Hey, guys! Sorry this is late. I had crazy doughnut adventures, from which I have just returned. I’m glad to have that yummy doughnut in my tummy because, guys…
I do not like today’s book. It might even be on the list of books I said I would never pair way back in the beginning of Cactus-dom (along with Moby Dick because, guys… I just can’t finish that book. I’m sorry. I can’t.) because of how much I dislike it. But as it’s the only thing by Emily Brontë I’ve ever actually read and her only novel, it was necessary to pair it as part of my Brontë-off.
You see what I do for you guys? YOU SEE WHAT I DO FOR YOU?!
OK. First off. We are not going through this entire post suffering under the delusion that Wuthering Heights is a romance novel. Sorry. If you’re one of those people who think Heathcliff and Catherine are a romantic couple… this is not the blog for you. And you’re wrong. I’m sorry, but no. (For the record, neither are Romeo and Juliet. If a couple behaves in a way that would make you give your friends the side eye, it’s not romantic.) They are horrible, horrible people and should both be ashamed of themselves entirely.
But–and this is a big but (I will not lie)–I don’t really think they’re meant to be. Now, I’m not the person who’s going to come out and say Emily Brontë was writing a satire of Romantic relationships (capital R means the movement). Far from it. What she was writing was the dark, violent side of it and what happens when a Byronic hero doesn’t have a virtuous woman to reform him. And also, because I love adding more things to my lists, when Romantic feeling (sensibility) isn’t allowed to express itself or is curtailed in some way. In short, we are not meant to like just about anyone in this damn novel. Which is why I hate it so much but also why I want all of you to read it.
Now. This is part of my Brontë-off, which means I’m comparing this to Jane Eyre and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (which I am about 3/4 finished with), so most of this post is going to be about the comparison. But first… a rundown of the novel for those of you who have never read it:
Catherine and Heathcliff fall in love. They’re forcibly separated. Catherine says that, even though Heathcliff is the other half of herself (and that they are each one another and blah blah blah… I hate Catherine so much), she cannot marry him because he has nothing to his name (this is very important). Heathcliff over hears Catherine say it would “degrade” her to marry him but misses that she loves him, goes off to make something of himself, and comes back the single worst human being in the history of ever (like I think Nero would tell him to take it down a notch). When he finds out Catherine has married a perfectly nice guy by the name of Edgar Linton, Heathcliff marries Edgar’s sister Isabella in revenge and sets about RUINING EVERYONE’S HAPPINESS. He breaks Isabella, forces his son with her to marry Catherine and Edgar’s daughter and then kidnaps said daughter so she can’t say goodbye to her father when he dies, and tricks Hindley (who was awful, but definitely didn’t deserve that) out of Wuthering Heights (the house). Eventually he dies, and everyone is allowed to be happy. (Catherine herself dies earlier in the novel because she keeps making herself ill, which is a thing that totally happens outside of novels, ultimately dying in childbirth. I hate her.)
These two are awful. AWFUL. Catherine is selfish and violent, Heathcliff is vengeful and angry, and their awfulness ruins everything. Because Catherine decides she cannot marry Heathcliff (he is beneath her in social standing), he decides he’s going to punish her. Catherine goes insane and has fits because she is separated from Heathcliff, taking it out on everyone but the person actually deserving of it (aka the asshole seeking revenge). Like, let me remind you that the only reason these people aren’t together and sparing the world at least a modicum of their awfulness is CATHERINE CHOOSING NOT TO MARRY HEATHCLIFF. Like, bitch, you can’t decide not to marry a guy and then act like it’s not your fault for being a classist asshat. And Heathcliff… my God, so she didn’t marry you. SHE’s the one who made the damn decision. Not Edgar and certainly not Isabella.
OK. Let’s talk about this like sensible people. Why does this novel work? Because, really, it does work. Of all the Brontë sisters, it is Emily’s writing I like the best. Charlotte can be too dense at times, Anne seems to have puked up commas and can occasionally delve into Charlotte’s density issues, but Emily was really clear. I remember thinking that even back in high school when I definitely didn’t like reading the classics because I hated anything I was forced to read. (I was edgy, yo. EDGE-Y.) As much as I hated everything in it, I remember enjoying the experience of just interfacing with Emily Brontë’s writing style. Which is points for her. Because while I also love the writing now, it says a lot that I liked it then.
