I danced around reading this book, putting it off for too long, reading lots of "gothic-in-the-sense-of-horror" novels and lots of victorian romances,...moreI danced around reading this book, putting it off for too long, reading lots of "gothic-in-the-sense-of-horror" novels and lots of victorian romances, but never The Quintessential Gothic Romance, which I now realize this is. This is the definition of the genre and so many references finally make sense to me now. The Thirteenth Tale is a ripoff of this book, for instance- and there's tons of others.
Anyway, in the final judgement, I feel like this is more compelling plot, twists and turns, and surprises, than it is beautifully written or particularly insightful of human nature. I kept missing the intense psychological insight of Charlotte Bronte. Emily has the tale told aloud, literally, by a servant, which deprives it of a lot of introspection. So, as in drama, characters must monologue occasionally to show their feelings, which they do, but not enough. In fact, it feels very much like a play or a movie. Which is odd for the time. I kept imagining it on-screen. It has that sort of surface gloss to it.
Also, credibility is strained when ALL characters either get sick, hysterical, or die. But she pulls it off, barely. It is well-written and very readable and compelling even now and certainly a masterpiece of suspense and plot.
Dissappointing not to get that broader commentary on human nature though, because there's room for it. We get nature description, but no description of how country life really works, whether such isolation is truly the right way to live, the breakdown of class lines between masters and servants, incest when in isolation, parent-child relations- and it really feels like all these issues are lying there BEGGING to be explored, to be drawn into the discussion and metaphor. This could EASILY have been a commentary on how to live, on humanity, on English life, but it stops short and goes more for "ghost story" in the final count.
To some reviewers: If you thought Cathy and Heathcliff were meant to be admirable in any way or an example of true love in any way or sighed and said "How romantic!" and thought of princesses and white knights, you entirely missed the point. Reminds me of how some people read Jane Austen as "tee hee kisses and giggles" rather than bitingly angry social satire. This is not a puppies and unicorns book.
One interpretation I particularly like is that Catherine is the real heroine and the book is about female creativity and constraint. It's actually HER revenge story and Heathcliff is her alter-ego or animus. Several things support this: Heathcliff shows up out of nowhere, she teaches him everything (IE, she "creates" him, as if he's her character or son or imaginary friend) she says she "IS" Heathcliff etc, she's the only one who sees him at all most of the time. His hyper-masculinity and the part where he insists "Catherine ruined herself, I didn't do it" also aids this interpretation. Also, one of the most poignant and "true" moments of the book for me is when the sick Catherine is standing at her window imagining her childhood home and wishing she were a girl again. In the end it's about the choice between the adolescent self and the adult woman, and what's lost when she can't incorporate both parts of herself. The raging creative masculine part is so strong that it has to live, and the society woman has to die. I can empathize with that.
I remember gasping halfway through when I realized how cleverly she was setting up the same Heathcliff-Edgar-Cathy love triangle in the next generation.(less)