Saturday, November 21, 2009

Adventures in the Classics: Wuthering Heights

I've been listening to Wuthering Heights on my MP3 player at the gym. Normally I would hesitate to express opinions about a book before I've finished it, but at this point I'm honestly not certain that the book will ever end. It seems as if the story is just going to go on and on, following generation after generation of ill-tempered characters as they meander between Wuthering Heights, Thrushcross Grange, and Gimbleton, trapped in some sort of 19th century pastoral Purgatory.

To say that there are no likeable characters in Wuthering Heights is something of an overstatement; however, though the narrator and the servant Nellie are relatively pleasant, this is necessary in order to fill their roles as Reliable Narrators. Young Catherine (or Kathy Junior) seems basically okay; I imagine that Emily Bronte had run out of variations of brooding/whining/sanctimonious/vulgar and thus was forced to insert a basically decent person so as not to repeat herself. Edgar is a decent sort, but is basically a wimp, and though he's in a perfect position to fix a lot of the problems in the neighborhood, he refuses to take an effective stand. Everyone else is more or less appalling, and either deserve or have outright caused the unfortunate events that are befalling them.

Since this is Classic Literature, I imagine I'm supposed to be extracting Valuable Life Lessons from it. So far I've come up with the following:
  • If you live in the countryside in the 1800's, you're better off as common folk or servants than as landowners. As common folk, you have plenty of work to occupy your time and to keep your mind and body strong. As landowners in the middle of nowhere, your only options for entertainment are to brood, read, wander aimlessly, throw temper tantrums, or die slowly of consumption.
  • Chicks go for guys who are either (1) mean-spirited, ill-mannered, short-tempered, vengeful bastards, or (2) weak, frail, whining, childish, petulant brats.
I don't hate this book. It's actually well-told, and the story is darkly fascinating, like some pre-Victorian episode of Jerry Springer. I just can't imagine myself writing something like this. I can't see how you could put pen to paper and construct page after page of such selfishness, deception, cruelty, spite, and injustice, and then put down your pen and go out into polite society and interact with real people in a positive, meaningful fashion.