Wuthering Heights and Other Tragic Tales posted by Maureen Lang

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?

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About Maureen Lang

Author of a dozen novels, Maureen Lang has won the Selah Award, a Holt Medallion, FHL's Reader's Choice Award, and been a finalist in such contests as the Christy, the Rita, the Carol, Book Buyer's Best, and others. Before publication she was the recipient of a Golden Heart and a Genesis (then called the Noble Theme). She resides with her husband and kids in the Chicago area. Titles by Maureen Lang All In Good Time Bees In The Butterfly Garden Springtime Of The Spirit Whisper On The Wind Look To The East My Sister Dilly On Sparrow Hill The Oak Leaves Remember Me Pieces Of Silver
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9 Responses to Wuthering Heights and Other Tragic Tales posted by Maureen Lang

  1. Beth Goddard says:

    I’m with you–I want a happily ever after. Too much tragedy in real life these days. Why do I need to read a book or watch a movie to get more?

    I had to read Wuthering Heights in high school English and didn’t enjoy it then. Back then I couldn’t articulate the reasons I didn’t enjoy it as well as you’ve done here — not sure I could today either–but you nailed it.

    I didn’t read Jane Eyre until about ten years ago because of my experience with Wuthering Heights. LOL But I LOVED Jane Eyre. They found their way back to each other, albeit in an odd fashion.

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    • Maureen Lang says:

      Jane Eyre came up in our discussion! We talked about how everyone preferred that one because, even though it contains some dark times, it ends happily. We all felt a bit sorry for Emily, who evidently never married. Maybe Emily’s book was so tragically romantic because the Bronte family knew so much heartache – but still, Charlotte was able to marry (however briefly before her death) and wrote Jane Eyre several years before that… In any case, what a talented family!

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  2. Vicki Hinze says:

    I enjoyed Titanic but once was enough on WH and the novels without happy endings. I hadn’t thought about it in this regard, but I guess I need the fictional world to end up happy because we get enough in life that doesn’t. Interesting.

    You know, the book doesn’t have to have a happy ending, but it does have to have a hopeful one for me to absolutely love it.

    And even in Titanic, they reunited the couple in the end. Both just happened to be dead. 🙂

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    • Maureen Lang says:

      So true about at least having a hopeful ending! I have a friend who is writing an excellent coming-of-age novel where the character goes through some exceedingly rough times – but all of it is bearable because of two things, which this book lacked for me: the character grows stronger and better, and it has a hopeful ending. Even though the younger generation in Wuthering Heights has a better ending than Catherine and Heathcliff, I was left hopeless with them. They’re ghosts were supposed to be reunited in at least one movie version that I saw, but I guess since they were such unlikeable characters in the book (versus more sympathetic characters in Titanic) even death didn’t seem like it would – or maybe should – offer them their romantic ending. Titanic’s ending, as you say, had a much more hopeful ending.

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  3. infinitieh says:

    I read Wuthering Heights in high school and hated it, too. The only character I could stand was Lockwood, the narrator/person the whole tale was told to who had nothing to do with the action (and therefore was not at fault). I thought everyone else were idiots or whiners – I wasn’t as eloquent as you are about their shortcomings – so I am continuously agog about that book being such a romantic read. Pah, I say.

    Of course, I also had to read Madame Bovary for high school and I couldn’t finish that one at all.

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    • Maureen Lang says:

      I really tried to like Lockwood, but even he seemed a bit judgmental and elite to me. As you said, he had nothing to do with the action, he was just a vehicle to reveal the story. But in the end, I think his ego was as healthy as his appetite. Sigh. I just couldn’t like a single character, not even the unnecessary ones.

      And it’s so funny you should mention Madame Bovary! That was one of the three books nominated to read THIS month. Thankfully it didn’t win. Whew!

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      • infinitieh says:

        If Flaubert thought *writing* “Madame Bovary” was tedious (I read that somewhere years ago), then I didn’t see why I should have to read it. Plus, Madame Bovary’s grand ideas about life (i.e., “above her station”) was partially blamed on the romance novels she read while she was in school with upper class young ladies. Yeah, right.

        You were lucky your book club went with WH.

        I guess I’ve been harboring a grudge against Gustave Flaubert all these years…

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  4. juliearduini says:

    The only tragic love story I liked was Romeo and Juliet, and I believe for the sheer poetry and adoration of Shakespeare’s seemingly effortless process to pen such beauty and tragedy. I felt the same about Wuthering Heights, and I also hated Gone With the Wind, but I saw the movie first. I thought perhaps when I was younger that I didn’t understand the ways of the south. Now I think I couldn’t find a likeable character. How thought provoking!

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    • Maureen Lang says:

      I think that’s the key, Julie – finding a likeable character! If we can connect, we’ll put up with just about anything, even the tears we have to shed. Something to keep in mind as we pen our own characters. 🙂

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