Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Fine Mess

I'm just about exactly halfway through Wuthering Heights today.  It's the third time I've read it, mainly because I'll soon be seeing Andrea Arnold's 2011 movie version.  I have never liked the book as much as I'm supposed to, and while it's a rattling good read I still don't get it.  I don't sympathize with any of the main characters, though judging by the various other film versions I'm supposed to see Heathcliff as a romantic, even Byronic figure, and Cathy likewise.  A lot of classic love stories look to me like two people tied together with a lead weight hung from their feet, thrown into the sea, struggling as they sink into the watery depths, and too busy blaming each other for their predicament to even try to untie themselves.  And all through it runs the refrain of one of Eric Berne's Games People Play, See What You Made Me Do: because you don't love me as I wish to be loved, because I went and married the wrong person, because you made the weather bad today, I'm going to tear my hair out, bang my head against the wall, and hold my breath until my face turns blue.  And when I'm dead, you'll be sorry, and I'll be laughing!  You just wait!

Ironically, Emily Bronte herself shot down any notion of Heathcliff as a romantic hero.  Aside from his wanton mistreatment of a dog, he tells Nelly, one of the narrators, after he has married Isabella Linton:
"She abandoned [her family] under a delusion," he answered, "picturing in me a hero of romance, and expecting unlimited indulgences from my chivalrous devotion. I can hardly regard her in the light of a rational creature, so obstinately has she persisted in forming a fabulous notion of my character, and acting on the false impressions she cherished. But at last I think she begins to know me. I don't perceive the silly smiles and grimaces that provoked me at first, and the senseless incapability of discerning that I was in earnest when I gave her my opinion of her infatuation and herself. It was a marvellous effort of perspicacity to discover that I did not love her. I believed, at one time, no lessons could teach her that. And yet it is poorly learned, for this morning she announced, as a piece of appalling intelligence, that I had actually succeeded in making her hate me -- a positive labour of Hercules, I assure you!"
This shouldn't be taken quite literally, since we've also been shown that Heathcliff enticed and encouraged the girl's infatuation with him.  But no one is responsible for anything in this book: it's all somebody else's fault.  That gets on my nerves, but my main question is how anyone could have mistaken the book for a love story at all.  Even the core relationship between Cathy and Heathcliff is an addiction, not anything I recognize as love.

Since I began this post I've finished the book, and I'm still baffled.  The happy ending feels forced, and I'm of two minds about Wuthering Heights.  It feels on the one hand as if Bronte knew exactly what she was doing when she wrote it, and I'm just failing to follow the structure; but it also feels as if she got distracted, forgot where she was going, and tied the threads together carelessly.  But again, she wrote with too much confidence and authority for me to be able to believe that.  A riddle of a book, and I can't solve it.  Maybe next time around.