WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Bronte
originally published in 1847
I knew before I started Wuthering Heights that it tends to be one of those quintessential love-it-or-hate-it books, but I was fairly confident that I would love it. The complaints I’d seen leveled against it – dense prose, unlikable characters – are things I find myself often defending. As you can see, this did not go as expected.
The prose wasn’t just dense; it was clunky, awkward, and every sentence seemed to be crafted for the sheer purpose of deliberate obfuscation. Reading this book felt like walking through brambles that haven’t been trimmed, I’m not sure how else to describe it.
The characters weren’t just unlikable; they were loathsome, and (in my opinion) utterly one-dimensional. Heathcliff and Catherine are jealous, spiteful, and cruel, and… that’s it. Several hundred pages follow of them being jealous, spiteful, and cruel to one another. To clarify: my problem with this book isn’t that I didn’t find their relationship romantic – that’s the last thing I care about in a novel, really. I had been looking forward into digging into this iconic fictional relationship and finding myself fascinated and compelled by the dynamic. Suffice to say, I was neither fascinated nor compelled. I was bored.
My third problem with Wuthering Heights was the narration. It begins from the point of view of Lockwood, the most unutterably pointless character in the history of literature, and a few chapters in, Nelly begins to tell Lockwood the story of Heathcliff and Catherine. So you’ll have a direct quote from Heathcliff, which is being narrated by Nelly, which is then recorded for our supreme reading pleasure by Lockwood. And the thing is, there is nothing to distinguish Lockwood and Nelly’s narration. The narrative voices of a well-to-do gentleman and a housemaid should not be identical. It was also frustrating, the fact that everything was recounted secondhand. First person minor is probably my least favorite point of view of all time (I have similarly negative feelings about The Great Gatsby), so I am fully aware that this is mostly my own bias, but I don’t fully understand the point of crafting such a passionate and volatile tale only to keep your reader at arm’s length from it.
Sorry, Emily, I think I shall stick with Charlotte from now on.