book review: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

9781471141638_hr

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.

16 thoughts on “book review: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

  1. Oh my gosh, I totally agree. I’m always so relieved when other people dislike this book because it’s so iconic now, I almost feel guilty pointing out it’s flaws. Part of me kind of loves all the crazy drama that happens, but it’s all so unnecessary! And everyone is TERRIBLE. I just don’t understand. Lol.

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    • Thank goodness I am not alone!!!

      I know right, like on the one hand I am here for the melodrama, and on the other hand it’s just frustrating because you’re so removed from the action, so what is even the point of the melodrama if you don’t let your reader feel it?? Like… all the crazy drama would have been so much more engaging had it not been recounted to us via Nelly via Lockwood.

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  2. I agree with the narration – what was the point of it? Couldn’t it have been from the perspective of Heathcliff!! I was so confused when it changed from Lockwood to Nelly. That did really frustrate me! I agree with everything you’ve said.

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    • Right??? I even would have settled for Nelly’s POV without adding Lockwood into the mix… it was just such a strange narration choice! I would have liked it SO MUCH BETTER if it had just been from Heathcliff’s POV I think.

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  3. I had to read this book for my British Literature class this semester. I liked the setting and found the overall plot interesting but the characters were either kind of pathetic or really just terrible. Some of parts of the narration are interesting and it’s certainly a quotable novel but it didn’t have any impact on me, I would say. Also, the names confused me to no end. My professor had to draw a family tree on the board for us so we could understand everyone’s relationships. I don’t think I would read it again unless I had to.

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    • I just realized I forgot to say anything positive in my review to justify my choice of 2 stars rather than 1, but YES the setting was really excellent! I wish I’d enjoyed it more in the end… And I thought the family tree was going to make me go crazy, I’m usually really great with remembering names but I was SO CONFUSED for the first half of this novel. I literally had a family tree saved to my phone that I had to consult at least once a chapter.

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  4. I’ve always been wary of reading Wuthering Heights and other classics like this as it doesn’t especially appeal to me. It feels like one of those books you HAVE to read at some point as it is SUCH a classic. I do like plenty of classics, but the last few I have read have been a bit meh, so I’m going to be extremely choosy in future! 🙂

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    • I know, same here!!! I usually find myself enjoying classics, but after hating this and War and Peace I’m like, what the heck is going on?? Fingers crossed my next one is better… I’m definitely glad I read it because like you said, it does feel like one of those books everyone should read at some point, but I’m so relieved that it’s over.

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  5. I read this book when I was 16 and really liked it, but wonder if I’d feel differently now……though tbh I feel no need to reread it lol. I do remember hating Heathcliff though, but I really liked the whole stormy atmosphere of it.

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    • I SAW YOUR 4 STAR RATING AND WAS GONNA ASK ABOUT THAT. But that totally makes sense. Did you read it for school?? I feel like I might have liked it better if I’d read it with a class…. Also I just realized that I forgot to say anything positive to justify my 2 stars instead of 1 lol BUT yes I really loved the gothic atmosphere!!! I just wish I’d been more captivated by the story and characters 😦

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      • I actually just took my April vacation in 11th grade and used it to read this book?? I don’t even know why, I’d never read any Bronte books before. But I just remember having fun reading it LOL. It’s funny though, because last year I read Agnes Gray but Anne Bronte and it was basically the opposite of both Charlotte and Emily’s books (a romance between a governess and a kind minister) but I loved that one as well?? I guess all the Bronte sisters have something to offer for me.

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      • Omg!!! I really don’t know how much I would have gotten out of this book at 16?? Then again maybe I’d find the challenge of the prose more novel and rewarding HMMM… this was only my second Bronte novel after Jane Eyre but I really want to read Villette and I should probably check out Anne too at some point. I think Hadeer and I are going to read The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall as one of our classics buddy reads so HOPEFULLY I will find Anne more rewarding than Emily!!! I have a feeling I will remain #teamCharlotte though

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  6. I forgot to mention this but, working in a major chain bookstore for two years during the whole Twilight blow-up, I remember publishers re-vamping the cover for Wuthering Heights to appeal to the same crowd (I think this is it: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6712426-wuthering-heights) and there being a blurb about this romantic story, and really I think that says a lot. It’s ‘romantic’ in the same way that Twilight is.

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  7. I liked it slightly better than you, but I also agree with you, especially on prose and narrative. My biggest problem though was Heathcliff. I think he wasn’t written wisely. He is supposed to be intriguing, but the book also asks us to sympathise with him in the end, especially about his torment/love for Catherine? But could we really? He acts like a tyrant most of the time and is so despicable. It is like this novel asks us to love and understand an abusive husband only because he would not dare to hit one person dear to him. It is ridiculous.

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    • Very good points! I agree… I am fine with reading about loathsome characters if they have a certain degree of intrigue, and Heathcliff was really lacking that for me. I think Rochester is much more of a success in this regard. But yes, I also thought the resolution was asking us to sympathize with him and he never earned that from the reader.

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