I would have been about 12 or 13 when I read Wuthering Heights for the first time. I had never seen any of the film adaptations, and had no familiarity with the story. I was in for a shock! A complex, unpleasant story, full of characters who I greatly disliked and could not understand - those were some of my earlier impressions of Wuthering Heights.
Since that first exposure to Wuthering Heights, I have seen several of the film versions (which are nearly all pretty bad. . . WH, it would seem, is almost unfilmable). And I've read various articles, essays, and blog posts about Wuthering Heights over the years. In short, as much as I disliked WH the first time I read it, I found myself wanting to read it once more. After reading so much about other people's opinions of WH, and watching various film interpretations, I wanted to read it again - to refresh my memory of it, and to try to decipher my own feelings on the book, several years after reading it for the first time.
I finished reading it yesterday. Some of my (somewhat random) thoughts:
Wuthering Heights has got to be one of the most frustrating books in the English language! For over a century and a half, readers and critics alike have tried desperately to pin it down - to dissect it - decipher it's meaning - and have all failed. Wuthering Heights simply refuses to be pinned down or boxed in. You can try to instill some definite moral or allegory - it doesn't work! Everybody wants to 'figure it out', but no one really can. Every reader, every critic seems to interpret the story in a different way.
Heathcliff: possibly my least favourite character in English literature. A very, very messed up human being! I frankly cannot understand the appeal he holds for some women. 'Bad boy' appeal? I don't think so. He's a fiend! He's a villain! There is absolutely nothing to like about him. It is possible to feel some measure of sympathy for him early in the book, when he is cruelly abused by Hindley, but beyond that. . .
I find the hardest, most painful part of the book to read is Heathcliff's return to the Grange after his several year's absence. There is something so ominous in those pages. You know that something is going to explode - that something is going to go terribly, terribly wrong - and it does. On the other hand, there is such an incredible sense of relief upon Heathcliff's death. As he gradually fades away - and as Catherine and Hareton's romance develops - the dark, unsettling atmosphere that has haunted the Heights for years finally lifts.
We can't ever know for certain what inspired Emily Bronte to write her only novel, but my guess is, rather than wanting to write it, she was compelled to write it. The characters lived in her mind, and she had to write their story. She never set out with the intention of making up such a character as Heathcliff. He just - happened. That's how I've always imagined it to have been, anyway. . .
One thing that struck me as I was re-reading WH was how shockingly modern the language seemed to be! Or perhaps 'timeless' would be a better word than 'modern'. Emily Bronte's prose is much easier for the modern reader to follow than, say, Dickens' or even Charlotte Bronte's. The language is simple, but very powerful in its simplicity. It doesn't read like a typical Victorian novel. And of course, it isn't a typical Victorian novel at all. . .
Hmmm. . . still trying to analyze my thoughts on Wuthering Heights. I think I have something of a love-hate affair with Emily Bronte's classic. It's violent, it's depressing, full of unlikeable characters. . . and yet, I suspect that, in another couple of years, I'll be pulling it down from the shelf and reading it yet again! So what is the appeal of Wuthering Heights for me? I'm not exactly sure! I don't like either of the protagonists - Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw. I don't like their love story. The 'love' they have for each other is destructive and unhealthy. An excellent example of humanity pushed to its cruelest, darkest limits, and of passion twisted and perverted until it is utterly unlike what God intended it to be.
And yet - there are glimpses of light towards the very end. Catherine and Hareton's beautiful, innocent romance contrasts all the more strongly with Cathy and Heathcliff's destructive obsession with each other. I love the last few chapters of the book - as Heathcliff fades and dies, and Catherine and Hareton begin to fall in love. To me - it's like the curse has been crushed. The horrible, destructive cycle has finally been broken. Catherine and Hareton can get married, move to Thrushcross Grange, have a bunch of children. . . begin their lives again. As for Wuthering Heights itself - do you think it should be left alone? Left to itself, along with all its memories and ghosts? It seems the most fitting fate to me. . .
So, the final few chapters - and the promise of life and new beginnings after all the death and destruction - help to make it all worthwhile for me.
Now - shall I give a brief rundown of the various movie adaptations, for those of you who are interested? Please remember I don't necessarily recommend any of the following films. Wuthering Heights, by its very nature, is violent and often depressing, so of course any movie version that follows the book is also going to be. . . violent and depressing. The only major adaptation I haven't seen is the 1939 version, with Laurence Olivier. By all accounts, it doesn't follow the book with any fidelity. . .
