3/5 – Spoilers
There are a few books, which – though I’ve never read – I have an idea of what they are about. Wuthering Heights was one of those.
I thought, from what I’d picked up through cultural osmosis, that it was a love story between moody Heathcliff and wild Cathy, set on an English moor. I thought there would be windswept vistas and empty moors, lovers kept apart by fate or society.
But no…no…that’s pretty much not what happens.
For a start, Cathy dies halfway through and the story only touches on her violent relationship with Heathcliff…and she ends up marrying another man. So much for loving him then.
Their relationship can by no means be called “love” and is more like passive-aggressive hostility. It doesn’t seem as much as though they care for each other as drive each other to insane anger.
Heathcliff is less moody and more downright psychotic; he’s mean, spiteful and bitter, perhaps for the sake of it. But he justifies this by saying he ‘loved’ Cathy and resents anyone else taking her. Stalker, anyone?
So the story is less about Heathcliff and Cathy, and more about Heathcliff’s desire for revenge and retribution. He treats everyone around him as a kicking stool, and doesn’t hold back from assaulting them whenever the mood takes him. He abuses his nephew, he abuses Cathy’s daughter (also confusingly called Cathy – she marries Linton, which is the last name the other main family in this story. I had to keep a family tree to keep them straight for a while). The man is an absolute raving lunatic, and he should have been locked up.
The fact no one seems to have the nerve to stand up to him is startling. Not one member of his family reported him for cruelty or malice – perhaps it was a sign of the times that families kept themselves to themselves, but most of the characters seem almost as unbalanced. At one point, someone threatens to cut out someone’s tongue; they bite down on the knife and dare them to.
This isn’t a love story. Heathcliff isn’t a man you’d want marrying your daughter, any more than Cathy is a woman you’d want marrying your son.
The setting of the book was a surprise as well. I was, as I said, expecting windswept moors, but most of the action takes place indoors. In places this made it seem like a play, with simple, interchangeable sets as backdrops.
The structure of the story is interesting as well. Mostly, a servant relates the tale through her third-person lens, recalled from twenty years before (with perfect recall, apparently).
Another reviewer said the third-person narrative hadn’t been developed when this was written, and sometimes the servant’s story is further filtered through a conversation she had with someone else; there are hints that she might be an unreliable narrator, in her descriptions of the two Cathy’s.
The hardest part of the book to read was Joseph – wow, his accent is thick. I asked a friend from Yorkshire (where the book is set) to read a bit of his dialogue out, and he couldn’t figure it out either. There were a few plot holes – at the end, a shepherd boy says he’s seen the ghost of Heathcliff and Cathy (One) on the moor. At that point, Cathy One has been dead twenty years; but that’s a minor point.
Did I enjoy this book, even though it wasn’t what I expected? I did, although the main characters weren’t nice people and nobody I would want to spend any time with again.