The most confusing thing, in my opinion, is just keeping track of all the characters. Not that there are many-- there are only about 8 or so "main" characters in the entire story, but the strange names (and the fact that 2 of them have the same name) makes things a little difficult. Once you wrap your head around the who's-who, it's really an enjoyable read, and a terrific story.

At the very beginning, a man by the name of Lockwood comes to rent a home called Thrushcross Grange from a man named Heathcliff. The behavior of Heathcliff's "family" at his home, Wuthering Heights, piques the curiosity of Mr. Lockwood, and when he is settled at Thrushcross Grange, he asks the housekeeper what she knows. The entire book, for the most part, is narrated by the housekeeper/nanny, Ellen Dent aka Nelly. She is telling the story of the Heathcliff/Earnshaw/Linton families, whom she has known and worked for since childhood.

The book starts out with two families: The Earnshaw's and the Linton's. Mr. Earnshaw, on a trip to the city, discovers an apparently orphaned "gypsy" boy wandering around and decides to take him home and sort of fosters him as a son. He names him Heathcliff, and expects his two children, Hindley and Catherine, to take to him immediately. Which, of course, they don't. Hindley pretty much always hates him, but after awhile, Catherine and Heathcliff become inseparable. As they grow up, Mr. Earnshaw favors Heathcliff over either of his two biological children, and after he dies, jealous Hindley immediately tells Heathcliff he has to live with the servants or get out. Catherine continues her friendship with Heathcliff, as well as developing a friendship with their only nearby neighbors, Isabella and Edgar Linton. When they are all grown, Catherine decides that despite her deep love for Heathcliff, it would be a more honorable thing to do to marry rich Edgar Linton rather than poor Heathcliff, and so she does. Heathcliff, brokenhearted, disappears for 3 years.

When he returns, he has mysteriously acquired a large amount of money, and manages to get back in to Wuthering Heights by loaning money to Hindley, who by this time is a widower, a gambler, and a drunk. He befriends Hindley's young son Hareton and turns him against his father, but with his home basically mortgaged over to Heathcliff, Hindley has no choice but to tolerate Heathcliff's presence and subsequent power over his home and family. Shortly after returning, Heathcliff drops in on Catherine and Edgar, who by this time are married and living at Thrushcross Grange. Catherine is elated to see her old friend, and Edgar, being a complete pushover, allows her to visit with him frequently. Old feelings are reignited, and eventually Edgar tries to ban Heathcliff from seeing Catherine; at this point, Catherine pretty much goes insane (she has been somewhat borderline throughout the story) and ends up nearly catatonic for awhile. Also, Isabella (Edgar's sister) decides she is in love with Heathcliff and runs away to marry him; Edgar cuts her out of his life and out of the family fortune, and after enduring a short but brutal marriage at Wuthering Heights, she eventually flees to South London. Here, she gives birth to a child, whom she names Linton and vows to keep secret from his father (which, naturally, doesn't work.) Eventually, Catherine recovers from her mental vacation, but never regains her true strength and personality, and a few hours after the birth of her first (and only) child, she dies. Thus begins part two of the story.

Catherine's daughter is named Catherine (not confusing at all, right?) and is raised by Nelly and Edgar in Thrushcross Grange. She is a beautiful, high-spirited, loyal daughter who is largely sheltered and rarely allowed out of her home; she doesn't even realize that she has an uncle and cousin in a home nearby (in fact, doesn't even know Wuthering Heights exists.) Eventually, she sneaks out one day to explore and stumbles upon Wuthering Heights; Nelly rescues her, but not before Heathcliff gets information from her-- most importantly that her Aunt Isabella has passed away and her cousin Linton is coming to live with them. Because he's just a big meany, Heathcliff immediately sends for his son (Linton) upon his arrival to Thrushcross Grange, and without any legal standing to stop the move, Edgar gives in and sends Linton to live at Wuthering Heights.

A few years pass, during which Catherine and Linton take up correspondence, then frequent visits, and a sort of love affair blossoms (since being in love with your cousin wasn't weird back then.) Eventually Heathcliff traps Catherine and Nelly in his home, upon a visit to Linton, and refuses to let them leave until Catherine marries Linton (thus securing Linton as the heir to both the Earnshaw/Heathcliff fortune AND the Linton fortune). Catherine agrees, because her father is dying and she is willing to do anything to get away. Plus, she loves Linton, despite the fact that he is a whiny, sickly, sniveling, backbone-free individual. After marrying Linton, she escapes and is able to spend her father's final moments with him. Shortly after her father dies, Linton also dies; wouldn't you know he willed all of his estate to Heathcliff, rather than to Catherine? So Catherine is now basically a prisoner in Wuthering Heights-- Heathcliff won't let her leave, due to the fact that the only thing he cannot get hold of is some of the Linton money, which is still in Catherine's legal possession. This point in the story is when Mr. Lockwood shows up to rent Thrushcross Grange.

Believe it or not, there is a happily-ever-after ending, which I won't spoil for you.

Emily Bronte, one of the trio of famous Bronte sisters, is an amazing writer with an incredible imagination. Once you got the characters straight in your mind, it was very easy to get lost in the storytelling-- she's descriptive enough of the setting to make you feel like you're there, without being so descriptive you feel like you're being bored to tears (*cough* F. Scott Fitzgerald *cough*) and gives enough background to flesh out the characters without taking away the character's ability to "tell" the reader about themselves. I like that Heathcliff is sort of a tragic character; you basically have to hate him, because he's evil, but when you see what made him that way, it's hard not to feel a teensy bit bad for him. Catherine (the first one) is a pretty unlikeable character as well; you get the feeling that she's utterly spoiled, thinks everyone should love and cater to her, and refuses to accept that she has any flaws. I mean, really; she SHOULD have married Heathcliff-- they'd have made a great couple. The second Catherine is much more likeable, and although she has a sense of entitlement due to being raised as a sheltered only child, you never really feel the need to hate her for it. She deserves the ending that she gets at the end of the book.

I would highly recommend this book-- it's a great tragic historical romance, and it kept me interested from start to finish. And it's definitely a better read than it was when I was 12.

1 comment:

Sharon said...

Loved your review! And your jab at F. Scott made me laugh. Maybe I'll give this one a try some day?