10 February 2011


Reading Diary: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

" . . . My history is dree, as we say, and will serve to while away another morning."

Dree, and dreary! I reflected as the good woman descended to receive the doctor: and not exactly of the kind which I should have chosen to amuse me. But never mind! I'll extract wholesome medicines from Mrs. Dean's bitter herbs; and firstly, let me beware of the fascination that lurks in Catherine Heathcliff's brilliant eyes. I should be in a curious taking if I surrendered my heart to that young person, and the daughter turned out a second edition of the mother.

Given my sporadically expressed thoughts on Stephenie Meyer's sparkle-crossed lovers, you might be wondering why I'm using the image of the new Twilight-inspired cover.

If so, I'm wondering why you're wondering. Did you really think I could resist??? =P

But to be clear, this is not a Meyer-bashing post. (Sorry, Ninjapeps.) In fact, beyond this paragraph, there will be no more mention of her or her books. I'm bringing them up only because the parallels drawn between the Twilight series and Bronte's novel (due mainly to Meyer's explicit comparison between her Edward and Bronte's Heathcliff) are not as interesting as what they don't have in common. I challenge you to find anyone in Meyer's books who is a counterpart to the Mr. Lockwood we meet in the very first chapter of Wuthering Heights.

While enjoying a month of fine weather at the sea-coast, I was thrown into the company of a most fascinating creature: a real goddess in my eyes, as long as she took no notice of me. I 'never told my love' vocally; still, if looks have language, the merest idiot might have guessed I was over head and ears: she understood me at last, and looked a return--the sweetest of all imaginable looks. And what did I do? I confess it with shame--shrunk icily into myself, like a snail; at every glance retired colder and farther; till finally the poor innocent was led to doubt her own senses, and, overwhelmed with confusion at her supposed mistake, persuaded her mamma to decamp. By this curious turn of disposition I have gained the reputation of deliberate heartlessness; how undeserved, I alone can appreciate.

There isn't much to admire in Mr. Lockwood when we first meet him. He is Heathcliff's new tenant, someone totally new to the area, for whom the Earnshaw-Linton saga is a fascinating discovery. He gets his housekeeper, Nelly Dean, to tell him the whole of it--which she is perfectly capable of doing, as she saw it all unfold from the beginning. I can think of several books which utilise a similar teller-and-listener framing device, but only a few of these in which the listener gets to be as round a character as the figures whose story is being told to him.

For it's really Mr. Lockwood who unlocks the whole novel. (Hmmm. I now wonder if his name is meant to point to that.) Nelly may be the moral compass, but it is he who takes direction from her--and I believe it is Bronte's intention that we follow his lead. Here is the moral element which lets anyone extract "wholesome medicines" from the "bitter herbs" of Cathy and Heathcliff's story. What those two have between them is not one of the great loves of literature: Bronte is trying not to encourage readers' meaner passions, but to warn them against letting the same run free.

This makes Wuthering Heights as much a commentary on the Victorian Gothic novel conventions as Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. But instead of silly, credulous Catherine Morland (See my Character Connection post!) getting some sense shamed into her at the end, we have Mr. Lockwood, whose own "conversion experience" from hearing a decidedly Gothic tale is more difficult to describe. We don't actually see how he has changed after a year's time, but we know that the story he has heard has left its impact--one perhaps even he does not fully understand.

And I don't know if Bronte is that good a writer or if I'm just as easily manipulated as I've always feared (since this is the third time I've read Wuthering Heights and I never had this reaction before) . . . but I feel similarly changed by this reading experience. As if Cathy and Heathcliff Nelly and Mr. Lockwood have finally left their mark and that I'll never be the same, although there's no way I could give you any specifics right now.

Image Source: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte


Shannon Young said...

This is a great post. I read Wuthering Heights for the first time this summer, so the impact it had on me is still pretty fresh. I think that Mr. Lockwood's participation in the storytelling is a big part of why I felt so involved in the story. It is so difficult to like Cathy and Heathcliff, but you can still feel their pain right along with Mr. Lockwood.


Birdie said...

You make me want to read it again! I always wondered why people thought that Cathy and Heathcliff were some of the greatest lovers of all time. I'm glad someone else was wondering too!

Enbrethiliel said...


Shannon -- I never really noticed Mr. Lockwood until this reading. That's probably why I didn't like--or "get"--Wuthering Heights until now. I just wish there were more of him in the story!

Thanks for visiting! =)

Birdie -- I think part of that reputation has to do with most of the screen adaptions either cut out or play down Nelly's and Mr. Lockwood's roles. (Well, I've heard the 1998 TV mini-series doesn't; but I haven't seen it.) I understand where the filmmakers are coming from: after a tutee challenged me to retell the plot of Wuthering Heights in five minutes or less, I found that I couldn't do it unless I just told all the flashbacks.

High school was the first time I really studied Wuthering Heights, trying to get what the big deal about Cathy and Heathcliff was. I didn't see it at all, but because of that reputation, I thought there was something wrong with me!

Jillian said...

An insightful review! I love your suggestion about Lockwood's name. :-)

Enbrethiliel said...


I remember reading about the symbolism of the names in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. I guess that's what gave me the idea for Mr. Lockwood.

Thanks for visiting, Jillian! =)

Linda said...

Interesting, I never thought of comparing Wuthering Heights to Twilight. But then I didn't really care for either book, although I like the character's in Twilight better than in Wuthering Heights.



Enbrethiliel said...


Hi, Linda! =) Thanks for your comment. I think there are a couple of characters in Twilight whom I like and a couple of others in Wuthering Heights who stand apart from the rest of the disagreeable cast, so if I had to evaluate both based on characters, Twilight wouldn't be at too embarrassing a disadvantage!