Thursday, June 17, 2010

Wuthering Heights

The other day I came across some disturbing statistics on reading. According to a Jenkins Group, 42% of college graduates will never read another book. Since most people read bestsellers printed in the past 10 years, it follows that virtually no one is reading the classics. Although it’s unfortunate that the intellectual heritage of humanity is being forgotten we can use this to our benefit. By reading the classics to improve your mind you can give yourself an advantage. You will gain a bigger vocabulary of more uncommonly used words, therefore setting yourself apart. A larger arsenal of words enables you to express yourself more eloquently. You’ll be able to communicate with precision and create a perception of higher intelligence that will give you an advantage in work and social situations, and your writing and speaking ability will improve as a result. Ever notice how quotes, and character and plot references continue to come up in recent books, movies, and conversations? Having actually read the classics, will enable you to fully understand those many references, and will likely bring a clearer understanding of the bigger picture at hand. We like to believe, in our modern arrogance, that technology has changed everything. In truth, it feels the same to be alive today as it did a thousand years ago. The lessons of the classics carry as much weight as ever. They contain information that is directly applicable to your life. Reading the classics develops an understanding of the human condition and a deeper appreciation of modern problems.

"Somebody who reads only newspapers and at best the books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely nearsighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else. And what a person thinks on his own without being stimulated by the thoughts and experiences of other people is even in the best case rather paltry and monotonous.

There are only a few enlightened people with a lucid mind and style and with good taste within a century. What has been preserved of their work belongs among the most precious possessions of mankind.

Nothing is more needed than to overcome the modernist’s snobbishness."
-- Albert Einstein

The whole point of my journey through literature is to read a great variety of books from different authors, genres, and eras in order to gain understanding, and therefor grow as a person and an intellectual. To read nothing but the classics would be as foolish as completely ignoring them. The aim is to combine the wisdom of the past with the innovation of the future, as the two are inextricably linked. This week I chose to read my second classic, Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte's only novel. It is the recounting of a tragic love story, and of happiness redeemed through the next generation. It's a fantastic, un-Victorian and imaginative work that is embedded in English folk-tradition and literature.

Wuthering Heights, is a harrowing tale of destructive passion and tragedy. This gothic book entwines romantic and eerie threads to unfold a story of relationships, set in the rustic northern English moors, a place of unpredictable weather and countryside. This story is narrated by Mr. Lockwood, a gentleman visiting the Yorkshire moors where the novel is set, and of Mrs. Dean, housekeeper to the Earnshaw family, who had been witness to the interlocked destinies of the original owners of the Heights. In a series of flashbacks and time shifts, Bronte draws a powerful picture of the enigmatic Heathcliff, who is brought to the Heights from the streets of Liverpool by Mr Earnshaw. Heathcliff grew up with, but remained socially beneath the other inhabitants of Wuthering Heights, forming complex and emotional relationships with the father and his own children, Catherine and Hinton. Heathcliff and Catherine become passionate, headstrong, and unpredictable soulmates, who remain separated by pride and social class, and after the death of Catherine, Heathcliff becomes increasingly isolated and alienated from daily life, experiences visions as he longs for the death that will reunite him with Catherine. It is only when Catherine's daughter, Cathy, and Hindley Earnshaw's son, Hareton, finally join happily in a loving relationship, that the winter of Wuthering Heights becomes the spring of Thrushcross Grange.

Unlike most novels, Wuthering Heights' protagonists are anti-heroes; the very antithesis of what a hero is supposed to be. Instead of compassionate and heroic, Heathcliff and Catherine are selfish and petty. Instead of being blissfully in love, Catherine marries someone else and breaks Heathcliff's heart. Too proud to tell each other their true feelings, they fight, storm and rage against each other, destroying themselves in the process. Most people dislike this novel, for its gloomy perspective, tragic outcome and psychological drama. However, Catherine and Heathcliff are perhaps more realistic than most other novel characters claim to be. They not only make mistakes, they cause debacles, completely devastate both people and places and ruin it all by blaming solely themselves.

The entire drama is a destruction of a human soul; how love can save and damn one man. Bronte brings in a whole new perspective on love. It isn't the epic ballad in tales, or the beautiful quiet bloom between spouses; this is rampant, tragic and interbred with other less desirable qualities until it is no longer recognizable until the very end. 


After reading and struggling with Dickens' Great Expectations, I was reluctant to read another classic. However, after having been reminded of how important that era of literature is, I was encouraged in reading Wuthering Heights, which proved surprisingly easier to read than my first classic. I found I was able to understand the plot and character development, as well as most of the dialogue. There was one character, however, that I struggled to understand any time he stepped onto the page. Joseph, the lifelong servant of Wuthering Heights, spoke with a broad Yorkshire accent that was incomprehensible to me. While reading Shakespeare in high school, our books had a translation of the lines on the opposite side of the page, making it much easier to understand and appreciate the writing. Remembering back to this, I found a website that translated Joseph's dialogue throughout the book. So if you struggle in understanding him as I did, my Tip is try out this website, or one similar, so that you receive all the details of this exceptional book.

"It is as if Emily Bronte could tear up all that we know human beings by, and fill these unrecognizable transparencies with such a gust of life that they transcend reality." --Virginia Woolf 

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