Victorian Era and Today

Penguin's Wuthering Heights

I picked up Wuthering Heights again. Finally. I have been trying to read the book since 10th grade, or perhaps even before that.

I love the other Bronte’s books with a passion. Jane Eyre was always so relatable; so much like myself. I had an uncannily formal demeanour for a teenager, and was always absorbed in Old Engand novels. I imagined fitting in so much better in a world where there was less talking and more reading; I prefer writing so much more than talking…

So yes, in a Jane Austen or even Bronte era, I felt that I would have been more comfortable. I thought I could easily practice the arts and accomplishments of a debutant; civility and over-analysis came naturally to me– but the modern feminine ideals of self-confidence, eloquence and spontaneity were alien.

Yet Wuthering Heights is so different from the other books of Bronte’s era. In an age of Victorian conformity (so eerily similar to conventional Pakistani society), characters like Jane Eyre did rebel but they still adjusted to their times. Jane is never truly mutinous to her times–indeed even when she is, it is ironically to stand up for some Victorian ideas that appeal to her (e.g. her antipathy to a bigamous marriage)…So whenever I read Wuthering Heights, I’m always amazed at the vivacity of Heathcliff and Catherine. Calling them simply evil is a very simpleton idea; they were just ahead of their times.

Today children like Catherine and Heathcliff–loud, teasing and intelligent–are dealt with much more maturely in most families. They grow up to put their wits to good use and turn their spirited natures into leadership confidence…

In the book, society agrees that Heathcliff’s “villain scowls so plainly in his face; would it not be a kindness to the country to hang him at once, before he shows his nature in acts as well as features?“… And because only evil is expected of him, he only shows the world his ugly side, like a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s simple psychology:

Catherine and Heathcliff from the 1939 film

In childhood, Catherine and Heathcliff are friends , bonded over their lively natures and similar age-groups—but they are starcrossed lovers; not in a Romeo-Juliet style family rivalry, but in a social status warfare. As Cathy grows up, she unconsciously begins to notice Heathcliff’s social differences…While she doesn’t mean to hurt him, she does:

Cathy, catching a glimpse of her friend in his concealment, flew to embrace him; she bestowed seven or eight kisses on his cheek within the second, and then stopped, and drawing back, burst into a laugh, exclaiming, ‘Why, how very black and cross you look! and how – how funny and grim!

’You needn’t have touched me!’ he answered, following her eye and snatching away his hand. ‘I shall be as dirty as I please: and I like to be dirty, and I will be dirty.’

I never thought I’d empathize with Wuthering Heights characters. Afterall, Lockwood’s narration irritated me irrationally: His nosy interference in the Earnshaw affairs; his sycophantic response to Heathcliff’s rebukes; his gossiping narrative style…

But there’s only so much a poor narration can do to ruin a story, and I finally got past Lockwood…Turns out I disagree with Edward Cullen when he had said “it’s not a love story,  it’s a hate story”.

Heathcliff the adult was a fragile soul; society broke him…The same society I thought I’d have fit in as a child–the one with the filigreed ballgowns, pianofortes, grandiose libraries and perfect manners– also had a dark, suffocating side…An acute gender disparity, class discrimination, crippling poverty and hunger, materialism and a highly judgmental attitude. I guess every society has this plague in varying amounts.

Never have I took that long to read a classic, but I’m surprised to say, I understand Heathcliff and Catherine…


7 Replies to “Victorian Era and Today”

  1. I guess I should be celebrating that today is the day when Maha finished the only classical book which I’ve been fond of since 8th grade. The speed, vivacity and diabolical nature of schemes intrigued me towards it.

    I completely agree that Lock-wood shouldn’t have been the narrator. Maybe the governess would have done it in a better way if she had begun it immediately. Maybe the story should have started after Heathcliff’s death. You know that sounds more impressive somehow. 🙂

    And The beautiful cohesion you drew with the words that “they were both ahead of their times” I guess it even gives me food for thought 🙂 Thanks! Loved ur post!

  2. Yes, Maha, the Victorian era is so much like our own society- with men trying to mortify ‘the lusts of flesh’ and girls’ striving to attain perfection by becoming the pathetic ‘angels of the house’- and to these Jane IS rebellious and I love her for it 😀

    And I never understood Heathcliff and Catherine. Perhaps now I’ll give Wuthering Heights another try 🙂

    1. Oh yeah, Jane is totally against being just an “angel of the house”..I guess even in the end she’s the one whose stronger in her relationship with Mr R..

      Two misunderstood people with a passionate love…Its very interesting, albeit very hard to empathize with! It took me a very VERY long time to get through Wuthering Heights :P.

      Thanks for reading, Aqdas =)!

  3. Yes yes yes! PLEASE AQDAS DO SO! 😀 I Love it! the best part is that this entry was written exclusively to inform me that Maha is done with Wuthering Heights AT LAST! ❤

    And Maha I've said it before but I'll say it again.. I think your understanding of the two characters has even made me understand them 🙂 I loved them because they were both reckless! 😀 But now i know WHY I adore their erratic nature. I am similar to them that's why. your analysis of the two being "ahead of their times" really impressed me. 🙂 Thanks for this entry!

  4. I kinda loved Catherine initially but her approach towards love/whatever it was, confused me like anything. . and yeah I never got to understand wuthering heights much.After reading your post I m ready to give it another try. Thanks to you really . . 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading, Xehra! 🙂

      Yeah, do give it another go.. Bronte’s brand of love is indeed not what we think of as conventional love… Instead it’s bitter and selfish because it’s so deep..

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