Not the best version of WH, but not all bad, either. I didn't like the actress cast as Cathy - she looked more like an Isabella Linton than a Catherine Earnshaw. On the other hand, Timothy Dalton as Heathcliff. . . wow! :-) What a lot of talent the guy had/has - even at such an early age (early 20s when WH was filmed). Judy Cornwell (Mrs. Musgrove in Persuasion 1995) was lovely as Nelly Dean. One thing that that this adaptation did do well was illustrating the dynamics and relationships within the Earnshaw family. BUT. . . this adaptation finishes after the death of Catherine. And *spoiler warning* they tweaked the story a bit, so that Hindley shoots and kills Heathcliff shortly after Catherine's death! On top of that, the film is only 100 minutes long, so the whole movie felt very rushed. 100 minutes just ain't long enough to do WH any kind of justice, even if you're only adapting half of the story.
3 out of 5 stars
It's been a while since I last watched this adaptation, but from what I can remember, it simply failed to capture what Wuthering Heights is all about for me. This movie hasn't aged very well - the wigs and hairstyles, especially, are painfully early-90s. Aargh! :-( I didn't particular like any of the actors in the film. If I remember correctly, Ralph Fiennes was okay as Heathcliff, though I wasn't overly enamoured with Juliette Binoche's Catherine. They got Juliette Binoche to play both Cathys. She had such a terrible blonde wig as Cathy jr!! But getting past the wigs - I just didn't really like this version. It seemed rather bland in places, lacking the raw, wild beauty that Wuthering Heights is supposed to have. The soundtrack, the script, the overall feel of the film. . . it just didn't cut it for me. It's not 'my' Wuthering Heights.
2 1/2 out of 5 stars
My favourite version of Wuthering Heights! This is probably one of the lesser-known adaptations, but it is, in my opinion, the best. That's not to say it's perfect - far from it. As I said above, Wuthering Heights is a very difficult book to adapt for film or TV, and certainly we have yet to see the definitive version of Wuthering Heights (I very much doubt that we ever will see it. . .). But for me, WH 1998 captures the 'essence' of Wuthering Heights better than any of the other adaptations available. Robert Cavanagh as Heathcliff - he doesn't look like Heathcliff, but he manages to convey Heathcliff's character better than any of the other attempts I have seen. Heathcliff's viciousness and cruelty is also less toned down here that it is in some of the other versions.
Orla Brady as Cathy - not 100% right, but I still like her better than any of the other Cathys. Many viewers have complained about the actors playing Heathcliff and Cathy being too old. Which is true enough, I suppose. They both look about 35 in scenes where they're supposed to be 15. It is a bit distracting, but it didn't bother me enough to destroy my appreciation of the rest of the movie. The soundtrack is absolutely gorgeous. This is the only version of WH I have seen that managed to bring me to tears! I was bawling during the last few minutes of the film - which were very well done. So sad, but so beautiful. Another thing I loved about this adaptation was the fact that it retained quite a lot of Emily Bronte's dialogue - always a plus!
Simon Bonham-Carter (Mr. Bingley in P&P 95!) was very good as Edgar Linton. It's great to see a different side to his acting abilities. Finally, I can't wrap up this mini-review without mentioning MATTHEW MACFADYEN as Hareton!! He looks so young - this was his first role for TV, according to IMDb. If you're a fan of Matthew (like me), this adaptation of WH is worth checking out for Matthew's brief appearances alone. His scenes with Catherine are so adorable! :-) One more plus - this is possibly one of the cleaner versions of Wuthering Heights out there. The more violent and disturbing aspects of the story are often merely implied, rather than graphically depicted.
4 out of 5 stars
Didn't particularly like this new miniseries adaptation from ITV. I thought it was bland, and overly modern. Remember I said the 1992 version hasn't aged well? I think it will be the same for WH 2009. In another 15-20 years we'll watch this version and groan. . . "Hm, a very 2000s version of Wuthering Heights". . . which it is. I really think they went a little too far here in trying to make this adaptation accessible for a modern audience. With a classic, timeless text like Wuthering Heights, you shouldn't need to bend over backwards in effort to make the story 'contemporary' and 'accessible'. Duh!! But it does have some good points - Tom Hardy was fantastic as Heathcliff. Too bad I didn't like any of the other actors in this production. Charlotte Riley looks like Catherine, but I wasn't all that impressed with her portrayal of Cathy. Also, there are several scenes in this version that I had to fast-forward through. :-/
3 out of 5 stars
Note: all of the above adaptations are on Youtube, if you want to watch them online. Just search for "Wuthering Heights 1998", for instance, and you should be able to find it without too much trouble.
Whew! This has turned into a pretty epic post. If you're still reading, congratulations. :P Thank you for your patience.
Now - I want to hear your thoughts and opinions! Do you like Wuthering Heights? Do you hate it? Do you think it deserves its status as one of the great classics of English literature? Do you have a favourite movie adaptation?