Thursday 11 October 2018

Wuthering Heights

'No books!' I exclaimed. 'How do you contrive to live here without them? If I may take the liberty to inquire - Though provided with a large library, I'm frequently very dull at the Grange - take my books away, and I should be desperate!'

The other day I found myself publicly asked (the circumstances needn't concern us) what I was currently reading. Caught off guard, I replied honestly, adding 'I'm afraid' or 'believe it or not'. That's what you do with Wuthering Heights: you get all embarrassed, all apologetic. It's one of those books. One of those books everyone knows about, but no one actually reads?

I read it in my teens and never felt any need to revisit what was, I recalled, a baffling experience of time shifts, multiple narrators, narratives within narratives, and too many characters with similar or identical names.

But I've a fondness for those 1990s World's Classics covers. I kind of collect them. So I bought this rather nice Wuthering Heights...

...and, stuck for something to read one day, actually got around to opening it.

It's a revelation. The plot is a dream. The characters are vivid. The settings are completely convincing. The violence is shocking. The love story is powerful and affecting. Yes, a dream of a book. One to return to again and again, and this time not after a gap of thirty-odd years.

But one thing I take issue with. It crops up time and again. It's in my edition's blurb. This thing about Wuthering Heights being 'imaginative'. Yes, I see what is meant, but I prefer to see the book differently, as a work of literature. I prefer to see Emily Brontë's whole project as a uniquely literary endeavour. Let's take one example from the second half of the novel. Young Catherine corresponds secretly with Linton. We learn much about the mechanics of the correspondence. The secret missives themselves are all but fetishised. Others seek them, but they're hidden away. Their purloining is an intimate trespass.

Imaginative, yes. But literary too. The chapter is, of course, pure Clarissa.

No - no one should feel ashamed of reading Wuthering Heights.


  1. Ah, Wuthering Heights! On the rare occasions when I am asked what my favourite book is, this is the one I pick. Reactions vary. On one occasion a lady asked me what I was reading. I said I was rereading Wuthering Heights. She turned to her son, saying "You hear that? When are you going to read it?" Otherwise, I believe that in my country it has the ridiculous reputation of being a "woman's book", whatever that may be. My own grandfather admonished me when he saw me reading Jane Eyre. Not a book a boy should be reading! I don't believe he would have been more permissive towards Wuthering Heights either.

    I first read it when I was 13. Immediately I was in its thrall. I reread it far too many times, every winter and sometimes multiple times a year. When I open it now I find I know passages by heart. I am still waiting for my Heathcliff though...

  2. The tyranny of these categories - a woman's book, a man's book, and others. It's a modern insistence, possibly, or more extreme now. Though of course EB must have felt it, writing as she did under a man's name - Ellis Bell, wasn't it?

    1. More extreme now for sure, and possibly for marketing purposes.
      Alice Munro interestingly says that while she was growing up in 1930s and 40s Canada, writing and reading were only acceptable as feminine occupations, as men had real work to do.


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