Wuthering Heights Book Review—Lunchtime Lit With Mel Carriere

Updated on August 26, 2019
Mel Carriere profile image

Reviewer Mel Carriere takes his books where he can get them, from Nobel Prize winners to the dusty backlist bins of burrowed authors.

As postman Mel Carriere makes his daily appointed rounds, he likes to keep a bodice ripper or two tucked in the saddlebag, for entertainment.
As postman Mel Carriere makes his daily appointed rounds, he likes to keep a bodice ripper or two tucked in the saddlebag, for entertainment. | Source

Not Banning The Bodice Ripper

Through a half century of reading, I have learned not to confine myself to any particular niche of novels, what my snarky children would label being a genre fag. I have sampled books across the entire spectrum - from Science Fiction, to fantasy, to horror, to classics, to unconventional novels that defy classification. I have to say I am not much a fan of the mystery novel, but if a credible reader told me a mystery had something really special going for it, I would give it a try. In my view a good book is a good book, and why should people deprive themselves of a wonderful reading experience by remaining stubbornly ensconced inside a protective genre cocoon. Probably for the same reason a lot of people are intractable in their politics.

Although I read and enjoyed Gone With The Wind, I have to confess I am also not much for the romance novel either, the so-called bodice ripper. This term conjures up images of well endowed women in constraining Victorian gowns, trapped in a forbidden love affair with some squire's son, a surefire story line handed to a writer on a platter, where he or she only needs to tweak the setting to a different exotic locale, change the names of the characters, then crank out love stories as if from an assembly line.

But as was the case of Gone With The Wind, sometimes even the bodice rippers step outside their steamy box and deliver something different, something more profound and meaningful than an illicit roadside tryst with the stable boy. This something different is what propels such books from the here today gone tomorrow variety, into the realm of the immortal.

As such, having been pleasantly surprised by Margaret Mitchell's Gone With The Wind, when an even older book was recommended to me, I thought I would take it for a spin in my literary lunchbox. This novel was Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë. Even before opening to page one, I had the preconceived notion of proper Lords and Ladies pirouetting beneath chandeliers at magnificent balls, making prohibited connections with members of the opposite sex, dalliances consumed by flaming passion while they last, but doomed to end tragically. I presumed Wuthering Heights to be such a book, the prototypical bodice ripper that set the standard for all others since.

At least from the bodice ripping perspective, I was surprised by Wuthering Heights, which wasn't at all what I expected. I wish I could say pleasantly surprised, because this plodding narrative through the dreary Moors really didn't do much for me. Wuthering Heights wound up not being a bodice ripper at all, but if ever a book needed some ardent, impassioned bodice ripping to infuse a little life into its cold, sluggish blood, it was this one.

Lunchtime Lit Rules

Lunchtime Lit Books are read only on Mel's half hour postal lunch break, no exceptions. Even sensual bodice ripper novels, normally read beneath the blankets with a flashlight, must remain securely locked in his lunchbox when not in use.

Lunchtime Lit Year to Date Recap * ** ***

(click column header to sort results)
Book  
Pages  
Word Count  
Date Started  
Date Finished  
Lunchtimes Consumed  
A Confederacy of Dunces
392
124,470
4/29/2017
6/5/2017
17
The Martian
369
104,588
6/7/2017
6/29/2017
16
The Slynx
295
106,250
7/3/2017
7/25/2017
16
The Master and Margarita
394
140,350
7/26/2017
9/1/2017
20
Blood Meridian
334
116,322
9/11/2017
10/10/2017
21
Infinite Jest
1079
577,608
10/16/2017
4/3/2018
102
Wuthering Heights
340
107,945
4/4/2018
5/15/2018
21

*Twelve other titles, with a total estimated word count of 3,057,850 and 412 lunchtimes consumed, have been reviewed under the guidelines of this series.

**Word counts are estimated by hand-counting a statistically significant 23 pages, then extrapolating this average page count across the entire book. When the book is available on a word count website, I rely on that total.

***If the dates are lagging, it is because I am still slogging along, trying to catch up after a prolonged sabbatical from reviewing. Seven more books and I will be current.

The windswept North York Moors of Wuthering Heights
The windswept North York Moors of Wuthering Heights | Source

Action Laid in Hell

The setting for the gloomy tale Wuthering Heights is England's North York Moors, a habitat characterized by low growing vegetation, such as grass and shrubs, with a climate famous for "unsettled and windy" weather. This is why the moorlands are the backdrop for tales, fictional and otherwise, of unsettled souls. The howling wind whipping through the rafters in such locales is the sound track for foul deeds done in the dark. In the early to mid sixties, for instance, there were a series of killings in England known as the Moorland murders, where the bodies of slaughtered children were found buried in the moors. The Smiths wrote a song about this heinous episode, Suffer Little Children, where singer Morissey wails:

But fresh lilaced moorland fields
Cannot hide the stolid stench of death
Fresh lilaced moorland fields
Cannot hide the stolid stench of death

The moors, we see, definitely occupy significant acreage in the shadows of the English imagination, which might explain why Wuthering Heights is so popular, among the English.

