Sunday, January 13, 2008

Wuthering Heights


I just completed one of the five things I wanted to do this year - read a classic novel that I've been putting off but meaning to read. When it came to deciding which book to choose first (because I do intend to read several others even though my goal was just one) I picked this particular one because it's mentioned several times in Eclipse, the third book in the series by Stephenie Meyer. I wanted to know exactly what the characters were talking about when they alluded to this novel, so I thought I'd give it a try (there are worse ways to pick a book to read, I think). Plus, I had never read anything by any of the Bronte sisters and I thought this was as good a place to start as any.


I don't want to give anything away, so I'll keep this very short (I hear you laughing - fine, I'll try to keep it short). This story is heart-wrenching and maddening at times -very rarely do you find a love story that's pages are so devoid of love. The characters are unforgettable and unique. They are vile and detestable but you can't help wanting them to be happy. Heathcliff and Cathy deserve a special place among the famed couples of literature. Not because they are the epitome of love and romance, but because they are unlike anyone else - they are greedy, selfish, vile, and manipulative, but their love is so great that it transcends everything, even death, and neither can be happy without the other.


To be honest, I was surprised at how easy it was to read. Granted, I probably have a higher tolerance for British fiction than the average person, but this is only because my degree is in English Literature and I was forced to take four semesters worth of British literature. Trust me, there are good British novels, and then there are very bad British novels. This one, thankfully, can go on the "good" list. Reading some of the commentary at the beginning of Barnes and Noble's edition (the picture is courtesy of their website) helped me to a degree in realizing what I was in for. I was aware that the characters could become confusing, some of them having the same name, others having last names as first names and the other way around. I also used the genealogy provided, which helped immensely. Because of this, I was able to prepare myself for some initial confusion and just waited it out and let the story take its course, knowing it would sort out later, instead of desperately trying to figure it all out at the beginning. What also helped this classic go smoothly was the language. Obviously it's different from what we speak, but for a British classic, I thought it was easy to follow. I know it can get confusing at times concerning who is speaking or being spoken about, and the dialect can sometimes be thick enough to make anyone stop for a breather. Emily Bronte did a great job in keeping the conversations easy to follow (even when there was a narrator within a narrator within a narrator) and the dialect, when there was any, at least in this version, was explained in footnotes.

All in all, I would recommend this book. If you're new to British fiction and are just looking for a place to start, this classic is easy to read (considering it was written in 19th century Britain) and flows smoothly. I really wanted to know what would happen to the characters and found it hard to put it down. For those who are familiar with the classics and British ficition but haven't read this particular one, give it a shot. It's definitely different from anything I've read.


So, I know it's hard to make a case for the classics. Very few people want to take the time to read them, and others are prejudiced enough to think that "classic" means "boring" (and some of them really are, but not all, so let's not be judgmental - it's stuck around for a reason). Honestly, I have to be in the mood to delve into books like this, but I always feel a little more educated, and a little more fulfilled in a literary sense when I'm finished. Of all the British literature I have read, Wuthering Heights ranks pretty far up there. And that's saying a lot.

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