Adventures in Reading

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
May 28, 2008, 4:52 pm
Filed under: book reviews, fiction | Tags: , ,
“Treachery and violence are spears pointed at both ends; they woud those who resort to them worse than their enemies.”

I first read Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights my junior year in high school. While I recall enjoying the book, it was not the thing to do (especially after watching a film adaptation in class) and I joined my classmates in vocalizing “our” distress at the selection. As I have been reading a great deal of modern literature and have wanted to continue reading from my own shelves, I looked forward to returning to Wuthering Heights and after reading it a second time and some years later I have to say the novel is brilliant.

Wuthering Heights is a generational story told in a gossipy fashion through the eyes of a new tenant Mr. Lockwood but mostly through the servant Mrs. Dean. Mrs. Dean is designed perfectly for the role of storyteller: she has spent her entire life with the involved families and thus has a particularly intimate relationship (such as confessor) with the characters, her role as a servant though also allows her to exist as an unassuming and “invisible” eavesdropper, and Mrs. Dean’s character is lively with a good deal of moralizing that helps to set the course of the novel.

So this generational tale follows most particularly the life of Heathcliff, an orphan adopted by a well to do family, and Catherine, the love of his life and the daughter of this family. This is a psychologically riveting and tense novel and because of a peculiar partiality of the father towards Heathcliff and a strict class-structure and hierarchy things fall apart. The parents die, the son abuses Heathcliff, Catherine opts to marry for security, her status level, and a fleeting love and Wuthering Heights quickly becomes a novel of strife, passion, and discord. It is a novel about sadistically inflicting pain and mental torture but for reasons that are often plausible and understandable.

While I was disappointed to learn that Emily Brontë only wrote the one novel I am interested in perusing her poetry and curious about reading the other Brontës.

Other opinions: Only A Novel, Book Addiction, and Of Books and Bicycles.


Ah, Wuthering Heights. I read half of this in high school and decided it was the worst thing ever written — and then this year I read it three or four times and wrote two papers on it. So I guess I’ve come around! It is very good, although, I personally can’t see why Heathcliff is so generally thought so attractive.

I just finished reading Agnes Grey, by Anne B. — and Jane Eyre by Charlotte has been a favourite for many years. They are equally delightful, albeit in different ways from each other and from Wuthering Heights. I would heartily recommend them both.

Comment by Christine

It’s interesting how our opinion of a certain book can change upon re-reading it after the passage of years. Yes, Emily only wrote this one, and one wonders why. Here is the first stanza of one of her poems (Last Lines):

No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere:
I see Heaven’s glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.

I have a Bronte coming up on my reading list–Villette by Charlotte.

Comment by onlyanovel

If you do read another Bronte novel, I’d suggest Jane Eyre (of course!) or The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne. I’m looking forward to reading Shirley and Vilette (both by Charlotte) later on this year.

Comment by Sarah

I’m listening to Wuthering Heights audio book in my car, after finishing Jane Eyre. I like your choice of word: ‘sadistically’ although as you say not gratuitously…but the effect is just the same. I drive in dark and sombre mood these days.

Coincidentally, I’ve also just finished a book I read as a teenager and now years, and years, later re-read it: Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel. What a difference in the level of appreciation!

Comment by Arti

I read “Wuthering Heights” my senior year in AP English, and I loved it. But then again, I pretty much enjoyed everything I read in my English classes, including “Crime and Punishment.”

The only two books I remember hating were “The Call of the Wild” (read in seventh grade) and “The Scarlet Letter” (which I enjoyed at first but grew to despise after we beat it to death in class).

Comment by Claire C. Cake

Christine: I had the same experience with Jane Austen over the last year. While I know some high schoolers adore “classics,” I have to wonder how many kids graduate loathing authors like Bronte because of their high school experience. Perhaps it’s a book best saved for later in life? I will definitely be rereading Jane Eyre and thanks for the Agnes Grey suggestion! I see another Bookmooch in the making.

For Heathcliff, I found it a bit easy to romanticize him towards the beginning of the novel but once you’re three-fourths of the way through the book I definitely agree.

Onlyanovel: You’ve reminded me to check out Emily’s poetry! and I’ll be looking forward to your experience with Villette.

Sarah: Jane Eyre will be a reread for me too, but I’m definitely looking forward to picking up something by Anne.

Arti: I saw your review of Stone Angel the other day and definitely mean to check it out from the library. With recent summer reading lists popping up everywhere for high schoolers I very much want to reread books I wrote off years ago.

Claire: When I look back at my AP English experience it is quite in contrast to others taking the course. My teacher very much focused on existentialism and myth cycles from Joseph Campbell. I very much recollect reading and enjoying Camus, Ionesco, and Sartre. I’ve never been able to make it through a Jack London novel – though I forced my way through his first short story. The Scarlet Letter is one I read after high school and enjoyed, but like Catcher in the Rye it is ripe with symbolism, motifs, etc. and I definitely understand how it could easily be ruined by over-analysis.

Comment by bookchronicle

I think that such is often the case — as “elitist” as it may sound to say it, lots of classics are simply too difficult (obscure, slow, different, mature, etc) for high-school readers. It was also the same for Austen for me: I tried to read Pride & Prejudice when I was about fourteen and couldn’t get through it. A few years later, it became my favourite book in all the world… and it still is.

Comment by Christine

[…] June 7, 2008 On my recent Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights post, there were some great comments about rereading a book as well as assigned reading from high […]

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Its interesting how one goes back to books that were required in school. One book that I fell in love with was Pride and Prejudice; Jane Eyre was another. Didn’t read Wuthering Heights until I was out of college. Same with Agnes Grey, which I second in recommending. Like Jane Eyre, but more hard core.

On the other hand, there were some books I just couldn’t get through… All Quiet on the Western Front, for example, which, somehow, I was required to read not once, not twice, but three times in my school career. I also couldn’t get through Moby Dick, which was required for a Major American Writers class I took as part of requirements for my major in college. I also HATED Joyce.

Comment by Katherine

Katherine: I was chatting with an ex-high school English professor last night how some school’s reading curriculum really seems to suck the life out of reading for entertainment. I love Joyce, but I also didn’t read anything by him until college and even then with a Joyce expert who was so excited it was definitely catching. But some high school reading material just seems so tired and I wish they would give students more material to be passionate about (i.e. or even allowing teachers to select books they’re really excited about).

Comment by bookchronicle

[…] Also reviewed by: bookchronicle at Adventures in Reading. […]

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