But me - an American from the perpetually sunny west, just didn't get it. The primary problem with Wuthering Heights, from my perspective, was not its somber locale, it was that I couldn't sympathize, or even empathize, with any of the characters in the story. The orphan Heathcliff is a churlish ingrate who can't seem to get over being mistreated by his adopted brother. Cathy, the biological daughter of the family, is the only one who loves Heathcliff, if one can refer to such a dysfunctional connection using the word love. This inexplicable attachment to a man who is clearly a fiend reduces her likability as well.

Perhaps Heathcliff has a legitimate grievance over the harassment he endured as a child, but the manner in which he exacts revenge on those who had nothing to do with it turns him into an ogre in the eye of this reader, and the unconsumated romance of Heathcliff and Cathy elicits no emotions from me in their favor. Instead, Cathy comes across as a gold digger who married a man she did not love, purely for social status, while Heathcliff is a blackguard who destroyed the marriage of a man who did not wrong him. Any wonder, then, that the English poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rosetti described it as "A fiend of a book – an incredible monster [...] The action is laid in hell..."

The romantic, bodice ripping appeal of Wuthering Heights was really created by Hollywood, not Emily Bronte
The romantic, bodice ripping appeal of Wuthering Heights was really created by Hollywood, not Emily Bronte | Source

Heathcliff Gets a Hollywood Makeover

Despite my killjoy attitude, Wuthering Heights holds a special place in the hearts and minds of English storytelling enthusiasts. I suspect, however, that many of those who sing the praises of Emily Brontë's only novel haven't read the book at all, and love the tale because they have seen the stage or film versions. These depictions are altered versions of the original, in which Heatcliff and Cathy are portrayed in a more sympathetic light, one that plays well in Peoria.

This sanitized Wuthering Heights is a favorite pop culture theme. Indeed, my first exposure to the saga came in approximately 1986, when I heard the Pat Benatar cover of the song of the same name. I enjoyed the tune, until a navy buddy of mine lent me a cassette titled The Kick Inside, the debut album of Kate Bush. I fell in love with the delightful, curious little English songbird who penned the original, and forgot all about the Pat Benatar version, until now.

The songs and dramatic renderings that spawned from Wuthering Heights paint a dreamier, more romantic portrait than the cruel landscape novel author Brontë drew for us in dismal sepia tones. The 1939 Laurence Olivier film version, in fact, only depicts about half the novel's chapters. Therefore, the dashing Olivier can deliver but a toned down version of the douchebag that Heathcliff truly was. It seems that the romantic, bodice ripping appeal of Wuthering Heights was created, in fact, by Hollywood, not Emily Brontë.

The only undisputed image of Emily Brontë, perhaps revealing her reaction to the tragically brief nature of life at her time,  and the anti-female bias she conformed to to get her work published.
The only undisputed image of Emily Brontë, perhaps revealing her reaction to the tragically brief nature of life at her time, and the anti-female bias she conformed to to get her work published. | Source

Emily Brontë Races Against The Clock, And Other Things

Lunchtime Lit has a disturbing tendency to review books by authors whose lives or work underwent tragic treatment. Wuthering Heights is no different, it pains me to report. The young lady who composed this work, like it or not now a classic of English Literature, was to meet an early end that paralleled that of the characters of her masterpiece. Furthermore, because of the restricted role of women in her era, it was only after her death that Emily Brontë was recognized for her influential creation.

Emily was part of the magnificent trio of Brontë literary sisters. Her older sister Charlotte was the author of the classic Jane Eyre, and younger sibling Anne was noted for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The three of them were raised in a parsonage in Haworth, in Yorkshire, on the threshold of the moors that formed the cheerless backdrop for Wuthering Heights. Neither of the three lived past 40, Charlotte outliving the other two, to the ripe old age of 39.

Wuthering Heights certainly depicts the grievously fleeting nature of life that Emily was exposed to. The two protagonists and other major characters in the story die young, or suffer extended periods of illness that bring them to the threshold. At the time of the writing of Wuthering Heights, such a brief temporal existence was not particularly noteworthy. Life expectancy for women in the United Kingdom in 1850 was 40 years, compared to 83 today.

So the clock was ticking for the Brontë sisters but they made the most of it, leaving their mark on the world in the distressingly few years allotted to them. Not only did the clock mock their deeds, they also struggled against an anti-female bias in the literary sphere. In order to be published, all three wrote under male pseudonyms, Emily using the masculine moniker Ellis Bell, but the violence and passion in her book deceived the Victorian reading public that it must have been written by a man. Wuthering Heights was published under the Ellis Bell banner in 1847, but Emily Brontë did not live to enjoy her revelation as its true creator, dying in 1848 at age 30, of tuberculosis.

It is reported that Emily Brontë was so thin at death her coffin measured only 16 inches wide. A small package to contain so mighty a mind, one that rocked and rattled Victorian expectations, regardless of whether I liked the damn book or not. I think her sad story, and others like it, demonstrate that we reviewers of the bodice ripper, if we want to maintain a reputation of integrity, have to pay homage to the great pathfinders of the literary trade, and Emily Brontë was certainly one of those.

