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
Image Source: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte