Thursday, June 14, 2018

Back to the Classics Challenge 2018: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte


The category Reread a Favorite Classic from the Back to the Classics Challenge 2018 hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate was definitely the hardest choice!  I rarely re-read, but if I "have" to, what book to choose from so many favorites? 

I ultimately decided to re-discover Wuthering Heights.  The first time I read this book I was 21 years old and my real inspiration to read it was the Kate Bush song (♫♯"Heathcliff, its me Cathy, I've come home, I'm so cold, let me in at your window...").  I am glad to have read the book so young and to have the opportunity to re-read it now 30 years later. The book portrays destructive and all consuming passion which I think as a young adult I could inhabit and even admire. Now in middle age, I see the tragedy and senselessness of it. I don't think that either interpretation is right or wrong; it is more a matter of age and experience playing into the reader's perception. And in my mind, that is what makes a classic "classic" in part: the ability of the work to engender different impressions or interpretations upon multiple readings. 

It is also so interesting to read this on the heels of Bel Ami since there isn't any likable character in Wuthering Heights either.  Even Nelly Dean, the servant telling the tale to Mr. Lockwood, is suspect in my mind.  First of all, we only have her word that what she is relating is how it happened and secondly, she does cause small amounts of harm when she withholds information from the other principals in parts of the story.  

I think that most people are familiar with the story of Heathcliff and Cathy who due to their upbringing and personalities can't live without each other but also can't, in the society and world they inhabit, live with each other.  The  result of their inability to be together as they wish leads to tragic misunderstandings, long memories and cold-blooded (or maybe fiery-hearted?) revenge. 

Upon re-reading I did not remember ANY of the second volume! Which makes me wonder if I did read it 30 years ago...I think I did but with little thought to what I was reading if that makes sense!

What I really enjoyed most upon re-reading (Note: I actually listened to most of this on audio, narrated by Carolyn Seymour) was the structure of the book and the way the narrative is framed.  Mr. Lockwood is renting Thrushwood Grange 20 years or so after the events of the book take place and the story is then related to him by Nelly over the course of a few nights. I just love the way the story is wrapped in a story which is wrapped in a story. 

22 comments:

  1. Hi Ruthiella, thanks for another really great review. I read Wuthering Heights for tne first time when I was about 40 and have been thinking about reading it again. It's a great classic and Emily Bronte throughout the course of the novel sets a tone that draws you in. Prior to reading the book I had seen tne movie and that was a shock. Lawrence Olivier was a romantic Heathcliff. The Heathcliff in the book however was much different and rather violent as I recall. Agree with your point that what makes a classic is that each time you read it you get something new out of the experience.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Kathy! I have never seen a film adaptation of this book but I can imagine that such interpretation might focus more on the "romance" angle. Heathcliff is very violent and emotionally manipulative in the book. Emily Bronte made no effort to soften him.

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    2. Hi Ruthiella, if you do get a chance I think you would really like Wuthering Heights starring Lawrence Olivier and Merle Oberon but its a totally different movie than the book. For example the movie ends with Cathy's death and Olivier overcome at her bedside but the entire second part of the book cut from the movie.

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    3. Hi Kathy, I will try and get my hands on a dvd! Thanks for the tip!

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  2. I first read Wuthering Heights in my teens and have reread it once, but even that was many years ago. The second time I read it, I, too, concentrated on the structure and the unreliable narrator as much as the Heathcliff/Cathy relationship. The first time I read it, I "experienced" it, the second time, I "examined" it. Both were rewarding.

    You are right that rereading a classic can offer something new each time--about yourself, about changing social norms, about the skill of the writer. Thanks for a thoughtful review!

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    1. Thanks for the comment jenclair! I like the verbs you chose: "experienced" vs "examined". That describes my first and second encounter with this book perfectly.

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  3. I love that Kate Bush song! :) And I've always liked this book, although it's been many years since I've read it. I should give it another read sometime and see how much I really remember about it.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Lark! I love Kate Bush in general but particularly that song made me curious about the book. It is so interesting to re-read and see what I remember (or don't remember as the case may be!).