What´s Your Take on The Mother of All Boddice Rippers - Wuthering Heights?

4 out of 5 stars from 2 ratings of Wuthering Heights

Kate Bush Wuthering Heights

Questions & Answers

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      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        8 days ago from San Diego California

        Thank you Shaloo. The novel is not for everybody, but as a classic of English Literature it is probably obligatory to read, sooner or later. I appreciate you dropping by.

      • swalia profile image

        Shaloo Walia 

        8 days ago from India

        I read this classic long back during college years. It was a part of syllabus during my masters degree. Your review makes me want to reread it again.

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        7 weeks ago from San Diego California

        Thank you Ann. I guess Kate Bush's high pitched screech definitely is not for everyone, but The Kick Inside kept me company during my naval deployment in the 80s. My literary son recommended Wuthering Heights to me, and he also read Jane Eyre, which I will attend to one of these days.

        I'm glad you enjoy these reviews. They don't get a lot of love, so it is refreshing to know someone is entertained, because I like writing them. Thanks for dropping by.

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        7 weeks ago from San Diego California

        Thank you Mills. It's definitely a toxic relationship. Sorry I am not keeping up on my comments too well. This annoying Maven thing completely covers the comment box on my phone, where I do most of my work. Thanks for dropping in.

      • annart profile image

        Ann Carr 

        7 weeks ago from SW England

        The Yorkshire Moors can portray a harsh, broody, dangerous landscape, full of bogs and crags. However, they can also be wondrously beautiful in the sunshine, wonderfully wild and inspirational. I think they breed a vigorous, strong and down-to-earth kind of human being rather than broody ones to match the landscape.

        I can't stand 'Wuthering Heights' (my spell-checker just interpreted it as 'withering' - possibly more apt). Both book and film left me tearing my hair and wondering why such awful characters are liked by anyone.

        I think perhaps the atmosphere of the moors is something readers enjoy, though. Her writing certainly conjures up images and emotions with skill.

        Laurence Olivier's depiction of Heathcliff left me totally disappointed and Cathy came across as a completely self-centred fake.

        There, having got all that off my chest, I can tell you that I enjoyed your 'critique' and was highly relieved that someone else (or a few it seems) agrees with me!

        On the other hand, Charlotte Bronte's 'Jane Eyre' is a great story, full of 'proper' emotions and intrigue, with a happy ending to boot. Much better.

        As for Kate Bush, well her voice is an acquired taste, I think.

        I enjoy reading your 'Lunchtime Lit' series, Mel. I have a few to catch up on!

        Ann

      • profile image

        Pat Mills 

        7 weeks ago from East Chicago, Indiana

        This enduring work doesn't sound appealing, but I bet some will read this book and say it's the perfect embodiment of their relationships. Thanks for the warning.

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        8 weeks ago from San Diego California

        It is great we have an actual eyewitness to contribute to the conversation, Linda, because my information is strictly speculative in nature, plus what I get off the web. I guess you just have to have the Moors in your blood. I grew up in the desert, which is probably why I can appreciate stories about the desert. Thanks for dropping in!

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        8 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        I had to smile when I read that the moors in the shadows of the English imagination might explain why English people like Wuthering Heights. I think you might be right. I was born in England and grew up in Britain and I love Wuthering Heights.

        I've visited the Bronte parsonage museum and the surrounding moors on a sunny day. The area was quite pleasant in the sun. I think in dull or bad weather it would be very cheerless, though, as you say. Thanks for sharing the information about the sad lives of the Brontes as well as your opinion of the book.

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        8 weeks ago from San Diego California

        Thank you Pamela for dropping in. Fortunately it was a short book, so it wasn't much of a sacrifice. The different narrative perspectives and that weird Yorkshire accent lost me, but there wasn't time to get into all of that. Thanks for reading.

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        8 weeks ago from San Diego California

        This hasn't been one of my more popular titles. I thought a little bodice ripping would get me some voyeuristic views, but instead you show up with your ducks.

        Well, Eric, I'm glad you dropped in because it was getting lonely. Really good to hear from you.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        8 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        You have saved me. Although maybe I might thumb it up at Sweetwater reservoir with my fishing pole. Maybe the Mallards would be better to "read"?

      • Mel Carriere profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Carriere 

        8 weeks ago from San Diego California

        I think you won't notice if you skip this one Bill. I don't think there will be a test on stodgy Victorian novels when we go to the great Lit 101 class in the sky. Thanks for dropping in, my friend.

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        8 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

        I think your excellent review of Wuthering Heights is right on the money. I read Gone With the Wind as a teen and loved it. I started Wuthering Heights and just couldn't get interesting. I appreciate your perseverance in reading this book.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        8 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

        Somehow I managed to avoid this classic. Never saw the movie. I'm really not sure why other than I wasn't ready to truly give it a chance. Perhaps now, eh? I'm running out of time, as it were.

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