How reading-time flies by when you are drowning in work then so exhausted on your week off that you can barely raise your hand to change episodes on your Supernatural DVDs…. Ah well, one is rested now and about to head back to work but also ready to jump back in to Novelia.
Over a month ago (!) I posted that the next book was Wuthering Heights and that it was a reading group choice. My reading group is based at work so you’ve got a bunch of publishing folk talking about books which is more fun than (and not as grandiose as) it might sound. A fab group of people, incredibly well read, who always send me off with another author or book to track down. I like how a book group gets you reading things that you might never have read otherwise and two of my favourite books of last year (and now favourite authors) – Fugitive Pieces and The Road – came from book group selections.
When it was decided that Emily Bronte’s masterpiece (may the debate begin!) was the next choice I was a little so-so about it because I had read the book at least twice before, though possibly three times… But I took it on the chin, happy that the group had chosen a classic, and deciding to see how I reacted to the book some years after I had last read it.
I first read Wuthering Heights when I was 14. We were doing something about ‘Romance’ in English and for some reason I had it in my head that the novel was the height of romance. Perhaps I should blame Lawrence Olivier or Kate Bush (still one of my favourite songs, though my fave version these days is Albert Niland’s) … God knows what I thought romance meant then, I remember my teacher looking concerned and saying that yes, it certainly involved a typeof romance. I think I wrote about obsession and a love beyond death – things I probably thought were the height of love (and secretly, in some ways, possibly still do). I was probably Heathcliff-sympathetic, girls that age seem to want to forgive and understand bad, dark and handsome men (I remember my year 11 English teacher accusing a group of us of being sexually obsessed with Shakespeare’s Iago). I know I read it again a few years later, and possibly another time, but I don’t think I’ve touched it since I was 20 – so almost 9 years later, what did I think?
I still like it. I don’t know what it is because it certainly isn’t a happy novel, the characters are either horrible or largely un-enticing much really happens, it is bleak and dark and cold, and quite frankly the insistence of the author to write the Yorkshire dialect of the poor, uneducated folk in some kind of phonetic parlance drives me stark raving bonkers. So why the liking? I think for the same reasons as way back in 1994… I’m intrigued. By the notions of obsession, hate, how such horrible desires can smoulder and burn in a person their whole lives, by a love that seems pitiful but is so strong, by the isolation both natural, historical and chosen by these characters (how different would Healthcliff, Edgar, Catherine, Cathy and Hareton be if they were living in a bustling town or city amongst society, rather than the cold lonely moors?) And I pity them, all of them, and somehow as you are reading the novel you just want one good thing to happen to one of them, especially those wholly undeserving of their wretched lonesome lives.
Emily Bronte is a good writer. The language and imagery is much less flowery and overblown than that of her sibling in Jane Eyre, for example (though I like that too). And the supernatural aspects, though oft commented on are perfectly believable in the realm of the story and only one or two incidences occur, and could easily be cast off as dreams or the result of fever or madness by those less persuaded to believe. And somewhere in this bleak, awful story I find hope, at least as a reader I hope… that something good will come, that the bad will be rid of and the innocent prevail, and that happens eventually. And then there is Heathcliff…
On this reading I was much more aware of his ruinous obsession and vile cruelty to those around him and saw that he has no redeeming features (unless you include sticking to his cause) but that 14-year-old girl in me still wanted to find some glimmer of goodness, still wanted to understand why he was like he was. It was a fleeting feeling, but still there in a ‘monsters are made not born’ kind of moment. He will always be this wild, handsome, darkened creature that needs taming, a vile character carrying an overbearing passion that manifests in oh so many wrong ways. But I like a little passion in my life and I think that’s why I am still a fan of Wuthering Heights.
(Our meeting on Wuthering Heightsnever happened in the end, btw.)