You guys. I’ve been so worried! When I started rereading Wuthering Heights as part of this read-along, I had the hardest time making myself read. I’ve just been in a general reading slump ever since that stupid, stupid, stupid bar exam ruined my summer and apparently also my brain. But you’ll recall that I haven’t read WH in a long time, though I’ve continued to assert that it is my favorite book of all time. So I’d pick it up and read, like, maybe 3 pages, and then I’d be like oh let’s see what’s happening on Twitter. And then I’d check Instagram, and then maybe Facebook, and by then it’d be time to check Twitter again, and then oops time for bed. But this is supposed to be my favorite book! Why in the world can I not make myself read it?
So I was really worried that maybe Wuthering Heights just sucks and I’d been remembering some idealized version of it or something, and then at the end of this whole read-along I’d have to do a mea culpa post in which I admit that I’ve spent the last twenty years claiming a sucky book as my favorite of all time.
Well, friends, FEAR NOT. I’m happy to report that Wuthering Heights most definitely does NOT suck, and any difficulties I
had continue to have with wrestling my brain into reading mode are solely the result of the stupid, stupid, stupid bar exam that ruined my summer and apparently also my brain.
***Stop reading here if you don’t want to read spoilers or if you’re just tired of reading this post because it’s way long***
To summarize what we’ve read so far, Catherine and Hindley Earnshaw are brother and sister. Their father goes on a trip and comes home with a random little boy whom he adopts and names Heathcliff. Hindley, the eldest, hates Heathcliff because his father favors him, but Heathcliff and Cathy become very close. Hindley goes away to college, the father dies, and Hindley comes back with his new wife, Frances, forcing Heathcliff to become a servant.
One day, Heathcliff and Catherine go down to Thrushcross Grange, a nearby estate, to look in the windows and spy on the Linton family. They get caught, and the Lintons’ bulldog bites Catherine’s ankle, so the Lintons invite her in to have a look at her injury. They don’t let Heathcliff in, though, so he goes back to Wuthering Heights to wait for Cathy’s return.
Which doesn’t happen for FIVE WEEKS WTF CATHY THOSE ARE NOT YOUR PEOPLE HURRY UP AND LEAVE.
So she comes back, finally, and la tee dah she’s a lady! No more running around the moors with Heathcliff. Heathcliff is dirty and grungy, and Cathy is clean and shiny. Heathcliff is pissed. He’s fallen in love with Catherine over the years, which, as one of the fellow read-along-ers pointed out, is maybe a little weirdly incestuous since they were practically raised as brother and sister, but LALALALALA we’re going to pretend that part isn’t true and just bask in the glory of the Love That Is Meant To Be But Can Never Actually Be.
Oh, also, Frances died shortly after giving birth to Hindley’s son, Hareton, and Hindley has gone off the deep end and is drunk all the time. I guess I should also say that this whole story is being told by Nelly Dean to Mr. Lockwood, some thirty years later, because Lockwood rented Thrushcross Grange from Heathcliff and asked Nelly to tell him the whole story of Wuthering Heights after a super weird night spent there as an uninvited guest. And Nelly raised Hareton after his mother died. Okay. So.
A couple of years go by, and things between Heathcliff and Cathy are strained. She likes hanging out with the Lintons, and especially Edgar–they have money, and sophistication, and manners, and apparently they take baths (unlike Heathcliff), and they treat her like a princess. Heathcliff just becomes more and more bitter, and Cathy becomes more and more bratty, until one day Catherine is expecting Edgar but Heathcliff wants to spend the day with her and she doesn’t know what to do, so out of frustration she picks a fight with Nelly for brushing her hair too much (which, I mean, is totally justified—it’s so hard to find good help). Then Edgar arrives and Heathcliff asks her to send him away so she can spend the day with him, but she doesn’t, because she’s SUPER DUMB, and then Edgar tries to get Cathy to ease up on Nelly but instead she slaps him across the face/punches him (not sure which, but whatever). Then Edgar tries to leave but Cathy stops him and they don’t exactly have make-up sex but they do decide they’re in love.
Or, rather, Edgar is in love with Cathy. Cathy is not in love with Edgar, no matter how much she wants to be, no matter how much she claims she is. She’s in love with Heathcliff. After everyone has left, Cathy confides in Nelly that Edgar has asked her to marry him; she’s given him an answer, but she wants to know what Nelly’s advice is anyway. Cathy tries to explain to Nelly why she loves Edgar, and she says it’s because he’s handsome and pleasant, and young and cheerful, and rich, and because he loves her. Nelly scoffs at these reasons but says that if Cathy is only concerned with the present, then yes she should marry Edgar Linton. Cathy balks and Nelly asks what the major diffugulty is.
‘Here! and here!’ replied Catherine, striking one hand on her forehead, and the other on her breast: ‘in whichever place the soul lives. In my soul and in my heart, I’m convinced I’m wrong!’
So that should be a red flag, no? Maybe try listening to either or both of those, hon. Then she makes this kind of random proclamation:
‘If I were in heaven, Nelly, I should be extremely miserable.’
A fellow read-along-er posited that “heaven” to Catherine might be Thrushcross Grange, and I really really like this idea. Cathy goes on to say that heaven did not seem to be her home. WELL DUH CATHY I TOLD YOU THOSE ARE NOT YOUR PEOPLE. Then she has a moment of clarity:
I’ve no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven . . . It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same; and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire.
AAAAACK. Yep, this is exactly why I fell in love with this book lo those twenty years ago. Thank goodness I’m vindicated.
But OMG! Heathcliff heard part of this, but only up to the point where she said it would degrade her to marry him. He didn’t hear the rest! TRAGIC, I say. But Cathy wants to marry Edgar partially because she can use Edgar’s money and power to protect Heathcliff from Hindley, which, you know, is as good a reason to marry Edgar Linton as any. She thinks Edgar will tolerate Heathcliff once Cathy tells him how she feels about him, and she’ sure that she and Heathcliff won’t be separated even after she marries Edgar.
Every Linton on the face of the earth might melt into nothing before I could consent to forsake Heathcliff.
Nelly thinks this is the dumbest reason to get married EVAR, but Catherine is convinced she’s fulfilling some sort of greater purpose by doing so.
‘I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here? My great miseries in this world have been Heathcliff’s miseries, and I watched and felt each from the beginning: my great thought in living is himself. If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger. I should not seem a part of it. My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.’
Guys. GUYS. You guys. Is there any more beautiful expression than this? No. There is not. Do not even try to argue with me because you will lose. This is the most beautiful book in all the world. I will update you again next week. And you will like it.