Saturday, July 30, 2011

Happy Birthday, Emily Bronte!

When I read Wuthering Heights for the first time, I had to stop and remind myself that Heathcliff was not a real person. His acts had only occurred on the page, his sneer created with paper and ink. The revenge he so passionately sought, even the meticulously drawn land between the Heights and Thrushcross Grange did not exist outside of the novel’s text. It was all the product of Emily Bronte’s brilliant mind and worthy hand. As a lifelong lover of books, this concept should not have thrown me, but it did, and if I’m being honest, every time I revisit Wuthering Heights, it still does. The world is so real, the characters so complex. The sorrows, the torment, the obsessions and the hatred are so deeply felt that I have never been able to put the book out of my mind when I place it back on the shelf. If that’s not the power of a true masterpiece, I don’t know what is.

Emily Bronte was born 193 years ago today, and as is indicative of any real genius, the time that has passed between her publication and the present is barely felt when reading her work. Wuthering Heights, Emily’s only novel, is so rich that it provides something new every time a reader picks it up. Often labeled as a love story, it certainly is a tale of soul mates, but not in a Hollywood, great romance sort of way. The unbreakable connection between Cathy and Heathcliff is undoubtedly an integral piece of the puzzle (and provides some of the greatest lines in literary history), but it is only one piece. Wuthering Heights is a story of revenge, of ghosts, of fierce passion, of true natures, of going against those true natures, and perhaps more than anything, it's a story about actions and consequences. Not a single character’s decisions or deeds go unanswered, and every act – be it an act of love, cruelty, betrayal or benevolence – in some way alters every other character’s makeup and each event that follows. With a narrative so multi-layered, it’s no wonder that the book has remained wildly popular for over a century and a half.

I love when I can gush with my fellow Bronte fans about the thrill I feel when Cathy proclaims, “Nelly, I am Heathcliff!” or the heartbreak of the utter humanity Heathcliff shows when he refuses to leave her deathbed, even as Edgar approaches. I could talk for hours about why Heathcliff is the way he is, how he could have been were it not for Hindley, how important his relationship with Hareton is in revealing the complexities of his character. Even if I talk about it, book in hand, it doesn’t feel like I’m discussing fiction. Just hearing that name – Heathcliff – actually does something to my heart, reminding me of why I love literature so much.

Simply put, great books stay with you, and Wuthering Heights is the greatest of the great. Most of the people I know fall into one of two categories – those who love the book, and those who have never read it. If you’re a member of the latter group and you love a good novel, do yourself a favor – throw out whatever notion it is that’s holding you back and dive headfirst into the wonderful, stormy, so-well-written-you-can-actually-feel-the-snow-on-the-windowpanes world of the Heights. And if you have read it and love it – well, what are we waiting for? Let’s gab about it! And while we’re at it, let’s thank Emily Bronte for providing us with an endless source of discussion, because let’s face it, that Heathcliff gives us a lot to talk about.

Sigh. Heathcliff. My heart is doing that “I love books” thing again.


  1. Of course now I want to read Wuthering Heights again. It's so true that you feel like you're there, in that world, when you read it. Not like your mind is there, but like your whole body is there. Heathcliff is just as much a person as you are.

    Ohhhh Heathcliff.

  2. I can't help but feel that the call to throw out any preconceived notions might be slightly directed at me :) But I can't help it! I've seen parts of movies, I know how in love Heathcliff and Cathy are, and I know that (SPOILER ALERT) it doesn't end well for them. How's that old saying go? It's better to have never read about a great love at all than it is to read about a great love lost? That's how that goes, right?

  3. My favorite book in the world since I first read it my sophomore year of high school! Love it and love your blog about it - and thank you for introducing me to the MT version w/ Tom Hardy. There couldn't have been a more perfect Heathcliff!