Review of Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
by Emily Brontë
It was difficult to get into this book for the first few chapters. The story properly begins in Chapter IV, where Mrs. Dean begins her tale of the doomed love between the inhabitants of Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights. Prior to that, Mr. Lockwood's introduction to Heathcliff and his associates seems like a prologue, and a poor one at that.
I persevered, however, and my opinion of Wuthering Heights steadily increased from two stars to four. Inevitably, Wuthering Heights is compared to Jane Eyre, so I'll get that over with now: Wuthering Heights is a superior story, but Jane Eyre has deeper themes. This may seem like a cursory comparison, but I think it's accurate. The further into Wuthering Heights I went, the more I was impressed by Emily Brontë's grasp of plot and narrative. After growing accustomed to her dialect and style, I started turning pages relatively quickly, and I became engrossed in the plot.
The characters, on the other hand, aren't as well developed as those in Jane Eyre. They are mostly static and larger-than-life, although that often makes them all the more enjoyable. Heathcliff is perhaps one of the best antagonists in the history of English literature: simply immoral, eager to inflict retribution for any slight, real or imagined. I was very shocked when Heathcliff called his wife a "slut," once in the hearing of his twelve-year-old son! I tried to feel sorry for his son; it wasn't young Linton's fault that Heathcliff raised him in such a way, but I couldn't. He was just too cruel to Catherine, particularly after forcing her to marry him, and I could not forgive him for that. Nor could I forgive Hareton Earnshaw, which made the ending unpalatable for me.
What I found the most interesting about the characters, however, is how remarkably self-absorbed each one is. Aside from the narrators, every character without exception is an egotist. I wonder if that was a deliberate choice on Brontë's part in order to support the narrative's moral, if it was a result of the unreliable, judgemental narrator, or if it was due to Brontë's reclusive lifestyle. In any event, Mrs. Dean and Mr. Lockwood soon emerge as the two sanest characters in the book--this is no doubt Brontë's intention, as our trust in them must be explicit if we are to believe the story-within-a-story that follows.
I also wonder why Brontë chose to have such a structure instead of making Mrs. Dean the primary narrator. Perhaps because a book narrated by a housekeeper would risk earning less acceptance than one told by a "respectable" male member of society? Lockwood is a relatively undeveloped character, so I found it hard to get attached to him--indeed, any break from Dean's narrative was unwelcome. I was much more interested in the machinations of Heathcliff and the selfish protests of Catherine Linton.
Not sure why this book is still marketed as a "great romance." It's certainly a romance, and was probably more of a romance back in its day than in the present. However, the two-dimensionality of the characters makes any true romance hollow. The characters' humanity is only made apparent in the cruelty of their actions, so the best part of Wuthering Heights is its villain, through whom Brontë depicts a careful, decades-long campaign of "humanity" in the form of cruelty. Wuthering Heights is a tale of dark passions that can only be a product of the Byron school of romantic literature.