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Purple Fig Club: Wuthering Heights

We are officially halfway through our third year of The Purple Fig book club, ladies! I don't know about you, but that's pretty exciting to me. Go Commitment! (Not usually my strong suit, FYI. I quit basically everything. LOL. But hey, at least that means I've tried things, right?)

This book has been on my mental to-read list for a long time. It's one of those classics that lots of people read in school, but somehow just never ended up on any class syllabus for me. It always sounded so British and angsty and full of longing ... and you know what? I think that description is pretty much dead on. Good job on the title, Emily Bronte!

If I had to summarize this book with one word, it would be: Obsession.

Which is interesting because, while I'm aware that there are darker novels from this writing period and not all of them come off with the lightness of a Jane Austin book, for example, I guess I never expected to read one where basically all of the main characters are essentially despicable.

Having read one book by each of the Bronte sisters now, I must say that they come across as very complex women. Truthfully, I know nothing about their backgrounds or upbringing, but they certainly had some passionate and unexpected ideas.

Do I capture the concept correctly...? Two people, having known each other since childhood, fall in love but don't end up together for what appear to be mainly societal and familial restraints on Catherine's side, and both end up miserable and therefore create misery for everyone else around them.

(I haven't read any literary discussions on this book so as not to taint my initial perceptions.) 

In a way, that predicament (of being told to behave in a way contrary to what you want) is so relatable and understandable, but at the same time, Catherine and Heathcliff act so wretchedly to everyone around them, that they remain unlikeable. It's a fantastic portrait of what happens when two people are kept apart simply for the sake of maintaining bloodlines. And then, following that, how people become damaged when they are wronged, and of course what havok that coveting, jealousy and anger will wreak in a person's soul over time.

I was familiar with the excerpt below, even before reading the book, and it powerfully relates the emotional tension and single-mindedness of the protagonists:

"If all else perish, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger."

In quiet moments, you feel for them -- when they are calm and honest with the person they're speaking to about the pain they are in. But in all other moments, when they are hateful and brutal to everyone within verbal, and sometimes physical, reach, it's hard to justify their behavior in spite of what they're going through. Honestly, it would take pages and pages to break down Catherine and Heathcliff (or hours and hours with lots of coffee and some cushy armchairs ... am I right? With some books, I really wish we were all sitting around discussing them in person!). 

I did inadvertently see one criticism online about the author's choice to have the housekeeper tell the story to Mr. Lockwood as events that happened in the past. I'll admit I didn't expect that approach when I first cracked the book open. I'm not sure I understand either why she didn't just tell the story as it happened. Let me think...

Well, for one thing, having an outside person observe the two main characters allows you to live vicariously through the person hearing the story -- in this case, the tenant of Thrushcross Grange. In that sense, since the story is being related to him, you do sort of live through it as if it was happening just then. It also gives you a sense of voyeurism, as if you were getting to discover the lives of people you don't know. More exciting and secretive than if you just wrote the story in the third person, I think.

Other than that, though, I fear I've been out of academia too long or am just currently too braindead to think of another solid reason. Any other ideas? Does this method bother you?

Did you find either Catherine or Heathcliff to be redeemable? Can you relate to them at all?

I palpably felt a sense of relief once I heard that Heathcliff had died and his tragic influence no longer shadowed everyone in his house. I'd like to say that it was also because he was finally at peace, but I don't think that would be a true statement. (Either that I felt happy for him or that I believe he found peace.)

Even before that, I felt some relief when Catherine the younger finally decided to make peace with Hareton. As if, she was possibly the only character who went through the grinder and found redemption. As if, despite all of the gloom brought on by their "parents," there was a light at the end of it all.

Last thought ... for now (lol) ... I've always loved the title of this book. I see now that it's the name of the home Heathcliff lived in, but it can't be denied that it evinces the entire mood of the place and the story. The wind, the storminess. The chaos, the loneliness. It's perfection to me.

Copyright 2004-2020 Elizabeth Shiver