Continuing our Classic YA series, the Piranhas review Wuthering Heights.
Goodreads blurb (it’s a bit hyperbolic, I apologise):
Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father. After Mr Earnshaw’s death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine’s brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries. The action of the story is chaotic and unremittingly violent, but the accomplished handling of a complex structure, the evocative descriptions of the lonely moorland setting and the poetic grandeur of vision combine to make this unique novel a masterpiece of English literature.
Review by Katy Haye:
Cards on the table: I love Wuthering Heights. There aren’t many books that can stand up to being picked apart in literature classes, but Wuthering Heights survived for me through GCSE and Degree-level assaults.
Going back to it now after years apart I loved it again immediately. Here’s the thing that gets missed by literary analysis and earnest summaries like the ones above: in parts it’s very funny. Yes, it’s a bit wordy, but that’s not just due to the time it was written – it’s for absurd effect. I defy your lips not to twitch at Joseph’s more ridiculous pronouncements (yeah, okay, you might need to translate them first). And the gap between what our narrator Lockwood sees around him and what’s actually happening is genuinely comical in places. I love light-and-shade in a book and it’s this variety which makes Wuthering Heights feel utterly real.
Okay, it’s not laugh-aloud (and there’s nothing funny about many parts, not least when Heathcliff refuses to summon a doctor for his dying son), but there’s a strong thread of humanity through the book which surfaces in the positive ending. I do love a happy ending, or at least the promise of one. For me, the ending of Wuthering Heights is utterly humane and reassuring: however much of a mull you make of life, it’ll all work out in the end.
The only negative comment I have to make is about the names. I can’t imagine a writer getting Heathcliff, Hindley and Hareton past a professional editor these days – all those H’s are unnecessarily confusing. There were several occasions where I had to pause to remember who was who, glad I’d got a paperback I could flick through (I’d forgive her the two Catherines for effect, but that’s where I’d draw the line).
You might challenge that Wuthering Heights isn’t “really” YA, because most of the characters are adults for most of the book, but I would argue back that Wuthering Heights is an archetype for modern melodramatic YA (yes, Twilight, I’m looking at you). That overwrought, hormone-laden belief of existing purely for the loved one, allied with the certainty of death were the loved one to be lost is an absolute staple of much of today’s YA literature. When Heathcliff declares, “he [meaning Edgar Linton, the third in the love triangle] couldn’t love as much in eighty years as I could in a day,” he could be summing up a lot of today’s YA romances.
It’s brilliant. I love it. Even with the drawback of all those H’s, it still gets five plump piranhas from me.
If you like this (or if you don’t and you desperately need a bit of light relief after wading through it for an exam) I recommend you try Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair. In a glorious world where a lucky few can travel into books, there’s a fabulous back-story for Heathcliff, explaining where he went and how he made his money when he was absent from the story of Wuthering Heights.
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