Thursday, January 6, 2011

Dreams are true while they last...

...and do we not live in dreams?  -Alfred Lord Tennyson

This novel struck me as a very interior work, easily read as a dream in which the dreamer's inner struggles are personified.  To begin with, I was fascinated that the entire setting of Wuthering Heights was like that of a dream state; by this I mean that the world of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange was self-contained.  Just like a dreamer doesn't wonder how the dream began or how s/he got there, in this novel the the characters unquestioningly accept the strange circumstances of their lives and do not appear to look beyond the geographical boundaries of the moors.  Even the city of London, mentioned a couple times, appears vague, distant and surreal.

Pardon me; you dropped your superego.
For some reason I had misguided expectations of the main romantic relationship in this novel, namely, more love and less hate.  Usually when fictional characters exhibit love, it changes them in some way, or causes them to choose more altruistic actions in order to benefit the object of their love.  Catherine's infantilism and Heathcliff's jealous violence run contrary to my expectations in that area. Despite their supposed eternal love for each other, they destroy each other.  This adds to the eerie, surreal quality of the novel.

SPOILER ALERT:  The paragraph below discusses key plot lines and events.

Apocalyptic Fantasy
I think Brontë's decision to carry the plot through the second generation of the two families was critical, but I know a lot of film versions end their portrayal with Catherine's death.  I don't know why filmmakers would choose to focus only on Cathy's and Heathcliff's unrequited love, because I found Heathcliff's manner of death and the redemption (intellectual, moral and social) of Hareton Earnshaw to be key plot elements.  In fact, the transformation of Hareton by Cathy Linton adds to the fantastical mood of the novel, as it contains a strong "Beauty and the Beast" element.  The final romance between Hareton and Cathy brings with it not a happy resolution to an unhappy story, but rather the peaceful yet shaky new beginning that comes after an apocalyptic end.  The theme of devolution before evolution lies heavily across the final pages of Wuthering Heights

So is Cathy forced to choose between nature and culture? Between id and superego? Between altruism and selfishness? Between her construction of Edgar and her construction of Heathcliff? Or simply between Edgar and Heathcliff?  This ambiguity of interpretation is part of what causes readers to return to this book.  Every time it is reread, the reader sees something new. 
Brava, Ms. Brontë.

Favorite character: Hareton Earnshaw
Most annoying character: Catherine Earnshaw
Character that started out annoying but mostly redeemed himself: Edgar Linton
Favorite quote:  "But there's this difference: one is gold put to the use of paving-stones, and the other is tin polished to ape a service of silver."  (chapter 21)
Oddest moment: Isabella Linton making lumpy porridge
Sense of place: 10 out of 10
There was a lot of : bad weather, doorways, windows, high walls, locks
There should have been more: bad weather, deja vu, dialogue between Catherine and Heathcliff
Descriptive passages: 9 out of 10 for quality, but I wish there had been more of them


Debbie said...

I was force fed this book as a college freshman and could not remember a thing about it afterward. I read on my own after college and thought that Cathy's death was punishment for her treatment of Heathcliffe. Then I watched the 1939 film and all I could think about was how handsome Laurence Olivier was as a young man. ;)

bren j. said...

You'll have to see if your library has the newest version of the movie, Kara. As I think I mentioned earlier, it's a pretty solid treatment of the book.

Catherine's idealism drove me crazy though. She led Heathcliff on and almost seemed convinced that she wasn't really betraying him by marrying Edgar. That makes me wonder if her 'love' for Heathcliff was just simply physical and circumstantial rather than pure, selfless love.

The novel also reinforces the notion that girls only want the Bad Boy. I'm curious how true that was in Bronte's time.