When my friend Adam and I mapped out our second year of our virtual Book Club, we strategically incorporated a variety of themes, categories and types of literature into our reading list. For February, we considered it all too appropriate to read a classic love story to recognize Valentine’s Day, ironically a completely over-hyped and commercialized holiday that I fail to care about. Upon cursory research, Wuthering Heights topped several “Best Love Stories of All Time” lists, hence our decision to tackle Emily Bronte’s most esteemed novel this month.
Initially, I will admit that the plot moved deafeningly slow, perhaps a symptom of the mundane lives of the handful of incestuous characters. Also, virtually the entire tale is told retroactively from the first person point-of-view of a secondary character who turns out to be quite charming and arguably the most likable character in the whole book. If there was an equivalent for “Best Supporting Actress” for the loyal female who narrated the majority of Wuthering Heights, I’d definitely award Ellen Dean for her strong principles, sense of humor and talent for compelling storytelling.
Though the plot crept slowly in the beginning, I caught myself surprisingly engaged amidst several extensive reading sessions – reading for hours on end about the Lintons, Earnshaws and Heathcliffs, ultimately finishing the final half of the novel in one three-hour sitting this evening.
I certainly enjoyed the tale, especially nearing the conclusion when the plot accelerates considerably. The relationships and love triangles in Wuthering Heights were not at all as I imagined, but I definitely extracted an element of romance from the gloomy, isolated moors of the English countryside. I couldn’t escape comparisons to Downton Abbey with the horses, estates, fanciful dialogue and lippy servants. I also kept thinking of Luke Wilson’s infatuation with Gwenyth Paltrow in The Royal Tenenbaums, you know falling in love with family members and all.
The love lines in Wuthering Heights were dysfunctional, unhealthy and tumultuous to say the least – but aren’t all good love stories? Why else do we watch dramas or romantic comedies? Isn’t infidelity, passion and irrationality what attracts us to these fictional couples? I’d say the results for many of the characters are tragic and the characters you’d expect to champion and cheer for don’t necessarily end up following the paths you originally want them to. But I consider that a good thing – Bronte’s plot twists and unexpected conclusion make Wuthering Heights one of the most iconic books in English lit.
In fact, by coincidence I discovered this article about the moors of Yorkshire that originally inspired Charlotte and Emily in the prime of their literary careers. The stark, but beautiful countryside was vividly described and a major component of Wuthering Heights. Apparently, developers wanted to populate the land with garish wind turbines, but ultimately, Bronte enthusiasts campaigned to perserve the land’s beauty because of its literary significance. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a fan of renewable energy, but I consider the decision to preserve the integrity of the land terribly romantic. It’s incredible, really – a place that inspired a novel in the mid-1800’s has decidedly been left unadulterated to sustain the legacy of Emily Bronte and her timeless novel over a century later. I’d love to visit the moors that inspired Wuthering Heights in the same way that I’d love to visit Martha’s Vineyard and Platform 9 3/4. The significance of these literary settings transcends time and culture, and that in itself is so special, historic and dare I say romantic?
Do I agree that Wuthering Heights is the best love story of all time? Probably not. Off the top of my head, I would argue that the relationships in Pride and Prejudice, The Great Gatsby and Their Eyes Were Watching God were more compelling than that of Heathcliff and Catherine. But do I agree that Wuthering Heights is a classic tale worth your time of day? Yeah, I do.