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Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights Characters

Book Review
Wuthering Heights
by Emily Brontë
originally published in 1847

  Emily Brontë is kind of the coolest of the Brontë sisters because Wuthering Heights was her only novel and she died in 1848- a year after publication.  That makes her kind of Kurt Cobain figure in certain literary circles, or at least gives Emily Brontë extra artistic authenticity from the perspective of an Audience member.

  The crib notes version of Wuthering Heights is the "doomed love affair between Catherine and Heathcliff" but the book is actually a complex inter-generational saga with multiple jumps between narrators and in time- an obvious reason why a generation of literary scholars have preferred the proto modernism of Wuthering Heights to the more mundanely Victorian writing of Jane Eyre.

  That shift is illustrated by a Google Ngram comparing the  frequency of  occurrence("popularity") from the two titles over the last two centuries.  Jane Eyre is dominant until the late 1930s- with Wuthering Heights surpassing Jane Eyre only in 1938.  Between 1950 and 1970 Wuthering Heights is actually on top with Jane Eyre re-assuming the top spot between 1980 and 2000.

  Emily Brontë is a truly romantic literary figure- raised in isolation, only one work to her name, died extremely young.  It's amazing that she was able to conjure up such a vividly Romantic landscape, though she  had well known models, her own physical environment and the behavior of her  likely mentally ill brother, Branwell Bronte- he was an alcoholic and opium user.

  Classic status aside, I didn't much enjoy the experience of reading Wuthering Heights because I associated it with it's hoary, pop-culture derived image.  Wuthering Heights turns out to be rich literary territory and surpasses the work of her sisters in terms of the complexity of the narrative and the characterization.  Both Charlotte and Emily used Gothicly derived characters to heighten the effectiveness of their Art, but Heathcliff and Catherine transcend the conventions, whereas Jane Eyre and Rochester inhabit a more recognizable world.

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