The first time I read Wuthering Heights, I will admit, I hated it. It felt clunky and dragged out, the characters were completely unlikeable and the plot? Dull at best.
Having now studied it for a year and reread it three times, my opinion has changed. The plot isn’t dragged out, the two halves of the novel reflect each other. It’s not clunky, I just wasn’t reading it properly. Symbolism always looks clunky if you only think of the simplest thing. And the characters? Still completely unlikeable. But that isn’t a bad thing, you can see a character as a horrible person without them being an awful character.
There are many examples of this in literature throughout time, from Emily Brontë’s Heathcliff to J.K Rowling’s Snape. These are characters that do awful things and you know that if they were a real person they would be terrible, terrible people. But as characters? They can be fascinating. You just have to accept that the two are not linked. A character can be a terrible person but an interesting character. In fact, perfect characters that never do anything wrong are actually extremely dull.
As a culture, we find horrible people fascinating. Just look at how many films, tv shows and even documentaries there are about serial killers or life on Death Row. We understand that these are people that have done horrific, unimaginable things but we still find their stories fascinating. This is why characters like Heathcliff are so adored by some people, and yet abhorred by others. As a person, he is awful. As a character? Fascinating.
Anyway, this is not a post about our culture’s morbid curiousity and odd fascination with serial killers. It is a post about Wuthering Heights and why it is important to give novels (particularly the classics) a proper chance.
Wuthering Heights is a quintessentially Victorian novel, but it is heavily influenced by the Gothic era of literature which had come before, this is clear with Brontë’s use of ghosts and spirits. It is a much darker novel than most written at the time and this is part of its charm. The plot is not dull, I was just reading it too simply. The first half of the novel is still my favourite half but I have a newfound respect for the second half now that I understand what she was trying to convey. The characters in the second half of the novel are reflections of the characters in the first. Brontë is using this to show the way that their lives could have gone, particularly at the end with Hareton and Cathy.
Catherine is obviously the reflection of her mother, Cathy, but it is also important to note that she is also a reflection of Isabella. She is a wealthy, young woman who falls in love with a ‘rough young man’ – as Isabella does with Heathcliff – fortunately, Catherine is much luckier than Isabella as the man she falls in love with isn’t using her as part of his intricate revenge plot. But Catherine embodies all of the positive attributes that Cathy had with less of the negatives. She is excitable and high-spirited but not as spiteful and vindictive. She adores her father and truly does care for Linton, despite the awful way that he treats her. This is showing the happy life that Cathy could have had if she had been kinder to those who loved her and had chosen love over money.
Hareton is a reflection of Heathcliff. Despite being Hindley’s son, he is incredibly similar to Heathcliff. It is also a reflection of Hindley’s treatment of Heathcliff – he refused to let him join Cathy in her lessons and generally treated him as a servant. This is, in turn, how Heathcliff treats Hareton. He is, however, better than them both because unlike them, he is kind and loving and he begins teaching himself to read in order to be able to talk to Catherine. He has all of the best parts of Heathcliff – of which there are some – he feels passionately and honestly – unlike most of the characters! – and shows how Heathcliff’s life could have been if a) he cared less about revenge and b) his love for Cathy had been less obsessive and more, well… loving.
And Linton… I don’t have much to say about Linton. If any of the characters in Wuthering Heights are truly dull. It’s Linton – and Mr Lockwood, but he hardly counts. He is the reflection of Edgar Linton but he embodies the negative parts of all of the characters. He has Edgar’s childhood sense of entitlement and his lack of backbone, Cathy’s spite, Isabella’s frailty and submissive nature and Heathcliff’s vengeful malevolence. He is, in short, a horrible person and also a dull character. He spends the entire time whining about how unfair his life is – his life isn’t easy, I understand that, his father is awful and he is seen as nothing more than a pawn in Heathcliff’s game of revenge, but still… – and refusing to go outside for fear of the cold. He says that he loves Catherine but has no qualms about helping his father regardless of what that means for her. It is partly out of fear but also partly out of spite and his generally vindictive attitude.
When I read it for the third time after having studied it for nearly a year, I appreciated more what Brontë what trying to do and realised that actually… it was extremely clever and I had misjudged her and her novel.
So basically, despite this being the longest post I’ve ever made, all that I’m trying to say is that if you have ever started a novel and not finished it or had to read a book for a class and hated it then pick the book back up and give it another shot. Seriously, you might really enjoy it the second time! And if you don’t? Then at least you’ve given it a shot.