Monday, March 21, 2011

Book Review: Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights
Author: Emily Bronte
Trade paperback
448 pages
Published by Harper Teen (Reprint edition), October 6, 2009
Genre: Classic, Gothic fiction

Reviewer's Notes:  This review was originally posted on Amazon, on February 19, 2010.  I've decided to post it here as well, with some slight modifications, which I made for the purpose of clarifying and highlighting some points.  

This is yet another book I both like and dislike.  I don't think I will ever be able to love it!  The most I can say in favor of it is that I love the cover of this particular edition, which is the Twilight edition, since this is one of the books mentioned by Bella in The Twilight Saga.  In fact, Stephenie Meyer even points out that Bella's copy is dog-eared.  Well, I can't for the life of me imagine why it would be...

When it was first published, Wuthering Heights elicited strong criticism. Although Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre also received its share of negative criticism, it was not as markedly disliked as her sister's book. As time went by, the pendulum swung in the opposite direction, and it was Emily's book that eventually came to be hailed as superior to Charlotte's, particularly as the 20th century got under way.

I have read the book three times. It was part of a high school English Lit assignment. To be quite honest, I could barely stomach the book back then. It was too strange, wild, and terrifying to me. The second time I read it, several years ago, I was much older. Thus, I was able to appreciate its masterful prose style and brilliant characterizations. In fact, it was these two factors that kept me reading until the very end. The same thing happened a few months ago. Once more I was hypnotized by this horrible tale of people whose lives went so very wrong. It was one character in particular who exerted a rather puzzling pull on me - Heathcliff. I read almost against my will, hoping against hope that I would be able to find some good quality in him. Of course, I vaguely remembered the plot from the second reading, so I knew that I would not find any such thing.

This book, in its entirety, is really about Heathclif. It's about how the abuse he suffered at the hands of his benefactor's son, Hindley Earnshaw, twisted him into a demonic caricature of a human being. As such , it is definitely not a pleasant read. However, it does serve as a testament to Emily Bronte's genius. That such a hideous creature sprang from this young woman's imagination is nearly unbelievable, considering her background. Something dark and cruel stirred in the nether recesses of her mind. M. L. Von Franz, a Jungian analyst writing in Man and His Symbols, edited by Carl Jung, mentions Heathcliff, describing him as Emily Bronte's animus; this is the masculine part of a woman's psyche, according to Jung. The animus can be evil or good. Heathcliff is demonic indeed. Bronte brings him to life with great vividness, and this undeniably displays her great talent for making a character truly live in a reader's mind.

Therein lies the rub. Heathcliff is so repulsive, so utterly demonic, and so overpowering, that he makes the book sheer torture to read. His influence is seen on every page. The one redeeming quality he might have possessed, his love for Cathy, turns into a monstrous, sick obsession toward the end of the book.

While I can admire the powerful way the author delineates character, as well as her obvious command of writing style, I simply cannot say that this book is one of my favorites. I find it especially strange to see it referred to as a love story, and tagged as "romance" on Amazon. There is little to none of that in this novel. The supposed love story between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw is sketchy at best. They are separated for three years, due to her stubbornness, as well as his pride. When he suddenly reappears, determined to see her, she is already married to another man, one whom Heathcliff despises as a weakling, due to his passionless nature. Yet it is that very man who treats Catherine with kindness, catering to her every whim. Had she, instead, chosen Heathcliff, things might have been very different. Such a tumultuous relationship could very well have ended in tragedy. Had Bronte taken the story in this direction, the book could, indeed, be classified as "a dark romance". As it stands, however, it certainly cannot, nor should it be.

Catherine Earnshaw herself is not a wholly pleasant character, either, although she never descends to the depths of depravity Heathcliff does. She is, however, a very self-centered creature; her sole reason for marrying Linton is so that she won't be brought below her station by marrying Heathcliff. She attempts to rationalize her decision by claiming that she can use Linton's money to "help" Heathcliff, but this is a rather flimsy excuse.

