I have just completed a literary conquest: I have joined the rest of the world and read Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.
And, just as one might expect from a novel whose title refers to a roaring, blowing squall of wind, I found myself horrified at the ugliness of the story, enthralled by the power of the characters, and affected in my views of man, sin, and the heart.
Emily brought me a bit too close for comfort to Heathcliff. He's a man who, despite his pathetic and pitiable beginnings, turns powerful, rich, and manipulative. He's a man who, despite the fact that he "loves" more passionately and more deeply than many people ever do, also hates and wreaks revenge onto three generations of the Earnshaw family. He's a man who, despite his great promise, becomes a murderous, bitter, manipulative psychopath. In short, he's a man who idolizes his beautiful childhood playmate, Catherine Earnshaw, who never forgives those (including Catherine) who separate them, and who spirals out of control because he will never once acknowledge his self-absorption or his vengefulness.
After Heathcliff reaches his teens in the book, I never once liked him. And yet...I understood him. This is the brilliance of Emily Brontë's writing; wrong is so very wrong, and never meant to be sympathized, but one can also see oneself in the wrong. One can see how every heart is deceitful and desperately wicked--how every heart could go the way of Heathcliff but for the grace of God.
Heathcliff stands in stark contrast with Edgar Linton. Linton marries Catherine Earnshaw out of love and devotion for the selfish, but nevertheless lovable, creature. Catherine, on the other hand, has no love for Edgar--she chooses him for what he can give to her, not what he is to her. However, even as Edgar realizes that Catherine's heart belongs wholly to Heathcliff; even as Catherine thinks only and always of herself; even as Heathcliff continues to taunt him--Edgar remains steadfast. His love for Catherine is quiet, loyal, sacrificial, and sweet, while Heathcliff's love is passionate, vacillating, mercenary, and egocentric.
Through three generations of Earnshaws, Emily Brontë explores the themes of love and revenge. Through 320 pages, I was terrified, shocked, contemplative--and at the last, relieved.
As we approach that rosy day of all-things love, I wonder, do we love like Heathcliff or like Linton? Do we love for what we can get or what we can give? Do we love patiently or portentously? Do we love in spite of hurts or in the absence of hurts? It's time to figure this out--not because Valentine's Day is on Thursday, but because the success or demise of future generations depends upon it.
Photo Credit: Gabriela Pinto