Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Mr B's Reading Year 2010 - Book 3 - Withering Lows by Emily Bronte

Now if a few lovers of Oscar Wilde might disapprove of me feeling underwhelmed by "The Picture of Dorian Gray", then I'm sure a few more will disapprove of me being unable (for the time being) to finish "Wuthering Heights".

Disclaimer first - this was the book I was reading during and just before the Bath Lit Fest which meant the only time I really had to read it was very late at night for about 90 seconds before falling asleep. Not ideal conditions I admit. But once the festival was over I perservered and still found myself unable to connect with the infamous Cathy, Heathcliff and co.

Although I had somehow never got round to reading Wuthering Heights until now I did have various preconceptions. I was expecting atmospheric windswept moors and an incorrigible and dastardly hero and received both. However I wasn't expecting the peculiar narration of the story which for me had some really clumsy moments - particuarly the letter sent by Isabella Linton to Nelly Dean and then retained by the latter for years, which seemed to me a rather too convenient and unconvincing way of telling the reader what had gone on between the unhappily eloped Isabella and Heathcliff.

Wuthering Heights lost me my reading mojo for a couple of weeks and so I've sidelined it for the moment. To help me potentially pick up where I left off in a few months time, here's my brief (and slightly glib) synopsis of what happens in the first 176 pages. So if you're one of the 3 other people who've never read it, look away now:

A newcomer, Lockwood, rocks up at Wuthering Heights in the snow and gets trapped in for the night with his viciously unwelcoming new landlord, Heathcliff. Various confusing references to people called Catherine ensue. In the morning Lockwood staggers back to his new home at Thrushcross Grange. His new housekeeper Nelly Dean then begins telling him the history of the inhabitants of Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights (is that enough incidental narrator characters for you?)

It turns out that Heathcliff was a scouse orphan acquired by Wuthering Heights owner Mr Earnshaw. Heathcliff grows up alongside Mr Earnshaw's children, the resentful Hindley and the gradually besotted Catherine. Once Hindley takes over the estate upon his father's death he begins to make the still-young Heathcliff's life a misery. Catherine befriends Edgar and Isabella Linton at Thruschross Grange and eventually marries Edgar which she more or less instantly regrets. Although not as much as Isabella later regrets marrying Heathcliff. In between those two marriages Heathcliff has disappeared for a while in a huge huff. When he reappears and gets involved in a fracas with Edgar and then runs off with Isabella, Catherine embarks on a lengthy illness (which I have to say I found completely lacking in drama even by the tediously high standards of C19 novel heroine illnesses). And that's about as much as I could take.

Would love to hear from people who (a) love Wuthering Heights and can explain why the odd and confusing narrative structure is actually the stamp of Bronte's literary genius; (b) think I should carry on reading because it's about to get much better; (c) think I don't like it because really it's just a girl's book (although perhaps you could say the same for Madame Bovary and I loved that); or (d) agree that it's really slightly muddled and not a very thrilling read.


The Generalissimo said...

Thank goodness, someone else who isn’t impressed by this book. I have to say – I’d quit whilst you are ahead. From my memory of reading the book (admittedly a long time ago) it doesn’t get any better! I had to read it at school and I loathed it. It still gives me a visceral shudder and I refuse to pick it up again. I read it when Kate Bush’s single of the same name came out (I said it was a long time ago!) and for me the weeping and wailing of the song summed up the book (although, perversely, I rather liked the song).

My sister and I have an ongoing debate about the Bronte sisters – and she really has failed to convince me they are as good as they are cracked up to be. She prefers them to Jane Austen whereas I am much more on the side of the Janeites. There are a lot more laughs in Austen and they seem to flow with story much better. I have just finished Shirley (OK – a different sister, but similar in my view) and I felt any humour in it was inserted with a shoehorn. And way too long. I took it on a trip to Newcastle and three hours there and three hours back didn’t put much of a dent in it – and I don’t consider myself a slow reader.

So I would move onto the next one that is tempting you and don’t look back! Life is too short to read books you are not enjoying and there is unlikely to be a test!

The Generalissimo said...

Whoops - again I forgot to sign that as Susanne using Adrian's account

Nellie said...

Well, you got further than I did! I still have a copy sat on a shelf and I can always think of a good reason not to have another try.

I quite like the Kate Bush song though. I suspect that is as close as I will get to ever finishing it!