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  4. I'm a fan of WH, and think the framed story that Emily Bronte creates is definitely a masterpiece. I think one of the reasons the second volume is often forgotten is that the movie versions really focus on the first, and some even completely ignore the second. But the second makes the story whole. Great review.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Jane! Yes, I really admired the narrative framing in the book. I liked this a lot in Frankenstein as well.

      You are probably correct that the reason I forget the second volume is because the pop-cultural emphasis is typically on the first volume and the story of Cathy and Heathcliff when they are young.

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  5. I can't remember if I've ever read Wuthering Heights of not. At one point I had all of the books by the Bronte sisters and I was going to read them all in a row, but I have no memory at all of reading this book. The only one I have any recall about is Jane Eyre.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Angela! Of the Bronte sisters' books I have only read Jane Eyre and this title. I want to try Anne Bronte soon. Maybe for the Back to the Classics category "New to you author" or "Woman author". Choices, choices! :)

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  6. I nearly gave up on WH the first time I read it but I'm pleased I didn't. It was really weird but the whole 'outcome' turned on its head towards the end & for me it redeemed the rest of the book. I should read it again as I read it when I was really busy with lots of littles & I think I need a refresher. Thanks for your review. I do enjoy reading how others react to books & glean from their perspective.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Carol! It is a weird book! And every character in it is pretty repugnant. But there is something about that bond between Cathy and Heathcliff that keeps readers enthralled despite all of that.

      If you are so inclined, I recommend the audio for re-reading. I really enjoyed listening to it.

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  7. OK, I just might read this someday. Do you rec the audiobook with this narration?

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    1. Thanks for the comment Care! Yes, I though the narration by Carolyn Seymour was really good (especially the parts in Yorkshire dialect).

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  8. This is one I actually have and had on my TBRM for a long time, maybe time to dust it off and give it a bash xxx

    Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

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    1. Thanks for the comment Lainy! I like participating in the Back to the Classics Challenge every year because it makes me get to those classics that have been languishing on my TBR for so long. :)

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  9. Ruthiella,
    Oh, Wuthering Heights. God how I loved Wuthering Heights. I read it at 16 and devoured it and read it again and then highlighted my favorite bits, because that's what you did before computers and phones. (And it was better, if you ask me.) I used to have Cathy's impassioned declaration of love for Heathcliff memorized...let's see what I can dredge up or paraphrase..."My love for Linton (name? who can remember that dude's name?) is like the foliage on the trees, time will change it, I'm well aware, but my love for Heathcliff is like eternal like the rocks below, a source of little visible delight, but necessary...I AM Heathcliff."

    God, it thrills me still, even though I'm an old middle-aged lady now and I know love is both so much more and so much less than Cathy's teenaged (although heartfelt) view of it. Good old Emily. I would say that only someone who had never lived with a man could think their love for one would always be as solid as the rocks below, but I gather Bramwell was no ray of sunshine to live with, so I think she got it. It's not Heathcliff I'm in love with--it's Emily Bronte. And of course my little 16-year-old self. It's fun to revisit her through books. Thank you for this post.

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    1. Thanks for the comment CR! I appreciate your passion for Wuthering Heights. I think it is great that you can understand the bond between Heathcliff and Cathy from both the perspective of a romantic teen and a mature adult and still love the novel.

      There is a lot in Wuthering Heights which makes me believe that Emily Bronte was well aware of the "real" world and not as sheltered and naive as some biographers have portrayed her!

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  10. I have a hard time getting over my contempt for Heathcliffe to allow me to like this story. Emily can certainly write, but (just from memory of something Charlotte said of her), she died so young and sheltered, she didn't really experience enough of life to....oh something?; Charlotte made a good case. I just can't love this book.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Joseph! I found every character fairly contemptible! But I enjoyed the sheer drama of it all this time around. But the cruelty of many of the characters' actions was often hard to listen to/read, for sure.

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