Withering Heath

No, it’s not a paragraph about The Hobbit.  It’s about one of my favorite literary characters to hate, Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights.

I read Wuthering Heights two or three years ago.  Many of my friends had read it back in High School.  Those friends had been consistently high achievers in the academic sense (and specifically in English and grammar classes) and they all took what amounted to the advanced placement English classes that were as much literature as they were grammar, syntax, and composition.  That, and they did their homework back in seventh grade English class while I primarily doodled in class and usually went home and played backyard football, soccer, or baseball; or sometimes managed to swing some Atari 2600 console time with friends or relatives.  They were rewarded with extra Shakespeare or Wuthering Heights; however none of them ever matched my high score in Star Raiders!

Armed with the threefold knowledge that some of my old friends were more than slightly ahead of me in the ‘Literature’ category of Trivial Pursuit; a gnawing feeling that I had missed out on something when some of my favorite Internet reading referenced a character from classic fiction; and having a vague recollection of an episode of Fantasy Island where the guest actresses’ fantasy was to meet this character named Heathcliff, which was the first instance I learned that Heathcliff was something other than just a cartoon cat; I picked up a copy of Wuthering Heights somehow.  I forgot whether I ordered it from Amazon.com or found it at the local Borders Bookstore, but I know I purchased the book a year or more before Borders went belly-up.

I slogged my way through Wuthering Heights over the course of a month, reading perhaps five pages here, twenty pages there.  The farther I delved, the less I liked it.  Emily Bronte did a fine enough job illustrating the characters and the setting across the Moors.  I got a bit of a kick every time my internal voice stumbled over the tongue-twister Thrushcross Grange.  But the story was just a bit too bizarre for me.  I have no doubt there are actual people walking the world in the same manner as the fictional Heathcliff, but it gives me little pleasure to read about them.  What was the story supposed to make me think? Was I supposed to have been empathetic toward the seemingly self-trapped Catherine? Perhaps that’s the conundrum for modern readers trying to transport themselves back to a Victorian or pre-Victorian setting in England–my advice to Catherine early in her life would have been to move away from Wuthering Heights and get far, far away from the misogynist Heathcliff (misogynist or misanthrope?).  But would this have made sense to her given her culture in her time? Would it have been possible for her at all?

These sorts of things are fun to think about for a little while.  I kind of wish my old friends were around to discuss this.  When is the next reunion? It’s unfortunate those events are only an evening long, we never seem to get past “How is the spouse and how are the children doing? How is work going?” Somehow I doubt we’re going to be able to get “Literary Discussion Day” tacked on to the end of the reunion.

Ah, fantasies.  They don’t all have to be based on big dreams!

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