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The Book Club

Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights

Taken from http://knowledgelost.org/literature/reading-lists/1001-books-you-must-read-before-you-die/wuthering-heights.1. A tragic romance novel, with contemptible characters. Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights” – a tragic novel that contains elements of love, social class and vengeance – is bound to leave the reader astonished at the destructive turn of events, as well as the conflict of personalities. Though the novel and its corresponding themes might have been considered significant breakthroughs during Brontë’s time, the cycle of revenge and schemes of the character – in particular, those executed by Heathcliff – might not be as surprising for the modern-day reader. Reading “Wuthering Heights” can be considerably painful and depressing; nonetheless, its emotional plot – of the destruction of relationships and relentless pursuits of personal ambitions – has been paralleled in numerous television programmes and movies.

2. Understanding the narrative style: the questions. The narrative style adopted by Brontë has been the most intriguing for me. Even though Lockwood is introduced from the get-go, and is present – albeit behind-the-scenes – throughout the book, he is ultimately a frame; a conduit through which Ellen Dean’s first-hand experiences is expressed. Naturally, the reader has these questions: first, why did Brontë choose to have Lockwood tell Nelly’s story on Heathcliff and Wuthering Heights, instead of having Nelly do it herself; second, what are the advantages of this “framed experience”, and having the reader read between the lines; third, how do the characteristics of Lockwood and Nelly affect the way Heathcliff’s story is recollected?

3. Mr. Lockwood, at the beginning of the novel. “I’m now quite cured of seeking pleasure in society, be it country or town. A sensible man ought to find sufficient company in himself”.

4. Understanding the narrative style: the possibilities. The basic premise is this: the families, lives and relationships shared by Heathcliff, Catherine Earnshaw, Edgar Linton and Hindley Earnshaw are dysfunctional. Whether Heathcliff is chiefly responsible for this messy and convoluted state of affairs is contentious; however, outsiders – such as Lockwood – would find it hard to comprehend and accept the way various things have turned out. There are two possible reasons why Lockwood was portrayed in this way: first, as a bystander, he makes it easier for the ordinary reader to understand the people and events; second, his normalcy contrasts against the aforementioned proposition of discord in the households. Nelly is not entirely an unbiased narrator – her intellect, experience and ideals do empower her with personal opinions and particular favouritism (as she admits, she exercised in the beginning with Heathcliff) – but her physical and psychological proximity add to the emotionality of the tales. Striking equilibrium between Lockwood and Nelly thus makes for a more balanced reading of the novel.

5. Social class and its influence. Without going into details of British society and class systems, the novel quite straightforwardly highlights how class considerations do affect decisions made for relationships, love and families. Catherine’s marriage to Edgar – in spite of her confession that Heathcliff is the one that she truly loves – is a prime example of this; and her desire to “use” Edgar to help Heathcliff advance up the social ladder shows how much she values the importance of class. Heathcliff’s eventual transformation into a “gentleman” changes circumstances and people for him, while the Lintons – throughout the novel – show a continued and keen interest in their outward expressions of their gentry status in the neighbourhood: with their carriage, land and house.

6. The employment of doubles; comparing and contrasting. Doubles in “Wuthering Heights” serve two distinct purposes in furthering themes and characterisation: first, complementary characters or relationships augments messages that Brontë wishes to bring across; conversely, conflicting personalities or ideals allow for the reader to compare and contrast these individuals and their defining characteristics, and perhaps reflect on their significance. The cyclic nature of the novel is reinforced through doubles, as well as the similarity of the names (and sometimes, their mental construct) in the Linton, Earnshaw and Heathcliff households. The two residences, Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights, symbolise different perspectives and worldviews of their masters at various points of time. The double feature is also seen between Catherine and the young Catherine, who are extraordinarily similar, yet different, at the same time.

7. Isabella on Heathcliff. “I assure you, a tiger, or a venomous serpent could not rouse terror in me equal to that which he wakens”.

8. Edgar Linton and Heathcliff. Heathcliff is a complicated figure; though personally, my sympathies for me – like Nelly – perhaps ended with his ill-intentioned marriage to Isabella Linton, using her as a mere tool in his quest for revenge. During his childhood and formative years in the Earnshaw household when Mr. Earnshaw was still alive, Heathcliff did momentarily show his knack of manipulating circumstances to his favour – culminating with Hindley’s departure to college – but he was largely abused and treated like a servant. Compared to Edgar, Heathcliff is definitely more resolute and determined in his endeavours – though largely motivated by a doomed love relationship and the thirst for revenge – and almost heartless in his numerous schemes. Edgar never manages to genuinely win over Catherine, even though the latter chose him over Heathcliff initially because of the gulf in social class and wealth, and does proactively seek to eventually win her over. While some might point to this as a flaw, his gentility and civility contrasts strongly against Heathcliff, and does emerge as a worthy gentleman.

9. The destructiveness or glorification of love? The doomed relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff – facilitated by Heathcliff’s all-consuming love – is one of the primary reasons for the breakdown of the households, and the motivation for Heathcliff to exact revenge upon those who had crossed his path. Nelly, as a narrator, conveniently criticises his romantic relationship as being immoral and wrong, but their dedication to one another and willingness to break conventional norms can be seen as courageous.

10. Heathcliff’s proclamations towards the end. “I believe – I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! It is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul”!

About guanyinmiao

A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting. Carlos Castaneda.

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