I recently blogged about my love of the Emily Bronte classic Wuthering Heights. You might have read it in high school or college and, if so, you probably remember it as a twisted, tortured love story between Heathcliff, the poor gypsy orphan and his "step-sister" Cathy.
When I was in middle school, I decided to read this book for fun. I was a girl who loved love stories and someone told me it was a great one. I read it and I was captivated. I have a very clear memory of spending a beautiful summer day in my room reading it while my friends played outside.
Then I watched the movie version that came out in 1992 starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche before either were famous in the U.S. I had a VHS tape of this movie from an airing on Lifetime or another cable channel. My aunt taped it for me and mailed it to me from San Francisco and I watched it over and over.
A few weeks ago, I decided I should reread Wuthering Heights. Maybe it would give me some inspiration I could use to start a new book? A sequel to Invisible Ink that was a bit more "romantic" perhaps than the first one?
So I unearthed my copy (the same one I had as a kid) from my basement and reread it.
My impression of the book couldn't be more different as an adult than it was as a girl! First of all, reading Heathcliff now, the 35-year-old me thinks he's mostly a dick. And not a sexy and appealing cocky dick. Just a straight up mean asshole.
First of all, he loves Cathy but we as the reader are privy to very few expressions of that love. The narrative is told through the eyes of the servants -- imagine if you were told the stories of the rich characters on Dowton Abbey only through the conversations of the servants downstairs, but never actually heard Lady Mary or Lord Grantham speak in private to each other. Heathcliff and Cathy fall in love "off screen," and we only see the fallout of that love. Cathy decides to marry another because of Heathcliff's low social status, and this decision begins a domino effect that ends up ruining the lives of basically every character in the novel.
Here's where Heathcliff just becomes a complete jerk. He leaves Wuthering Heights a poor kid forsaken by the woman he loves, and returns a few years later a rich tyrant. He takes ownership of the estate where he and Cathy grew up so he can be neighbors with her and her new husband and family. Then he decides to manipulate Cathy's sister-in-law to marry him out of spite, only to become physically and mentally abusive to the unsuspecting girl.
By the end of the book, he is a wife beater who has forced everyone around him to be miserable, including his daughter-in-law that he forces to marry his son by imprisoning her in his house until she agrees to the marriage.
Does this guy sound like he should be a romantic icon? Sure, he's tortured. He truly did love Cathy to an obsessive extent to the point he digs up her grave so he can see her face again.
He is awful to all the women around him as a way to avenge the loss of Cathy. He can't get over it and has to ruin everyone else's lives in the process.
I no longer find this a great love story. I kind of think it's the story of a psychopath.
For those of you that are interested, however, I would still recommend the 1992 film version. The writers used poetic license to bring the audience the love story that happened "off screen" in the book and that makes Heathcliff much more sympathetic.
To revisiting the classics,