Sunday, October 19, 2008

Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights, which I last read in the hospital, is one of those novels I reread every few years. I am perusing it again this fall: it is my desert island book. At a slumber party long ago, while Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band crooned on the stero, a friend declared that Wuthering Heights was the best book ever written. So, at 3 a.m. I read it. Charlotte is perhaps a better writer, but one reads Emily Bronte for her passionate weirdness and powerful poetic effects, for her genius at matching mood to landscape (moors and parks), for her Byronic hero, Heathcliff, an interloper at Wuthering Heights, and for the quasi-feral passion between Heathcliff and Catherine, the imaginative yet disappointingly practical daughter of Wuthering Heights who chooses money and security over love.

The most famous passage of all time might be (after Catherine Earnshaw has a dream about heaven):

“This is nothing,’, cried she: ‘I was only going to say that heaven did not seem to be my home; and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth, and the angels were so angry that they flung me out into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights, where I woke sobbing for joy. That will do to explain my secret, as well as the other. I’ve no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn’t have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he’s so handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.”

And heaven is not her home, by the way.

The frame story is less appealing, concerned with, yes, property rights and death . Heathcliff, who has become wealthy and acquired property, rents the Grange (the Lintons’ former home) to .Lockwood, the narrator. This voyeuristic tenant hears the story of two generations of Earnshaws, Heathcliffs, and Lintons from the housekeeper, Nelly, a fairly well-educated, faithful employee who has occasionally interfered horribly for what she considers the good of the interwoven families and has become exasperated by all of them. (She is a genius at explaining their complex network of relationships.) Mr. Lockwood can listen, and he can write, but Linton-like, he lives in the Linton house and cannot act. Or is it Nelly writing and telling the story? Emily is so perverse that we can’t know what she really meant.


Ellen said...

There are other equally famous passages. Oh Nelly I am Heathcliff, and the one about how she loves runing in the wild winds and storms and Edgar loves laying in the sun (rather like Marianne Dashwood).

It's a novel with several subplots, all in the one frame - which is partly dropped after the opening. I was surprized to realize that Lahiri's _Namesake_ is quite similar in its use of frame, and more than one generation. The movie failed for the same sorts of reasons most of the _WH_ movies have failed.

Lovely weather here tonight. Perfect. Only our furnace broke so we are cold inside.


Sweet Oblivion said...

i read your post on wuthering heights and its nice, but one thing i disagree with is that Nelly is not a good person i think bronte put her originally to interfer in the course of action and shape the destiny of catherine twice fist in the famous passage you have quoted she knows that Heathcliff is there listening but she never tells Catherine, also when Catherine is descending into that state of frenzy she knew but refused to tell Edgar, i believe Nelly was never a reliable narrator and i also think she was jealous of the first generation esp. Catherine.