Wuthering Heights

I finished reading Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. I was originally supposed to read it in high school, but I quickly fell behind our class’s reading schedule, and before I knew it, the unit was over and assessment was done. I donated my copy to my teacher, who gave us extra credit for book donations because she was trying to grow her classroom library. Alas, I didn’t return to the book until this year. I loved it!

I think my favorite part of the book was the setting. I could so clearly see Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange and all the moors surrounding them. In a way, the setting was almost a character, too. I found the characters, for the most part, easy to dislike, yet strangely sympathetic. Just when I had truly written Heathcliff off as totally evil, Nelly jumps in and reminds the reader of his boyhood, and her concern for him near the end of his life awakened my own. I disliked Linton intensely, and I found myself annoyed with Cathy for her sympathy for him. Then, I would feel guilty because he was, after all, slowly dying, and who knows how that altered his character (not to mention contempt from his father and the loss of his mother). And speaking of Cathy, her treatment of poor lovesick Hareton I found horrid. What a forgiving sort he turned out to be. In short, one thing I think Brontë did quite well is paint characters who while flawed and perhaps even reprehensible, still manage to evoke the reader’s sympathy.

I think my favorite character was the storyteller Nelly Dean. She spoke her mind when she felt the need, and I sensed a deep respect for her from the other characters. I did wonder a couple of times why she would dish the family dirt to a complete stranger (Mr. Lockwood). At first, she struck me as gossipy. Later, when I decided that wasn’t exactly the case, I was at a loss as to determine why she would tell the story. I came to the conclusion that she was lonely for the first part of the story. After Heathcliff died and Mr. Lockwood returned, I decided she wanted the story preserved in some manner.

Mr. Lockwood is an interesting character. Through Nelly, he knows more about the true events of the whole story than some of the principal characters, and he is, I think, deeply affected by the story (witness his visit to the graves of Catherine, Heathcliff, and Edgar Linton).

I’m not sure if this will make sense, but this book struck me as so quintessentially English — I couldn’t imagine it in another setting. I imagine that many other British novels and plays could (and indeed, in the case of Shakespeare especially) have been re-imagined in different locations. Wuthering Heights, however, belongs to the moors of Yorkshire.

I will have to think carefully about how to teach this book so that my own students won’t fall into the trap I did. This reader’s guide Web site is excellent, and if you are interested in Wuthering Heights, you might wish to check it out.

I have to take a break from the Historical Fiction Challenge to read some summer reading so I can create assessments for my students. For the record, I planned to read the following books (titles stricken through I have completed):

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is long, but Northanger Abbey is fairly short. I think I can manage to finish the challenge by October, and perhaps the idea that I need to finish the challenge will compel me to finish the former — I put it aside because it was taking me forever, and I wanted to read some other things.

My next book is Simon Winchester’s The Professor and the Madman, a story of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary.

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