Saturday, November 7, 2009

Rereading Wuthering Heights

Are there any Wuthering Heights fans out there? Talk to me. Please explain what makes this novel a classic. I just reread it & I still don't get it.

First, let me explain how I came to be re-reading the book. My reading often takes me on tangents. I was reading a book of essays by Judith Thurman called Cleopatra's Nose: 39 Varieties of Desire, which contains a great essay about Charlotte Brontë. This essay recommended a couple of biographies, including Unquiet Soul : A Biography of Charlotte Brontë, which I then read (& if you're interested in the Brontës, it's a very good biography). Reading a biography of one Brontë sister inevitably leads to you to others, and Unquiet Soul waxed eloquently about the mysticism of Emily and Wuthering Heights, so I decided to give it another try.

I mean, it's an interesting read, but I feel like I'm not getting what everyone else is getting. I have even picked up Wuthering Heights, Revised; An Authoritative Text, with Essays in Criticism. In between readings on the Gondal cycle of stories and Emily's poetry, I did find one excellent essay: "A Fresh Approach to Wuthering Heights," by Q.D. Leavis. (Please note that this approach was fresh in 1969.)

Q.D. (Queenie Dorothy) Leavis suggests that Emily "had some trouble getting free of a false start-a start which suggests that we are going to a have a regional version of the sub-plot of Lear." Leavis also posits that there "are various signs thatthe novelist intended to stress the aspect of her theme represented by the corruption of the child's native goodness by Society...", and, while this a "commonplace subject" of the Romantic period, it becomes "neither superficial nor theoretic because the interests of the responsible novelist gave it...a new insight..."

Leavis talks about the "genius devoted to creating Nelly Dean, Joseph, Zillah, Frances, Lockwood, the the two Catherines, and to setting them into significant action". Catherine is the real "moral centre" of the book, and Heathcliff and Hareton are giving only "very perfunctory attention..." (She also makes a lot of comparisons, based on the Catherine-Heathcliff-Edgar Linton triangle, with the movie Jules et Jim, which, given my case history, probably means I'll have to check that out in the not-too-distant future.)

I don't want to quote the essay here in its totality, but I have found reading it very useful & I'm considering tackling Wuthering Heights in all its confoundedness again. Leavis herself says, "Why does one feel that in spite of its intensely painful scenes-painful in a great variety of ways-Wuthering Heights always repays rereading?"

What do you think of Wuthering Heights?

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