We’re almost there. This Friday our book club members are convening for our first meeting of 2011. Acton and I are thinking up something suitably 19th century to cook up. We'll have a full recap of the discussion for you on Livre Life first thing Monday morning! So make sure you check in.
Here are some things I've been thinking about in the build up to le club:
Heathcliff is often treated as the 19th century novel's archetypal ante-hero. Honestly, I had a hard time empathizing with his character. I kept trying to see him as this darkly romantic figure; but Heathcliff can be so repugnant (and I'm not just talking about the Masterpiece Theater's adaptation, although gross Tom Hardy) it was difficult for me to forgive his ceaseless quest for vengeance and retribution.
Notice how Emily hates all forms of propriety. Those that are demure and well mannered are worthy of the reader's uncontextualized contempt a la poor Isabella Earnshaw, Edgar Linton, and Linton Earnshaw. Emily Bronte was a homebody that grew up, matured, and ultimately died in her childhood home surrounded by her siblings. Early on in her life, three of her sisters were sent to a boarding school-cum-finishing school with disastrous results. Conditions were so poor that her two eldest sisters caught typhoid and died. It’s easy to see how Emily could have turned mistrustful of English Society.
Emily Bronte establishes symmetries (both thematic and literal) between her two central couples in the novel through doubling. What are we to make of these parallels? Is one meant to be an example and the other a warning? Or do both couples have flaws woven into the texture of their stories?
In Part 1 Cathy and Heathcliff are besotted with one another, but Cathy (despite her consuming love for the H-word 'I am Heathcliff Nelly) cannot see past his lack of prospects. She opts to marry the infinitely more suitable- and more moneyed- Edgar Linton. Let's face it. It's happened before people! Edgar is good hearted but doesn’t hold a candle to Cathy's desire for Heathcliff. Heathcliff and Cathy spend the latter half of part 1 suffering the consequences of her rash choice.
In Party 2, Cathy (the child from Cathy and Edgar's union) and Hareton (the child from Hindley and Frances' union) find love only after their generation's fopish Edgar-type, Linton (Heathcliff and Isabella's son), expires. Heathcliff in order to take his revenge, forces Cathy to marry Linton. But Linton is so weak (physically but, also, in character) that he literally atrophies in front of Cathy and soon dies. This leaves Cathy #2 free to do the 19th century novel thing: shrug off the mantel of society's oppressive social order and marry the man she loves! The noticeably Heathcliff-ish character Hareton. Yay. Triumph! Now, see? Doubling.
4. Is this a story of wasted love? Or of the triumph of love? Or Neither? (Hearing Werner Herzog anyone?)
Cathy #1 ends up dying in childbirth. She never gets a clue and just sets herself free: shirking the trappings of her gilded life and running away with Heathcliff like she ought to. She's a slave to her character. And Heathcliff is too in a way. When Catherine dies, Heathcliff is left to continue his solitary, angry mourning. Trapped in his inability to forgive and forget... so to speak. The book put into this context is actually deeply cynical. Neither are able to overcome their true nature in the name of l-o-v-e.