My rating: 2 of 5 stars
In many ways, I didn’t see the big deal about this book. I chose to read it because I fancied, for a moment, that if it were so highly praised, there must surely be something to it. I spent the majority of the book haunted by a peculiar despair on behalf of its characters; no one seemed disposed toward a good end, and the only character even remotely relatable was Mrs. Dean, the primary narrator of the story. Indeed, Heathcliff’s monomania and violent devotion, coupled with his unfettered anger, made him a most repugnant character… and, while I gather that this was the intended emotional response for the reader, his primacy in the book’s contents made much of it rather unpleasant.
Worse still is that this book is often lauded (or so I’ve heard) for its romantic depth. The only romance even remotely healthy in nature takes place in the last several chapters of the book, and indeed, it is the only one which I ever wished to take place. Every other was malformed, disordered, and ultimately broken. Again, perhaps this was the point in the writing, but again, the book was not an enjoyable read.
There were other issues, too, which I found vaguely amateurish and off-putting. The notion of supplying a story within a story within a story is a rather modern “meta” style, but this book employs it often. The primary story, of course, is Mr. Lockwood’s renting of Thrushcross Grange and his learning about the owner’s family history; most of the internal story is Mrs. Dean’s own experience, but on many occasions, she lacks experience in the story and relates the story related to her. While this may be the most literal means of maintaining perspective, it is quite ridiculous that Mrs. Dean, as intelligent and sociable as the character may be, could remember not only everything she said and did, everything that was said to her, over a thirty-some year period.
This perspective also makes certainly styles within the book seem out of place. Why is it, for example, that Catherine Earnshaw’s diary should record the servant Joseph’s accent in exactly the same manner as Isabella’s tale of her escape from Wuthering Heights, as told by Mrs. Dean? Ignoring, for a moment, that trying to read Joseph’s speech creates an intellectual dissonance that breaks up the story (and is, occasionally, utterly illegible, at least to my American mind), why should every person who quotes him repeat his accent perfectly, except as though the tale were written first, then given perspective afterward?
I am certain that high-school English teachers everywhere will vehemently disagree with my assessment, but the most valuable detail I gleaned from this book is that it was written, most certainly, by a woman. None of the male characters, when their perspective is employed, think like men. There is almost no visual description of any person, place, or object throughout the book, except insofar as the simplest of actions must be described. On the contrary, every event, every place, and every person is tied intrinsically to the emotional reactions of the narrator (whoever that may be at the time). We hear often of the feelings that seeing Wuthering Heights invokes in Mr. Lockwood or Mrs. Dean or Mrs. Heathcliff, but never – to my recollection – do we hear a word about its actual appearance. While this is enlightening as to the female perspective on life, it makes both the perspective of Mr. Lockwood and several male behaviors throughout seem utterly alien to me. Women behave like women, and men behave like women, only with greater violence.