Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights Romance?

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Homeward

I was a huge fan of the Brontë sisters, Emily, Anne and Charlotte.  Now I’m older, wiser and had a couple of love affairs, I see that their work, in particular Emily Brontë’s novel “Wuthering Heights”, reflects their own thwarted love lives.

Due to society, etiquette, the parsonage, limited opportunities for women in 1847, and through no fault of her own, Emily Brontë was greatly restricted when it came to writing about doomed male/female relationships.  To me, “Wuthering Heights” mirrors a lack of follow through, this inability to write a believable mental and physical connection between two people doesn’t come about because there’s no inherent knowledge behind it.  Although it could be argued that it’s a fictitious story, even in her sheltered life as a clergyman’s daughter, I think the themes of domestic upheaval, male aggression and marrying for prestige was something she may have encountered.  One man I almost felt sorry for in the novel is Edgar Linton, the second-best husband with good prospects.  To quote from Catherine “Whatever our souls are made of, his (Heathcliff) and mine are the same, and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning or frost from fire.”

Nevertheless, I have re-read this novel and could just about smack the protagonists heads together and say “get real, guys!”  If I were Catherine I would have stayed well away from Heathcliff, walked off without a backward glance.  Either that or suggest he has counselling; obsessive and vengeful man that he is.  No, wait, they both needed counselling!  Catherine certainly had issues. She says of Heathcliff “I’d as soon put that little canary into the park on a winter’s day, as recommend you to bestow your heart on him!…He’s not a rough diamond, nor a pearl-containing oyster of a rustic; he’s a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man” but she doesn’t heed her own warning.  To add to the angst, her brother Hindley is a nasty fly-in-the-ointment with his uppity treatment of adopted Heathcliff.  Gotta have someone to abuse, hey Hindley, especially Heathcliff with his uncontrollable gypsy blood, right?

The sense-of-place is strong for me, dark, brooding Yorkshire, and I shiver when reading some of the almost poetic descriptions.  But from my viewpoint, to say Catherine and Heathcliff were passionately in love is overstating their affair when they caused each other so much misery.  Their families are destroyed and their agonising love does not redeem them in the end.  This novel is billed ‘romance’ but for me, from my modern perspective, it seems a turmoil of mixed emotions between two foolish individuals who should have known when to call it quits.

It’s a pity that Emily Brontë died young and this is the only book she wrote, published under the pseudonym of Ellis Bell.  Today we know that she could have elaborated and perhaps gone beyond the ill-fated Earnshaw family.

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I want to rate “Wuthering Heights” highly but even allowing for the fact it was written in another time, another era, I can’t bring myself to go past three stars.  Don’t let me put you off, if you are into gothic torment and unrequited love, this is the book for you!

Gretchen Bernet-Ward

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Heights
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