Through Heathcliff, this also becomes a tale of family dysfunction, and of how that dysfunction poisons anyone who comes into contact with that family, whose most disturbed representative, Heathcliff, engages in a very elaborate plan of revenge throughout the latter part of the book.

Allthough, again, the writing is brilliant, the book does have one major creative flaw, and that is the plotting. Characters are killed off when they are no longer necessary. Now, I do agree that a writer has to include sad and unhappy events in a novel, even if he or she is writing within the parameters of the modern romance genre. However, having characters die every few pages or so is just too contrived. Even Cathy's death is contrived. It's designed to make Heathcliff even more of a monster than he already is. Besides, there is no clear explanation for her death. True, she had gotten herself into a state of near hysteria due to auto-suggestion, but this is hardly enough to cause anyone's death; at least, not as suddenly as hers comes about. It's just not believable. Furthermore, the reader finds out, after her demise, that she was pregnant! She very conveniently gives birth, too, before she inexplicably departs from this world. This seems to be a rather forced way of increasing the pathos.

Other reviewers have objected to the narration-within-a-narration technique Bronte uses. Actually, I found this quite intriguing. This is one of the elements about the book that actually maintained my interest. Nelly Dean turns out to be a very shrewd, highly perceptive observer, with an especially keen eye for nuanced detail.

I was glad that poor Hareton got a chance at love with Catherine Linton. That was another element about the book that I liked. Still, their union is also a bit too contrived, since they happen to be cousins.

All in all, although I do recognize the greatness of Emily Bronte as a writer, I have to say that I consider her sister's novel, Jane Eyre, far superior, with a more polished plot structure.  Furthermore, Charlotte Bronte's story is, indeed, a love story.  Although the relationship between Jane and Rochester is just as tumultuous as that between Heathcliff and Cathy, it is satisfactorily resolved as a tale of romance, instead of degenerating into one of twisted, perverted evil. 



  1. I am loving your blog! I found you through Book Blog!
    Will you follow me?

  2. Thanks, Mindy!! I sure will! : )

  3. Glad you reviewed this one-- I'm just about to check it out from the library! I think I might like this book better than you, Maria, if only because I often enjoy (in my weird, sick way;) a twisted tale of evil more than a romantic one. I think you're right about it being a gothic novel rather than a 'dark romance', and will keep in mind the bad plot structure, etc, you mentioned when I read the book. Great, thoughtful review. :)

  4. You're so funny! Lol! You will see that Heathcliff is brought to life brilliantly. I admire Emily Bronte's genius in that regard, but I still find it very unpleasant to read about this character's cruel and evil behavior.

    You'll also see for yourself that labeling this novel a "romance", even a dark one, is completely inaccurate, since the so-called "romance" doesn't take up even half of the plot!

    I hope you write your own review of the novel. I'd sure like to know hos it affects you! And let me know about the contrived deaths, too. You might not agree that they're contrived, but hey, that's okay. Literature affects different people in different ways!

    All I know is that this book gives me a very strong feeling of -- I don't know what to call it. I guess it's kind of like a "soulache", a rather uncomfortable feeling combining fear, absolute dismay, horror, contempt, and a certain nausea....

    Thanks for the compliment!!! : )

  5. Oh, and how could I forget -- this novel also makes me feel very, VERY.....depressed, and full of despair regarding life and the human race.....

  6. Wuthering Heights is one of the classics I have yet to read, and this is a brilliant review. I'm more anxious to read it now that I've read your thoughts on the book.
    I'm following you from Bookblogs.

  7. Oh, Rachel! Thank you so much for giving my review such a high accolade, as well as for following my blog!!

    This is one of the most unpleasant books I have ever read, and yet, I can't quite get it out of my mind... I have such a collection of mixed feelings about it, too. All in all, a VERY disturbing novel! I hope to see your own review of it, on your blog, since I'm going to follow you right back! : )


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