Wuthering Heights had been sitting on my shelf collecting dust for quite some years. I knew during all that dust-collecting time that I probably wouldn’t like it, but, believing myself to be an open-minded reader, I cracked it open on a train journey to London.
The story, first published in 1847, was gripping at first. I was missing tube stops because I was so engrossed in the horror of it all. There are dysfunctional families, and then there’s the family at the Heights. I don’t think I have ever read a book in which there is so distinct a lack of any redeeming character. The style itself – a female narrative contained within a male narrative – grated on me after a while too. The last 20 pages were put off for weeks, simply because I knew that no ending could save this book.
It has plenty of melodrama to explain why it has remained popular for a century and a half, and yet, Heathcliff, who is a romantic icon in cinematic lore, is steeped in villainy. You might make pains for his troubled upbringing, but Cathy, the object of his devout and mangled love, is just as horrible. Even the housekeeper, Nelly, through whom one learns the story, lends no credibility or stability to the affair. I’m not saying every book needs to have a moral compass, but WH seems determined not to have any at all. Instead it is the playing out of a Gothic nightmare on the Yorkshire moors, cut off from the rest of the world. It exists, suspended, in its own inscrutable universe. The very madness of isolation does break through, and I admire Emily Brontë’s extreme portrayal of human emotion, especially of her female characters; clearly it achieves something in being able to trouble its reader so. But on the other hand, for me, it revels in the kind of brutishness that attracts insatiable teenage girls to contemporary vampire-fiction (and the less said about that, the better…)
I’ve moved on to The Reluctant Fundamentalist now. Much more optimistic about this one…