Book Club: Wuthering Heights

My friend Jo and I both love to read. So do many of my other friends. We talk about books all the time, and thought it might be fun to (semi-)formalize this into a book club. Jo and I both feel left behind in the classics – there’s just too many of them, and only so much time to read, and we haven’t read all the same things. So, we decided on Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights for our first book club pick.

The meeting was held in August, and as September’s meeting will be tomorrow, I’m rushing to capture my notes on the book here before they’re lost.

Neither of us had read Wuthering Heights before nor seen any of the various film adaptations,1 and we were looking forward to it. I found myself disappointed.

I found it difficult to sympathize with any of the characters, and the plot was rather disturbing.

Heathcliff, ostensibly the book’s hero,  as a child arrives from nowhere, is favoured and generously doted upon for no apparent reason by Mr Earnshaw. In short order he demonstrates himself to be manipulative and cruel, physically  and verbally abusive – even sociopathic.

The heroine, Catherine Earnshaw, is an empty headed bimbo who toys with the affections of two men, and ultimately forsakes companionship for creature comforts. This in and of itself would be an understandable and in fact quite sensible move given her circumstances, but the petulant child seems surprised when her new husband doesn’t want her to continue dating her old boyfriend. Who also happens to be her foster-brother.

The man Catherine chooses to marry is Edgar Linton, who will inherit a very fine house and whose sister seems very taken with Catherine, but otherwise Linton has no distinguishing personality traits. It’s little wonder he can hold her interest for long.

Sister to Edgar is Isabella Linton, another bimbo who lusts after Heathcliff, despite his initial disregard for her existence in the presence of Catherine, and his blatant repulsion to her advances later on. On the eve of their elopement Heathcliff fashions a noose and hangs Isabella’s dog from a tree as proof of his cruelty. She still goes with him. Isabella’s idiocy does not excuse Heathcliff for his inevitably brutal treatment (the beatings, for example), but it certainly lessens one’s sympathy for Isabella.

Jo put it simply, “I hated everyone in this book.” I cannot disagree.

She did, however, have sympathy for Hareton Earnshaw, the son of Catherine’s wayward brother, Hindley.

Hindley resents Heathcliff for his father’s affection for the boy, and teases him. Heathcliff’s response is to issue brutal threats. They fail to reconcile, and in adulthood they remain bitter enemies, Hindley insulting Heathcliff where he can, until Heathcliff (mysteriously) comes by circumstances where he can humiliate Hindley, which he does – with pleasure. Heathcliff then continues his revenge onto the next generation, and teaches  Hareton cruelty, and in the absence of love, he remains ignorant and hard-hearted.

Another grotesque love triangle ensues with the next generation, as family repeatedly intermarries in bitterness and hatred.

I have no idea how this is supposed to be one of the greatest love stories.

Verdict: Two out of three readers said “Mommy, keep the bad man away from me.” One (terribly misguided) person said, “Heathcliff? I’d date him.”

September’s book will be Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. We’re anticipating better results with CanCon.

  1. Though I had the misfortune of being sent a link to the Kate Bush video shortly after our book club pick was announced. Yeah, I’m lookin’ at you, Kara. []