Katherine: Why I Don’t Like Wuthering Heights
Maybe things could have turned out differently between me and Heathcliff if I hadn’t just fallen in love with Rochester. I went into Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights having just finished her sister’s wonderful, beautiful Jane Eyre. I loved Jane Eyre. That book has got everything – a badass feminist for a lead character, a charming male love interest, suspense, plot twists, and a beautiful romance. I was hoping Wuthering Heights would be similar, and I was disappointed. For some reason, Wuthering Heights seems to be commonly viewed as a great romance and Heathcliff as some dreamy protagonist; I disagree strongly with both of these characterizations. The two main characters of this book are terrible people, and I didn’t for one minute believe in their “love.” Sure, they have an attachment as children, and I can understand Heathcliff’s affection for Catherine as the only one who ever really showed him kindness (though the dad was pretty nice to him, too), but once they grow up it gets way too twisted for me. Catherine is selfish and cruel, and I don’t believe that she really loved Heathcliff. Yes, she says that stuff about him being more her than she is, but dem’s just words, honey – her actions say something completely different. She torments Heathcliff with Linton, and then she chooses Linton over Heathcliff for no compelling reason. She says that it would be beneath her to marry Heathcliff when in fact her father had always treated Heathcliff like a son and therefore an equal. Sure, Hindley treats him like crap, but everyone knows Hindley is a jerk. There seemed to be no real barrier between Catherine and Heathcliff besides her puffed-up sense of her own status. After Catherine ditches him, Heathcliff hulks out basically for the rest of his life and enacts his truly sadistic revenge on everyone in his path. But his revenge is not even really revenge because most of the people he abuses are completely innocent. Young Cathy, Hindley’s son, Isabella Linton, even Edgar Linton – these people had nothing to do with Catherine treating him like crap, and yet he views destroying their lives as some sort of appropriate retribution. It just seems so pointless. There is nothing compelling or sympathetic about these characters at all. I don’t argue that the book is not beautifully written or innovative for the time or a venerable literary work – I can concede all of these things. I just don’t like reading books about twisted sadists who hate each other and the world.
Heather: Why I Love Wuthering Heights
It’s hard to justify my love for this book when, as Katherine so aptly put it, the main protagonists are a pair of horrible people doing horrible things to each other horribly in a horrible setting. Horrible?
Strangely, though, it’s been one of my favorite books since high school and was a major gateway drug into Victorian poetry and literature. I suppose I do love it, in part, for the excess. It’s an excess of passion and emotion in an environment that’s as full of unbridled rage as the characters. Howling winds over the lonely moors; a howling Heathcliff beating his head against a tree until he gets CTE. Rather than the classic tropes of softness and kindness and giving and compromising that you find in most romantic narratives, here there is no compromise. There is no giving and no love as a healthy, normal person would understand it. To steal from the title of one of the more famous books on Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, this is “furious love”, angry, intense, needy, and uncompromising. When these lovers swear to be together forever, it’s not in any idyllic lover’s heaven; they condemn themselves to waking torment until they are together once more: “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!” Or this from Cathy: “If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger….My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.””
Yes, one could call such stuff ridiculous and melodramatic but it’s love as we rarely see it; all consuming, “ungovernable passion”, where the lovers are seemingly literal halves of one (cruel) whole and the narrative itself illustrates the mutual annihilation of both parties and their universe when fate or selfishness divides them. Also, I love Emily Bronte a little bit more, knowing that this howling, raging thing came from her psyche. It’s not at all what you’d expect from the mind of a woman growing up in such times, but her imagination was so vivid, her passions so great, and her mind so keen that to me, it speaks so much to the power of her own personality, to have constructed a work such as this.
What say you, dear Readers? Take it to the poll and to the comments!