Let’s also talk about the tropes and mores of Romantic fiction. Charlotte’s Jane Eyre is a good example of the concept of virtuous woman reforming a problematic hero through her love. Jane is able to corral Rochester somewhat even before the Wife in the Attic shows up. She corrects him, challenges him, forces him to behave. Of course, even Charlotte doesn’t go so far as to say Jane is able to change Rochester. It is only after he is wounded and forced into penitence that Jane can swoop in and complete his reformation. Reader, she married him and, through that binding of their souls was able to assure his goodness. Anne, too, goes into this concept though she comes down hard on calling bullshit regarding its effectiveness (more on that next time). What Emily does is discuss what happens when this doesn’t happen. Heathcliff is the dark side of the Byronic hero, the violence and intemperance unchecked and left to rot. It is the Romantic ideal taken to its worst depths.
Furthermore (oh, God… I’m writing a paper!), the heart of the Romantic movement is about giving in to one’s feelings. It is sensual and expressive, with an almost obsessive mysticism regarding nature. It’s the Romantics that decided Shakespeare was the height of amazing (a writer of the people, by the people, for the… wait. What?), after all because of his populism and tragedy. Did I mention the Romantics loved some tragedy? To die for love, to live short lives of such ennui that there is nothing left but to die (seriously, look up Byron and understand he’s the template here), these are considered good things. Not to let Jane Austen intrude on this Brontë fest, but Marianne Dashwood is very much the epitome of Romantic. Where Austen differs with the Brontë sisters, however, is she has Marianne reform and become more sensible where the Brontës would see that as a betrayal.
I had a point… Right! Catherine doesn’t give in to her feelings. She lets things like class and money (i.e. petty, wordly concerns) get in the way of her grand feelings for Heathcliff. The idea of two people being as one is very popular with Romantics. Jane and Rochester are an example of this (there is a string between them, etc), and Anne’s Helen thinks she and Arthur Huntingdon are like that (and Anne ultimately gives her heroine a happy ending with a man who is her soul’s mate… sorry for the spoilers there), but Heathcliff and Catherine are torn asunder. There is a denying of true feeling, which destroys both of them. It is the deliberate refutation of Romantic ideals that causes all the darkness, all the destruction and pain and fear and awfulness and GOD I HATE BOTH OF THESE PEOPLE SO MUCH.
Ultimately, Emily Brontë is saying a few things. She is saying that there are awful people out there and awful people are awful. Everything, even the Romantic ideal, has a dark side, and Emily decided she was going to write about that (as opposed to Charlotte, who focused on the positives, and Anne, who went for more realism). She is also, ultimately, defending the Romantic ideal and saying that only unhappiness and despair will come from denying it. And, frankly, she’s doing it better than either of her sisters (again, my opinion is SUPER definitive, so we’re done now. It’s decided.), with evocative language and realistic, if exaggerated and awful, characters. I hate it, but it’s a really good novel and it deserves to be the classic it is.
But, for GOD’S SAKE, stop saying it’s romantic. It’s Romantic. With a capital R. And they aren’t the same.
Now. Since this is Boozy Books, I suppose I need to pair this. Since I’ve spent so much damn time talking about the novel (sorry… I get passionate), I’m not going to spend too much time with the pairing. I figure you want to get out of here. But I did think about it. I wanted something dark. I wanted something with cognac because, I dunno, cognac has a lot of depth and flavor and I kinda like it and I kinda don’t. I also wanted blackberries because, again, they’re dark and delicious. So, I went out into the world and searched blackberries and cognac and came up with this Blackberry Cordial recipe, which also has the added benefit of some spicy peppercorns and cinnamon and goodness like that. Depth, interesting flavor, something I’m not sure if I’d love or hate… seems like the right drink for the job.
OK. That’s it for me. Just as a brief reminder, next week is Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which I am loving, but do have some criticisms of, so this is turning into a far closer race than I thought it was going to be. So far, Emily gets it for writing, Charlotte gets it for characters and plot. Who knows how this is going to end up?!
See you Sunday!