Monday, December 06, 2004

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Though this may be a romance, it isn't one in the Nora Roberts sense of the word (thankfully). Rather, it is a romance in the Shakespearian sense that it is neither comedy nor tragedy, and it does have romantic aspects sprinkled throughout. However, it is a dark, brooding novel that focuses far more on loss, revenge, and the deterioration of the human soul than it does on love or anything else the average person might conceive of as "romantic."

In many ways, it parallels Milton's Paradise Lost, if in a metaphorical sense. We have Heathcliff as the devil (as he is often referred to throughout) and his fall from grace. We have both Catherines as Eve-type characters in slightly different ways, and as I explain below, it is their choices (often under the infernal influence of Heathcliff) that determine the future of the narrative, much as Eve's choice determines the future of humanity. We even have the loss of paradise toward the end, but with the hope of eventual salvation and a return thereto (i.e., as Paradise Regained is suggested in the last book of Milton's epic).

The characters of Wuthering Heights are a generally unlikable bunch of flawed human beings provoking and being provoked by each other. Strikingly realistic for a "romantic" novel. It is the strong, independent women of the novel who are the foundational characters around which the book revolves. They are the focus of attention, and it is only through them that the male characters are able to accomplish whatever ends they set out to accomplish. In fact, one of the main struggles of the book can be seen as the attempts of the women to remain independent of the male characters' repeated attempts at subjugation and control. Interestingly, it is always the women who end up with the choice as to result will prevail in each battle of this war.

In this sense, Wuthering Heights can be seen as a feminist novel, but not as a preaching one. Rather, Bronte seems to strive for the reader to understand the strength and resiliency of her women through their subtle control of the narrative and their resistence to the constant pressure that the male characters exert from attempting to take that power away. One final example of this is through the framing of the narrative itself. Though superficially told by Mr. Lockwood, he is initially relating Ellen Dean's story verbatim through the first half of the book. However, halfway through, he discards Ellen and "summarizes" the story she told him off-screen. In other words, he attempts to dominate the telling of the narrative as Heathcliff, Edgar, Hareton, and Hindley attempt to dominate the women of the novel at various points. Yet, like all the other dominations throughout the novel, this narrative domination fails as well. Ultimately, Ellen is able to reassert herself as the official storyteller over the last few chapters, but what was the effect of losing her immediate voice for the intermediate period, I'll leave up to you to interpret. I'm still working it out myself.


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