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A Twisted Tale of Obsession, Love, Class, Hate and Fate
on October 25, 2006
Wuthering Heights is a surprisingly modern novel given that its authorship predates our modern understanding of psychology. Like many modern novels, Ms. Bronte has also explored the darker side of human passions and psyches more thoroughly than the sunnier side. Heathcliff will remind you of classic characters whose lives were twisted by fate like Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, Erik in Phantom of the Opera, Quasimodo in The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, and the mysterious prisoner in The Man in the Iron Mask.
If there were ever two star-crossed lovers who have captured the world's imagination since Romeo and Juliet, they must be Catherine and Heathcliff. Yet, unlike, many such pairs, their unhappiness is heavily influenced by themselves.
As you contemplate their story, you are constantly drawn to the thought, "what if" thus and such had occurred differently? That's part of the great power of the story because it has so many unexpected twistings and turnings. A reader's expectations from a love story are turned upside down, sideways and diagonal from where those expectations normally rest. As a result, you'll probably decide this isn't a love story after all . . . but a tragedy. Taken from that perspective, you'll find yourself hearing echoes of Lady Macbeth and King Lear as you contemplate what occurs when the natural order is disturbed. Few English authors since Shakespeare have captured that sense of what can happen when the universe is disarranged.
What's great about this story? It's pretty simple: Emotional intensity in the writing; deeply memorable characters; doomed lovers; and a haunting glimpse at unshakeable obsession.
What's not so great? The story development itself is pretty awkward. Much of the story is told in flashback which steals power and immediacy from the narration. If ever a story cried out for being told in the first person (by Heathcliff, Catherine, Edgar Linton, Hareton and young Catherine), it's Wuthering Heights. The transitions from one key moment to another are often very abrupt. Sometimes it is 150 pages later before you get the full sense of what Emily Bronte meant to convey in some of those transitions.
What's less than great? The characters aren't nearly as appealing as those you'll usually find in a novel dealing with these issues. In that sense, the novel is more realistic than fictional . . . which helps create some of its immense power. It's probably a worthwhile price to pay.
Whatever you think of Wuthering Heights, you owe it to yourself to read one of the most moving tales that has ever been written. Pick a time when you're feeling reasonably happy to start the book. Otherwise, you may find your mood to be more than a little darkened for a few days.