Monday, July 12, 2010

Wuthering Heights -

I love Wuthering Heights.  It is a controversial love as many people get fed up with Cathy's insanity and Heathcliff's surliness and their general inability to get it together until one of them is a window tapping wraith.  These characters do not behave well.  Their moral compass is absent rather than merely askew and they treat neither each other nor anyone else with particular kindness.  But they are inevitable and absolute if not functional.  It is just that extreme, awkwardly angled quality that appeals to me.  Tepid Victorian tea time love with its fire-seething, passionate underbelly is wonderful but Wuthering Heights goes for broke right on the surface.

Bronte is a good reminder to consider ignoring all verboten writing cliches.  She shows you that if you can really pull it off, with buckle and swash and verve and sass--do it.  Emily Bronte does not adhere to the 'show don't tell' sacred precept of writing.  She tells it all.  "...he is more myself than I am.  Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same." Cathy does not shy away from the grand proclamation.  She does not hedge round it, evoking desperate love through half suggested thought and the implications of a small scale action.  She dives in and swims across the sea.  Their devotion is messy, incongruent, fragmented, difficult and ultimately doomed.  Her commitment lives in her words and not her actions--another broken writing principle.  Characters are usually deciphered through action but again, Bronte shows us her passion driven hand through words.  But what fantastic words.

Heathcliff, although he does a great deal of mumbling, grouching, stomping and rushing out of doors to go running through the rain on the Serengeti plain, finally makes his great statement of undiluted passion.  And it is so worth it when he does:  "You say I killed you--haunt me then!  They say the murdered do haunt their murderers.... Be with me always--take any form--drive me mad!  Only don't leave me alone in this abyss where I cannot find you!"  I suppose shouting this at her dead body is showing as well as telling so Heathcliff does a bit of both.  It is interesting that we most enjoy when the goldenest golden writing rules get snapped straight through.  Bronte even uses exclamation points--a cardinal no no.  But it works.  I do not think you can invite someone to drive you mad without an exclamation point.  

To try and capture the enormous raw emotion in the flattened real estate of the Roman alphabet is a dicey business.  You have to be able to do it well--really well.  You have to startle and illuminate, pull the reader absolutely into the gushing heart of the character and then show us something new.  Anything less and you are done for.  But what a thing if you can do it.   


  1. Yes she wrote from her heart Priya as I think you also do.

  2. I used to love Wuthering Heights, but I've gone off it a bit lately. I just find it a bit too over the top. Now, Emily's poetry, that's another glorious thing entirely!

  3. lindy lou mac, what a lovely lovely thing to write.

    teadevotee, "i cannot live without my life! i cannot live without my soul!' is definitely over the top but that is what i like about it. her poetry is staggering. have you read jude morgan's new novel about them?

  4. I love Wuthering Heights. Funny, just this morning I read a blog post where the reader hated it. I think it's beautiful. It's tortured, tormented, raw and stirring. So many great lines I could quote from it, but I think the very last line is about resonance!

  5. oh those lines bring me back! i read WH over and over and over in my youth. back to back with "jane eyre" (i was a bronte sisters fan for some time, reading about their upbringing and secluded life), and now as i try to write, this book reminds me that writing from the heart about passion and like you say "raw emotion" is something i certainly can not do, and should not try! it sounds terribly sappy and false, when i do it, and i definitely over-use exclamation points in the wrong places!!! amazing how she was able to not only write well in this regard, but keep it up and not allow it to turn sour! thank you for this!

  6. lady q, many readers hate it. it baffles me. absolute singular love usually is such a crowd pleaser. i agree. that line knocks me flat. love it.

    ariel, always try! it may not always work but somewhere where no one but you will see--try! she does sustain it and edges the tumultuous tension higher if possible. we buy it. or i buy it. the writing just rings with conviction.

  7. Big emotions, big gestures, big words...where else would I be able to find these if not in the greats of literature? And between two heavy novels, there's always a bit of Marian Keyes to read when I'm half asleep ;-) Hope you have a great week, Love from London x

  8. A thoroughly good read, Priya - your post, I mean, although Wuthering Heights has earned its stripes too...! It is a bit madly overwrought, but then, so is the grand passion at its heart, so I think that's okay. Personally I think the obsessive commandment to 'show not tell' is slightly irritating - I don't really respond well to absolutes.

  9. mademoiselle poirot, i love marian keyes too!

    doctordi, that is so sweet! that is a great phrase 'madly overwrought'. i agree 'show not tell' can be dissolved to great effect!


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