I'm re-reading Wuthering Heights. I can't say I like it any more than I ever did but liking it isn't the point. It's a fearsome book- and everyone in it- with the exception of Nelly Dean- is either wet or frightful. If I ever mistook it for a love story I am now disabused. Heathcliff and Cathy don't love one another- they are one another- two halves of the single soul- its masculine and feminine aspects. It is a conquering soul, avid to eat up and subdue everything within reach- yet curiously trivial in its ambition. Gaining mastery of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange- what sort of ambition is that for a Byronic over-reacher ?
Heathcliff looms, but on a larger canvas he would simply be a good looking thug. What did he do with himself during the missing years? I think he joined the army and got lucky with the loot. I see him somewhere east of Suez, prizing a green eye out of a little yellow god.
Wuthering Heights was written in the mid-1840s, but covers a period from the 1770s to the early 1800s- which makes it as much of an historical novel as A Tale of Two Cities. It is steeped in the anxieties of the age of revolution. The Earnshaws and Lintons represent an ancient regime grown debauched and effete, Cathy is a provincial Wollstonecraft and Heathcliff a pocket Napoleon.
The Brontes are the least Victorian of the great Victorian novelists. They are free of sentimentality, religiosity and coyness. No Little Nells for them. And Emily is the least Victorian of the three.
Last night I read the passage where Nelly hallucinates her former playmate- the child Hindley- at the crossroads and he raises his head and smiles at her and she takes it as an omen and runs to the gates of the Heights where the feral child Hareton meets her with curses and shies a flint at her. Who taught him such language, she asks. "Devil Daddy" he replies- meaning the man Hindley has grown up to be. The writing is swift, nothing is spelt out and the imaginative scope is Blakeian- the Blake of the Songs of Innocence and Experience.
Hadn't thought of it (like a proper lit student) in the context of its times. But I read it in high school the first time, after which I told my teacher that it was silly, and Jane Eyre was so much better. She gave me one of those knowing-adult looks and told me to read it again in 20 years and come tell her that.
So I did. But if she'd said 30 years, she would've been right, I suspect.