This book was given to me as a present, but for years I avoided it, ignoring that wise saying: ‘never judge a book by its cover.’ However, I feel I was not wholly unjustified when the cover of my copy of ‘Wuthering Heights’ looked like this:
‘Cathy and Heathcliff, childhood friends, are cruelly separated by class, fate and the actions of others. But uniting them is something even stronger: an all-consuming passion that sweeps away everything that comes between them. Even death…’
I laboured under the mistaken delusion that the novel was some sort of 19th-century paranormal romance. This is certainly not my favourite genre, and the blurb was too generic to capture my interest.
However, in this case the blurb and cover gave a false impression. ‘Wuthering Heights’ is much more than a romance. In fact, I would say that the relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff is less one of love than one of possession and jealousy. The story itself is a family saga, dealing with the intertwined paths of the families at Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights. It is darker and more twisted than any other Victorian novel I have read, full of characters abusing one another both mentally and physically. The writing is unusually crisp and fast-paced for the period and I found it very compelling reading.
This was in spite of the fact that I did not actually like many of the characters. Cathy and Heathcliff were both awful people and I wasn’t rooting for their romance at all. The religious fanatic Joseph was amusing, but I found his phonetically-written speech (ie ‘All warks togither for the gooid tuh them as is chozzen, and piked aht froo’ th’ rubbidge’) difficult to wade through. When I tried reading it aloud, it didn’t even seem to resemble a Yorkshire accent! The housekeeper Ellen Dean was alright, but some of the things she said were rather miserable: for example, when her young mistress worried about what would happen when her father died, Mrs Dean replied by way of consolation, ‘None can tell, whether you won’t die before us’! However, I did like the relationship between Cathy Jr and Hareton Earnshaw: it was genuinely sweet and tender, making a contrast to the violent passions engulfing the rest of the book.
The plot was slightly contrived: I found it difficult to believe that the characters would remember what had happened and relate it word-for-word so many years later. I think the story could really have done with an omniscient narrator and the use of flashbacks, but perhaps the form of the novel had not developed that far yet. It was also quite difficult to keep track of which character was which – the same names were recycled multiple times – and how they were all related (I kept wondering whether or not any of them had committed full-on incest yet or whether they had managed to find someone who was just their cousin).
Overall, I am glad I did decide to read this book in the end – I love a good Gothic novel and, after all, it is one of the most influential tales ever written.