Emily Bronte, the author, wrote no other novel. Even Wuthering Heights was published under the name Ellis Bell. She died when she was just 30 years of age. She did not live to see the success of Wuthering Heights. When it was first published, most critics considered it as a ‘brilliant folly’ but it has continued to remain one of the most popular classic novels for the last 150 years. There must have been countless re prints & over 50 different cover images of this book.
When I embarked on a reading schedule for 2016, I chose books that were significant, not just for my writing but also, to me as a reader. One of the first books that hit the list was –
WutheringHeights, the classic novel for 150 years, a tale of unrequited love by Emily Bronte.
Though I have read the book a dozen times, each time I open it, I detect some new phase or facet which had remained hidden beneath the multi-layered characters of the novel. However hard I try to analyse and relish every phrase in the book, I find it difficult to slow down my pace. I am pulled into the love, romance and fury between Catherine and Heathcliff. Before I know it, the book is over and I sit wondering what hit me.
During my recent rereading of the book, another small clue about its popularity revealed itself. What is it that makes this unrequited-love story draw tears from the eyes of all who read it? What is it that romance novels found today lack, when compared to Wuthering Heights?
“My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods. Time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees – my love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath – a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff – He’s always, always in my mind – not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself – but, as my own being.”
Her strength, the strength of Wuthering Heights, lies in the characters.This one paragraph is testimony to the power of Emily’s writing.
Heathcliff, the tortured romantic hero, is the best example of a silent but passionate person. His love for Catherine Earnshaw is like an all-consuming fire that burns everything that it comes in contact with, including himself.
You teach me now how cruel you’ve been — cruel and false! Why did you despise me? Why did you betray your own heart, Cathy? I have not one word of comfort. You deserve this. You have killed yourself. Yes, you may kiss me, and cry; and wring out my kisses and tears: they’ll blight you — they’ll damn you. You loved me — then what right had you to leave me? What right — answer me — for the poor fancy you felt for Linton? Because misery, and degradation, and death, and nothing God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you, of your own will, did it. I have not broken your heart — you have broken it; and in breaking it, you have broken mine. So much the worse for me, that I am strong. Do I want to live? What kind of living will it be when you——oh, God! would you like to live with your soul in the grave?
The paragraph above is a rare one where Heathcliff spells out his love for Catherine. Mostly, the hero and heroine never ‘speak’ out their love, at least in our hearing, but words are so insufficient to describe passions as deep and furious as theirs.
Another interesting feature of the novel is the point-of- view (POV) through which the novel is narrated. With characters as interesting as Heathcliff and Catherine, you would have expected the POV of one of them or their offspring. However, the reader would have least expected the story to be related as a conversation between the tenant of Thrushcross Grange in Yorkshire and the housekeeper, Nelly Dean.
That is another place where the unexpected throws light on the brilliance of the author. In the words of the English poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Wuthering Heights is – “a fiend of a book – an incredible monster … The action is laid in hell, – only it seems places and people have English names there.”