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John P. Jones III
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Format: Kindle Edition
This will be the only novel of Emily Brontë that I will ever read – for the very good reason that it is the only one she ever wrote. She was born in 1818, and would die a (very) mere 30 years later, in 1848, of tuberculosis, and perhaps some assorted complications. Yet another writer who died of TB. Admittedly, I have confused her with her older sister, Charlotte, who most famously wrote Jane Eyre (Penguin Classics). A remarkable achievement for two sisters; they produced classic works of English literature that resonate today.
This is a dark, gloomy, unhappy novel, not for the “fun-read” crowd, or those looking for the triumph of good over evil. Early in the novel, Brontë describes the setting as “A perfect misanthropist’s heaven” and towards the end to the novel, provides the subject concerning the living conditions of one of the moderately sympathetic characters. The setting is the Yorkshire Dales. The time is the late 1700’s. Brontë faithfully reproduces the Yorkshire accent of one of the characters, which, at times, makes it a tough read (even today, the heavy brogue is difficult to understand). Virtually the entire novel takes place on two estates, Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights, which are four miles apart. Liverpool is mentioned once, as is London, but they are far beyond the lives of the inhabitants of these two estates. I’ve been mispronouncing the title for decades, so it was informative to learn that “Wuthering” is “a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather.”
The novel commences with a Mr. Lockwood who is seeking a bit of peace and tranquility in a rural setting and makes the mistake of renting Trushcross Grange (which is the better of the two estates) from a Mr. Heathcliff, who resides at Wuthering Heights. Due to that aforementioned stormy weather – in the form of a snow storm – which prevents Lockwood from returning to his new rental, he spends the night at Wuthering, to the accompaniment of some ghosts. Upon his return to Trushcross the next day, the servant, a middle aged woman, Mrs. Nelly Dean, and the only seemingly level-headed and sane resident of the two estates, provides the tale of the interactions of these residents, which is almost the entire novel.
Wuthering Heights has been in the possession of the Earnshaw family since 1500. Hindley Earnshaw decides to walk to Liverpool for some supplies (it is a substantial walk!) While there, he takes pity on a mistreated gypsy youth, who will go by the name of Heathcliff, and yes, would be the same one in possession of the titled estate, and the renter of the other. How all this transpired is the essence of this dark tale. “No good deed goes unpunished,” is one cynical formulation. Or is it the fact that the “good deed” was profoundly flawed, and the abuse, in another form, of the gypsy child would continue at Wuthering? Whatever the motivation, Heathcliff is a profoundly evil and unhappy person. As are many of the other characters. Was it all just another updated Greek tragedy, whereby the characters doom themselves?
Very little is known of Emily Brontë, since she led a reclusive life. I found myself thinking about her, and the circumstances that led to her death, at an age when so many are in full vigor and promise. Was it any wonder that she would write a morose novel in which so many characters died young, often from “frail constitutions” (which seemed to be TB), and often complicated by booze and even childbirth? And Brontë seemed to have a deep understanding into the complex motivations of many individuals, and faithfully depicted them in her work. “Vexatious phlegm” is one of the apt expression from her novel. And if “revenge” is the only reason to live, what happens when it is achieved?
No question, it is a great work of literature. I’m very glad I read it, and am equally glad that I am finished with it, and the many dark hearts contained therein. Overall, 5-stars.