Friday, March 25, 2016

Book review: Wuthering Heights

It's been close to two years since my last book review. TWO (ALMOST) FULL YEARS! The last review was when I was pregnant, basking in blissful tranquility until two pint-sized dynamites entered my world with a bang (no pun intended!). Actually I'm just being a little melodramatic here. I didn't think I would be reading (let alone reviewing) any kind of print material for another ten years or so! I'm so glad my bleak prophecy proved false  

Wuthering Heights by Emile Brontë is another English classic that escaped my attention for a long time. There it sat on my bookshelf, gathering dust, acquiring that nostalgic aroma of an old book and imploring any passerby to allow fresh air to breathe into its yellowing pages. Last week, I finally awakened from my literary stupor and chose this particular novel to revive my book-loving heart. 

Before I delve into the review, let's look at some interesting facts about the author - Emily Brontë led, in many ways, a constrained life and is reported to have been solitary and reclusive by nature. Rarely leaving Haworth, the small Yorkshire village of which her father was curate, she was one of six children (five girls and a boy), all of whom had an influential role in her life. The two oldest girls Maria and Elizabeth died of illness during childhood. Emily was the third eldest of the four surviving Brontë siblings, between the youngest Anne and her brother Branwell. She wrote under the pen name Ellis Bell. Her surviving sisters also became writers – Charlotte, best known for Jane Eyre and Anne for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Branwell, the favoured brother, succumbed to drink and drugs, but aspects of his life and personality can be identified in all the novels. Wuthering Heights was Emile Brontë's only published novel. She died from tuberculosis at the age of 30.
I
***Plot***
The story unfolds in the beautiful county of Yorkshire, Northern England and chronicles the lives of the convoluted families of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange across two generations. The events are narrated chiefly by the loquacious and somewhat voyeuristic Ellen Dean, the housekeeper at the Grange (and a former one at the Heights) and in parts by Mr Lockwood, the current tenant at the Grange. 

When a street urchin of unknown parentage, is given a new lease of life by his benefactor Mr Earnshaw (on the latter's trip to Liverpool), he becomes an unwelcome inhabitant of Wuthering Heights. He is bestowed the name Heathcliff. Mr Earnshaw's biological children, Hindley and Catherine do not know what to make of the dark-skinned 'gypsy' at first. As time progresses, Hindley comes to regard Heathcliff as a usurper of his father's affections and despises him whereas Catherine, sharing Heathcliff's fiercely passionate nature, makes him her inseparable companion. Catherine and Heathcliff are aware that they are kindred spirits and often run off to the moors together willy-nilly, shutting the doors on the outside world.

After Mr Earnshaw's death, Hindley wastes no time in tormenting Heathcliff. Meanwhile, Catherine develops a close friendship with siblings Edgar and Isabella Linton who live in Thrushcross Grange a few miles away. When Catherine chooses Edgar Linton as a worthy mate, thereby shunning the affections of her childhood companion, it forces a heartbroken Heathcliff to leave, only to return three years later, mysteriously rich and with a vindictive agenda. He goes back to the Heights where he lives under the same roof with the odious manservant Joseph and his arch nemesis Hindley (who has now become a worthless drunk after his wife's death). Hindley's young son Hareton is left to fend for himself and with no one to tutor or groom him, is raised wild and uncivilized.

Heathcliff makes habitual visits to the Grange residence much to the delight of Catherine and chagrin of Edgar. But Catherine's elation doesn't last long. Heathcliff confronts her about her decision to be with Edgar and Catherine, caught in a maelstrom of emotions, eventually dies in the process of giving birth to Edgar's child (who is later named Cathy).

When Heathcliff gets wind of the fact that he has become the object of Isabella's affections, he exploits the impressionable young girl into marrying him. He makes Isabella's life a living hell compelling her to flee from the Heights. Thereafter she raises their son, Linton, single handedly until her death twelve years later. Heathcliff isn't satisfied by the mayhem he has caused and tears young Linton away from the assured protection of his uncle Edgar at the Grange to live a life of misery at the Heights. He then orchestrates a friendship to blossom between the cousins Linton and Cathy and subsequently forces a union between the two. Her father Edgar is unaware of the conspiracy and dies blissfully. After the marriage, Linton's failing health lead him to the grave and consequently widow Cathy. She becomes a prisoner at the Heights forced to live a life of degrading oppression. An unlikely friendship with her other cousin Hareton is the only ray of sunshine in her woeful existence.

