Last month I read the Emily Bronte classic, Wuthering Heights. This was actually my second attempt at reading this particular novel. My first try was several decades ago, when I was a young teenager. I recall not really being engaged for the first chapter or two, and setting it aside with the idea that I would get back to it . . . maybe. During the course of the next few months I happened to watch the movie version of it. That was my big mistake. I learned the book—at least the portion this movie depicted—had an unhappy ending. I determined right then and there that I wouldn’t re-start the book.
Until last month, when it became my book club selection. Let the record show that I did not vote for this particular book, but I was outnumbered. So, since I’m committed to the group I was determined, this time, to forge through the entire novel. This time, I succeeded.
However, reading this book in its entirety inspired mixed results. On the one hand I thought the writing was lovely. The setting—incredibly depicted. The language, word choice, the strength of characterization, all excellent.
Basically one flaw ruined it for me. I failed to like a single character. So while those characters were uniquely drawn, not a single one stirred my sympathies. I thought Heathcliff, the famously brooding hero, to be cruel and more than a bit unsteady of mind. Catherine, though obviously lovely, was selfish and manipulative. Even the namby-pamby Linton, while displaying glimpses of heroism, was overall weak and therefore didn’t command my respect or admiration, particularly regarding his treatment of his sister. One other flaw: people died rather conveniently, albeit romantically.
When I expressed my distaste for the book to my grown-up daughter, also a member of our Book Club, her immediate response was that I was just too old to appreciate the romantic nature of the book. Ahh, the honesty of child to parent. She’d read the same copy of the book I tried reading at fourteen—a hand-me-down from my mother—only she’d succeeded at that young age. Even now, a dozen years later, she possesses fond memories of the overpowering love between the two characters who “shared the same soul”—making her new visit to the book enjoyable even now that she realizes obsessive love is unhealthy and out of the norm for a reason.
She also told me the Twilight books mention Wuthering Heights, inciting a resurgence of popularity among the same young teen group enjoying the vampire series. It’s all about that overpoweringly romantic love that allows teens to suspend their developing common sense enough to enjoy the story. My daughter’s experience with the novel confirms what the marketing geniuses related to the Twilight series have accomplished.
Well, I’m here to state as a romance lover myself I “got” the powerful love between the hero and heroine in Wuthering Heights. That was well drawn and indeed romantic . . . but to me it went a degree too far, particularly since it didn’t make those who were in love better, but worse. We may at least partially blame Catherine’s brother Hindley for Heathcliff’s road to cruelty, but his love for Catherine in no way made him better for it. In fact, it was his ruin. I guess tragic love stories just aren’t my cup of tea.
What do you think? Do you enjoy a tragic love story? Although I thought Rhett Butler far more appealing than Heathcliff, that story, too, has a tragic ending and one I don’t often care to revisit, not even in the movie version. I believe my daughter is right, that tragic endings are more popular with younger audiences. I know that was the case with the movie Titanic. But I love a happily-ever-after-ending, particularly these days when so many of the news headlines are sour enough. What about you?