“Wuthering Heights” was written about 180 years ago by an introverted woman who never married and, in fact, rarely left home. It has always been a mystery how Emily Bronte, who seemingly had little personal experience with romantic love, could have written about it so vividly.
Despite the bleak destinies of its main characters, “Wuthering Heights” is one of the most enduring romance novels ever written. What appeal could such a brutal and archaic tale have for modern women?
The Baddest Boy of All
Heathcliff was the original bad boy, and there’s really never been another one like him. His origins are nefarious at best. Mr. Earnshaw finds him wandering the streets in Liverpool, dirty, hungry and “repeat[ing] gibberish.” His unintelligible verbalization and physical appearance suggest he’s a foreigner.
His new family find him so alien, they refer to him as “it.” Even Mr. Earnshaw, who seems to genuinely care for the child, describes him as, “dark almost as if it came from the devil.”
The tricky thing about Heathcliff is, we see him as an abused and neglected child first, which makes it difficult to condemn him when he sets about ruining all the people he hates. We want to rescue him. Don’t we always want to rescue them?
Then there’s his romantic demise, haunted by the ghost of Catherine Earnshaw and yearning to be with her in death as he was unable to be in life. Who doesn’t want a guy who would rather die than live without them?
Star Crossed Lovers
Most of us can relate to Catherine’s situation, even if we think she made a poor choice trading true love with Heathcliff for a comfortable and appropriate marriage to Edgar Linton. She knows even as she does it that she’s making a terrible mistake.
Catherine confides to Nelly that she really doesn’t belong with Edgar, and admits that she wouldn’t even consider marrying him if her brother hadn’t turned Heathcliff into a base servant. “Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning.”
Forces of Nature
There are more than two thwarted lovers in this book, but we only seem to care about Heathcliff and Catherine. Edgar may have gotten to marry Catherine, but he never has her heart. His sister, Isabella, has the misfortune to fall in love with Heathcliff, and so becomes a pawn in his scheme to extract revenge on his rival.
Is it because they’re mild mannered and privileged that we lack sympathy for Edgar and Isabella’s pain? Catherine and Heathcliff fascinate with their manipulations and schemes. Catherine makes herself sick, eventually to death, to punish Edgar for banishing Heathcliff from their home. Heathcliff systematically destroys the lives of his enemies and their children as pay back. Even Catherine’s daughter becomes a pawn in his plot to avenge himself on Edgar and steal his family fortune.
The producers of ”Revenge” should take notes.
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