At this point, the flames of revenge burning in Heathcliff's malevolent heart have abated and all he wants now is to be reunited with his one and only love Catherine, in death.

Catherine Linton: “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.



- Wuthering Heights


My thoughts....
This is not a love story (even though it may appear so at first). There is an undercurrent of tragedy that runs throughout the novel from start to finish. It is a story about two people who are severely flawed, whose love is thwarted by fate and who ostensibly can only be at pace when united in the afterlife. There is no hidden virtue in either of them therefore any form of redemption is inconceivable. The inhospitable moors in all their stark wilderness serves as the perfect backdrop for this dark tale riddled with perverted passion, eternal obsession, betrayal and revenge. The characters are completely removed from the stir of society and in a perceptible manner, the Heights and the Grange represent a misanthropist's heaven.

This is by no means an agreeable novel - the landscape kindles gothic imagery, the desolate old-fashioned house elicits claustrophobia, the sombre weather brings a sense of unease, the language is harsh, the customs questionable and most of the characters are capricious and hateful. There are hardly any niceties, decorum or upper class propriety. The amoral passion between the twisted main protagonists will even question the very existence of a moral compass. Most of the relationships in the story are tumultuous and there is a continuing spate of violence, abject suffering and despotism.

I would expect polarized reactions to this book because it isn't everyone's cup of tea. I didn't know what to make of it at first since I had never read anything like it before. To say that I was bewildered wouldn't be straying too far from the truth. Ambiguous, unpredictable, intricate with a complex and incomprehensible prose in parts (Joseph's lines to be precise) but put more effort into understanding it and you may begin to appreciate it. If 19th century literature isn't your thing and you are wary of tangled and depraved plots, then stay FAR FAR away. For the more inclined (and less faint-hearted), this is a book you have to read and then re-read to fully grasp the magnitude of what the author is trying to put across. Don't be too quick to judge for a perfunctory reading will just not suffice. This thought-provoking novel merits your thorough attention. But love it or hate it, the novel manages to leave a lasting impression on the reader. 

All the characters are well-etched. The noble characters are the cultured, benevolent, matronly housekeeper Ellen aka Nelly who becomes a trusted confidante of most people at the Heights and Grange. Mr Lockwood is a rather pleasant fellow and his place in the storytelling is welcome. Hareton, the most wronged character who although laconic and uncouth, is revealed to have a goodness buried within the rough exterior. Edgar Linton is kind, moral, patient and well-mannered and his spirited daughter Cathy takes up predominantly after her father, barring the rebellious streak inherited from her mother. Conversely, the story is rife with unlikeable characters too. The sinewy self-righteous manservant Joseph comes across as despicable with his ill-intentioned manipulations. The elder Catherine who initially tires everyone with her wayward ways and sauciness deteriorates into a spiteful, self-absorbed wretch. The appalling way in which she treats her husband Edgar after he intercepts her transgression with Heathcliff is downright loathsome. The young Linton who is denied a better life remains languid, morose and tiresome throughout his brief life. You cannot help but feel a listless apathy towards this character. But the most hateful is undoubtedly Heathcliff. He is callous, complicated and diabolical - fiend in the guise of a human being. His vices are too many to recount and one can't help but hope that he is condemned to eternal damnation. Although the perpetrator of widespread grief, he also (wantedly) suffers in silence. He and Catherine were imprisoned souls who brought comfort to each other. Thoughts of Catherine consume him and devour his existence. The only traits that make him seem human are his thickly concealed fondness for Hareton and an unexpressed regard for Nelly. 

The interesting narrative technique, the complex characterization, the evocative descriptions, beautiful poetic prose, emotional magnitude of the story and the literary vision behind the writing justify it as a masterpiece in English literature.

A tour de force of intense psychic exploration, Wuthering Heights is original, rustic and unique all through. My advice is: cast aside your 21st century predilections and immerse yourself in Brontë's treacherous world. 


Recommended!


My rating for this book is





Have you read this book? If yes, what did you think about it? I would love to hear your thoughts. Drop a comment to let me know....


Cheers,


1 comment:

  1. Aww... my fav fav book... love it... and your review is so well written... thank you for sharing...

    Cheers, Archana - www.travelwitharchie.com

    ReplyDelete

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