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2006-12-01 6:43 p.m.

wuthering heights

Another entry that is perhaps more for my benefit than for yours.

I finished reading a book today that I really liked. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontė. I must tell you, I had never thought I would bother to read this book, much less enjoy it. I've never been very keen on 19th century British literature by women (Mary Shelley aside; I more or less despised Jane Austen in high school), or on the sorts of people who tend to be passionate about it. And the title of this particular work just sounds so… tea-timey. (It turns out that "wuthering" is old Yorkshire-talk for "stormy.") But when I was in Shanghai last July, a fellow traveler was reading it, and I chanced to read the first paragraph, which goes like this:

"I have just returned from a visit to my landlord- the solitary neighbor that I shall be troubled with. This is certainly, a beautiful country! In all England, I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society. A perfect misanthropist's Heaven- and Mr. Heathcliff and I are such a suitable pair to divide the desolation between us. A capital fellow! He little imagined how my heart warmed towards him when I beheld his black eyes withdraw so suspiciously under their brows, as I rode up, and when his fingers sheltered themselves, with a jealous resolution, still further in his waistcoat, as I announced my name."

I knew right then that I wanted to read the entire thing. The book was obviously written by a bird of my feather, and I fancied I could find much to identify with in the characters in the book. (Having now finished the book, I still firmly believe the former, though "identify" might not be the right word for the latter.)

Then, about a month ago WTF gave me a list of English books that the library she works at was giving away. Most of them were non-fiction books on specialized topics, but one of them was Wuthering Heights. I had her nab it for me.

The introduction, written by some professor-dude, started by really pissing me off, telling how the book ends, so I stopped reading the "introduction" right there and skipped to Charlotte Brontė's introduction. (And it was a good thing I did, since having gone back and read the professor-dude introduction after having finished the book, he pretty much gives away the entire plot.) And then frickin' Charlotte also gave away the ending, too, though it was nothing more than I had already found out from professor-dude. I guess people in the 1840s and 1960s didn't bother with giving spoiler warnings, the filthy wretches! Ahem. Anyway.

Only a few pages in, I encountered this quote: "By this curious turn of disposition, I have gained the reputation of deliberate heartlessness, how undeserved, I alone can appreciate." This has long been one of my favorite quotes, as I thought it applied very much to myself (perhaps not as much now as in former days), but the place I originally nicked it from claimed it was a Jane Austen quote. (And thus Jane's single gold star in my book was stripped away and given to Emily, who now has quite a collection.)

The book was… Passionate, dark, brutal, and cruel, and yet also filled with simple tenderness and deep-rooted love. I love uneasy combinations like that. Charlotte called it "moorish, and wild, and knotty as the root of heath." While the overall plot outline might be something similar to Austen, the dispositions and actions of many of the characters were most certainly not. I was immensely pleased with the book in almost all aspects, and it will now be on my favorites list.

I can't say I particularly identify with any of the characters, except for the primary narrator, who only plays an extremely minor role in the story itself. But somehow I've got it in my head that the narrator represents Emily herself. …Even though professor-dude calls him "fatuous," "pallid," and "effeminate." I loved every character, though, if we allow a variety of definitions for the word "love." There's a lot in this book that I would love to emulate, myself, on days when I fancy myself a writer (which days have been frequent, lately).

I can't say I'm much inspired by this book to revisit Austen, or even, from reading the introduction, to give Charlotte a try. I get the impression both from the works I've read and the things I've read about them that Wuthering Heights is quite unique. (Though I am inspired to try out Kate Bush's first album, whose major single is about this book.)

Emily Brontė died at age 30. Wuthering Heights would have been published when she was 28 or 29, marginally older than I am now. She probably wrote it when she was my age. I feel a weird kind of connection to her, actually. Oh, I just love it when I get crushes on dead chicks.

Anyway. I think I need to look into buying a new computer.

it is a moral teething,