I didn't like Wuthering Heights the first time I read it. I was a university student, it was my first Bronte and I thought it was heavy on the melodrama, to say the very least! Since then, I've read and loved books by both Charlotte and Anne Bronte, so I added Emily to my Classics Club list in the hope that my opinion would change with time. Collectively, the Brontes are my favourite group of classic writers as their books are the ones that really speak to me. I come across as very calm and collected but my life is really an emotional rollercoaster and I feel that whenever I read Villette or Jane Eyre. I might admire the cool, sparkling wit of Jane Austen but the raw emotion of the Brontes is what gets to me every time. And on this read, I just loved Wuthering Heights.
Wuthering Heights is all about Heathcliffe, a 'dark gypsy' boy rescued from poverty and bought up amongst the Earnshaw family in Yorkshire. Although Heathcliffe quickly forms a bond with the daughter of the house, Catherine, he suffers from prejudice and discrimination from everyone else he meets. When Catherine consents to marry Edgar Linton, a proper gentleman, Heathcliffe's bitterness and desire for revenge consume his life, with tragic consequences for those around him.
The first time I read Wuthering Heights, I was expecting a love story, and even though it sort of is, it's about the darker side of love, love that destroys and doesn't make any logical sense. Heathcliffe is a prototype for the kind of man that lots of women want to rescue. Isabella Linton thinks she can rescue him at one point, even though he makes it clear that he isn't about to change ("You'd hear of odd things if I lived alone with that mawkish, waxen face; the most ordinary would be painting on its white the colours of the rainbow and turning the blue eyes black.") Of course, life isn't a fairy tale and Isabella ends up miserable. I do like it when authors avoid the temptation of a cliched sub-plot, like Bronte did here.
Despite all of the bad things that Heathcliffe does, I couldn't help but maintain a bit of sympathy for him and this is the genius of the story for me. Bronte has created a layered, ambiguous character that does repellent things but never quite manages to fully repel the reader. The unreliable narration of Nelly works to further this ambiguity and I closed the book with more questions than I had answers. I don't know what was 'right' or 'wrong' in this novel.
The wildness of the setting and the wildness of the characters was the thing I enjoyed the most about Wuthering Heights. We all live our day to day lives suppressing our emotions and putting a brave face on things, so it was refreshing to see all of that put on the page with beautiful writing. The hidden, wilder part of me simply loved this book, and I now count it as one of my favourites.
"For mercy's sake, let us hear no more of it now! Your cold blood can not be worked into a fever - your veins are full of ice-water - but mine are boiling, and the sight of such chillness makes them dance."
Source: Personal Copy
First Published: 1847
Score: 5 out of 5
Classics Club: Book 9 of 72
My list can be found here.