Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wuthering Wednesday: Chapters 9-17

 In which The Librarian, LindszerWest, and RachelKiwi continue the
reread of the gothic classic.

The Librarian asks and I answer:

1. Women and illness. So often in this book women are called ill when in reality they're just really emotional. But then, sometimes there seem to be real symptoms of sickness such as the Lintons getting sick and dying from Cathy's fever... What's up with that? Just a viewpoint of weak women's constitutions of the time or is Bronte saying something more?

Did you know that the words uterus and hysteria come from the same root? When a woman was called 'hysterical' it meant she was suffering from a 'woman's issue,' the source of her malady being her uterus (naturally!). So I think this view of women as 'ill' is just an example of the cultural and historical views toward women that existed centuries before and decades after the writing of WH. But if anyone deserves the mantle 'hysterical' and all that it entails, it's Cathy!  Also, people didn't have the long life spans that we enjoy today, so it makes sense that people would die young in Wuthering Heights, from all sorts of maladies. After all, the three Bronte sisters all died at around age 30. (Maybe Charlotte lived to be 40.)

2. Oh the things people say! Heathcliff and Cathy speak their minds in this book...Airing all thoughts without reservation. For example, that horrible scene with Isabella clawing her way out of the parlor. Why is everyone so harsh in this book? Does it work? Or is it too much? Thoughts...

I still hold with the argument that the air up there at the Heights is tainted. And it induces psychosis. Actually, I think everything comes back to the Earnshaws. They are harsh and unfeeling people. And maybe it's true what they say: One bad apple spoils the bunch. The Earnshaws have set a low standard for human behavior and now pretty much 'anything goes' in their little network of relationships. I love the forthrightness. For all their faults, the characters have the virtue of honesty--or at least sharing their true thoughts.

What I cannot believe is that Heathcliff really doesn't even try to deceive Isabella; he doesn't hide his bitter and cruel nature. He 'hangs up' her dog in front of her! (I don't really get that, maybe it was wearing a little item of dog clothing at the time?--but at any rate, I can recognize animal abuse!) And she just lets it slide! Isabella, this is the perfect warning that you are consorting with a maniac! Don't you know that animal abuse is one of the tell-tale signs of a serial killer? I think this is actually an excellent illustration of the excuses that women make for the men they 'love'. How many times have you known a girl who is blind to the true colors of her guy? Or sees it and suppresses the tiny voice of her conscience telling her she deserves better. Let Isabella be a warning!

3. Why we love. In our opening chapter Catherine gives her famous speech ending in "I am Heathcliff". Previous to that final statement she gives both shallow reasons for loving Linton and manically deep reasons for loving Heathcliff. Please provide your thoughts on this famous section and add your own reasons for loving your husband...

Right, and isn't this the best part of the novel so far? This speech is amazing. She is surprisingly selfless: "My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff's miseries" and beautifully passionate: "He's always, always in my mind." These are some of the loveliest words related to love that I've ever read. It's the first time that Catherine feels human to me. I hadn't been convinced up to this point that she reciprocated Heathcliff's feelings. 

Later she says: "Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same." This was what I was hoping to find in my own life, but that's a tall order. How could I find someone as weird as I? It's a lovely perk to be married to someone whose inner weirdness recognizes and loves your own inner weirdo. I wanted a best friend: someone to share my days with, to laugh with, to adventure with, to dream with, to love. And it turns out that the best friend that I had been hoping for and praying for all my life turned out to be my husband, too. I get to share my days and nights with the same buddy! I wouldn't go so far as to say "I am Nathan." That is crossing a line of weirdness that even I won't cross. And that's taking it a bit far, because to have a successful relationship, you must retain a strong sense of self, and blah blah blah, whatever the self-help books say. But to feel so close with a boy that you know what he is thinking, to not have to put on a mask before him, to be safe in his love and to feel a one-ness with him is a precious thing. And you could parallel Cathy's thoughts with the Biblical idea that a husband and wife are one flesh. Though that might introduce new questions about the full nature of Heathcliff and Cathy's relationship. (Which might be a good question for next week...)

Anyway, I'm getting carried away. That's what the subject of my handsome husband does to me. My declarations of love don't sound very gothic, do they? Here: and I married him because I knew his love would last until death parted us. (See, this sounds more in keeping with Wuthering Heights. Death!)

I ask (and answer!)

The Librarian doesn’t seem to be able to get it through her head that I LIKED Wuthering Heights the first time around.  ;) But I did, I swear it! At this point, pick a stance—like it, hate it, ambivalent about it—and give a three point argument about what there is to love or hate about it.

Needless to say, I LOVE it! Here's why:
    1. The passion (see: Cathy's speech). This is what spoke to my 17-year-old heart the first time I read it. At that point in my life, I thought that having a great passion would be the ultimate thing to have in a life. I still love how, no matter how crazy everybody is, they go ALL in. It's all hot or cold here, no lukewarm.

    2. The plot. In WH you get to see the inner-workings of the minds of lunatics. So what if you can’t relate to the characters? That’s a GOOD thing. The plot is a twisting, churning morass of love, jealousy and revenge. It’s a late-18th/early 19th century soap opera! The Days of our Twisted Lives. Passions on the Moors. We Need a Guiding Light. I Hate All My Children (that one’s from Hindley’s perspective, as he dangles baby Hareton over the balcony). OK, I’m done. (Cause I can’t think of any more soap operas. Not because I’m done thinking that’s funny.)

    3. The lovely writing. Knowing what I know about Emily Bronte, I just can’t help but be fascinated that THIS is the book she chose to write. You think she’s a meek spinster woman? Wrong! (Well, technically, RIGHT) but she also must have had a twisted brain to create Heathcliff and Catherine. That lady had a wild imagination.  And I love it!

    The occupants of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange live in almost total seclusion. Why has Bronte so secluded them?

    I think the seclusion adds to the creepiness, the sense of not-so-welcome solitude: there's nowhere to turn and no sane mind available to help! Also, I think a lot of things happen in the novel that don't seem likely for the time period. Catherine is raised in a way that is certainly not befitting a young lady. If Wuthering Heights had had a neighbor like Rachel Lynde, she would definitely trot over with something to say about that. But there is no well-meaning church lady or neighbor to take an interest in a poor motherless girl. And would a young lady of the upper classes be allowed to marry a foundling boy of questionable origins and with questionable finances? He has no name, he has no home. He has gone away and made a gentleman of himself--in aspect, at least--but that's not gonna magically welcome him into the fold of the upper classes. (Edgar didn't exactly allow this union, but he sure didn't do much to prevent it. It was also discussed that Edgar, too, married beneath him when he married Catherine, which might have been more socially acceptable.) And the times when Catherine is with Heathcliff, unchaperoned seems out of keeping with the time, as well. Since when would you allow your young wife to be alone with a hooligan who clearly wants her? So maybe the seclusion allows some plot points to happen because the distance from polite society has caused the occupants of TG and WH to loosen their hold on standards of propriety at the time. If no one from outside society knows, is it still wrong?

    In Chapter 11, Catherine accuses Heathcliff that his “bliss lies…in inflicting misery.” Has she hit the nail on the head? At this point, Heathcliff is hellbent on exacting his revenge, but imagine that the Lintons had never shown up… do you think he and Catherine could have settled in for a happy-ever-after? Is Heathcliff even capable of true contentment?

    Inflicting pain definitely has become the focus of Heathcliff's existence and the only derivation of any remaining joy for him. Obviously, Heathcliff could have been a different person if he was shown love and gentleness by everyone in the Earnshaw family. But that's not what happened, and even if the Lintons hadn't shown up, I don't picture Cathy and Heathcliff ever getting old together and rocking on the front porch in the evenings. Catherine is too selfish and Heathcliff too thin-skinned. If not the Lintons, some other force would have pulled them apart. They might have a passionate few years or so, but they would combust at some point; they aren't built for the long haul. I don't even think Heathcliff could ever be happy. He would invent reasons to be jealous of Catherine... he'd be the type to demand an accounting of every move she made, why is she late? who was she with? does she still love him? As I said, psycho.....


    Anonymous said...

    Ok, to start...the hanging of the dog breaks my heart! Unnecessary animal roughness, where was Sarah McLachlan then huh? But I've always been fascinated by Isabelle's love of Heathcliff. You're totally right. He doesn't hide his nature, goes out of his way to show her his faults and yet she still runs off with him. That man must pack a mean kiss...

    Hmm...I def. think next week we need a question focusing on Cathy and Heathcliff's relationship. Their love is the saving grace of the novel. Even if it goes a little far. But I do think you're right on with the biblical nature of their relationship. Bronte seems to be playing with a lot of religious references.

    I vote for the title Passion on the Moors...

    As for the possible happiness of H&C I'm more for placing blame on Catherine. Heathcliff may have had a different life with the addition of love. But, it's obvious from the beginning that Cathy was born a bad apple. Had Heathcliff simply loved Cathy...he would have been Linton...And we all know how well that worked out...

    rachelkiwi said...

    did you get the dog-hanging incident? all i knew was that it was horrible! and i wouldn't mind encountering heathcliff under the mistletoe. (oops, i meant nathan. not heathcliff. not at all)

    i wanna know exactly WHAT h and c were up to when they were out all nights and days alone on the moors...

    i think youre right. and i second your opinion. cathy is a brat.