[Journal 6] Upon Reading Wuthering Heights

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[Journal 6] Upon Reading Wuthering Heights

Post  Jongwoo on Tue Jun 10 2008, 08:10

Victorian Novels is one of the classes I am taking for this semester. Among a handful of books that I have studied in this course, I found Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights particularly attractive. Filled with Victorian rhetorics and archaic expressions, the book was a quite challenge to read through. But the reading was rather a pleasing task than a painful one because of its eccentric plots and mysterious atmosphere.

Learning about the author of Wuthering Heights was equally interesting. Emily Bronte is a writer from Victorian age during which literary works sought to discover what lays inside human minds. In the introduction of the book, I read that the author was an introvert and had a strong sense of self-importance. It also mentions that she tended to avoid human contacts aside from her family. Despite her distaste for interpersonal relations, her ability to illustrate inner characters in writing is certainly unsurpassed. I was particularly impressed by the way she depicts the distorted, revenge-stricken inner self of Heathcliff and how it brings miseries to a multitude of people including himself.

I was surprised at first to learn that Emily Bronte was criticized severly by her contemporaries. Even her sister Charlotte, who was well-recognized as a writer during her days, condemned Emily's writings insignificant. Her writings must have been too innovative and far above the grasp of the people of her time. Her only novel, Wuthering Heights, truly stands out among many Victorian masterpieces, and is now celebrated as one of the world's most notable classics. Although she secluded herself in her small village most of her lifetime, her writings are filled with precise and realistic accounts of various inner human characters, which stand on the solid ground of well-structured plots.

Audacity is another quality that Emily Bronte possessed. In Wuthering Heights, without any hint of hesitation, she bravely demonstrated passion and violence of our emotions just the way they are. Daring was her attempt, but she chose to describe the stormy minds of the main characters only in an indirect manner. In the story, all the events are delivered through the composed voice of an old witness, and the only audience to these accounts, Mr. Lockwood, listens to the story with high degree of objectivity. But I felt that such serenity in the manner of depiction serves more like the eye of the storm. The way the story is recounted is somewhat impartial, and thus hides the true characters of Heathcliff and Catherine. Nelly passes personal judgements on each character every now and then, and determines whether one is good or bad totally based on her personal preference. Moreover, Lockwood himself is an unsociable person, who is attracted to Heathcliff's seclusion. These two main narrators, therefore, appears to be quite unreliable ground of judgement, so I rather chose to make my own judgement on each main character. As I continued to read the story and try to analyze the characters, I came to realize that the author used each one of them to illustrate a common struggle inside the human mind, which is the struggle between wildness and civility.

At the center of the struggle is Heathcliff who possesses all the wild memories. To me, he was the most interesting character, yet the hardest to determine what he truly is like. The story does not reveal what sort of life he had to live before he was brought to Mr. Earnshaw's manor. Besides, nothing is known how he acquired his wealth during the three year's leave. Because of such obscurity, I enjoyed my freedom of guessing out my own versions of unfolded story, but only with total uncertainty. He is a man of wildness: ignorant simple, and brutal. At the same time, he gives off a faint scent of civility. This scent was first evoked by Hindley when he realized that his father brought Heathcliff, not the violin that he had yearned for. The civilization symbolized with the violin is blocked by the appearance of untamed Heathcliff. Hindley despises Heathcliff's uncivilized nature, and bullies him because of it. Consequently, hatred begins to grow in Heathcliff, and becomes intensified with the encounter of well-cultured Catherine. It seems to me that his hatred is ultimately against civilization itself.

Catherine's inner being was by no means easier to determine. She asks her father for a riding whip as a gift, but his father forgets all about the gift and brings untamed Heathcliff: a tool for civilization is lost for the appearance of uncivilized creature. Catherine's dispositions are unique. On some occasions, she appears to refuse 'domestication' just like Heathcliff, while on some other accounts, she proves to possess civility to certain extent. As she gets to know the Lintons, her inclination to civility becomes more intense. But the intensified inclination constantly conflicts with her wild nature, and duality of her character becomes even more obvious. With Heathcliff she has become accustomed to wildness; with Edgar Linton, civilization. In my opinion, her character is more of wildness, but despite her true nature she tries to appear tamed and civilized. Her attempt to gain civility culminates in her marriage to Edgar Linton.

Every single aspect of civilization is destroyed by Heathcliff. His hatred against civilization reaches the peak when his only solace and true love, Catherine, deserts him and decides to attain civility. Her marriage to Linton drives him away from Wuthering Heights. Three years after, he returns with totally different appearance. Having gentlemanly manners and material riches, he is now the epitome of civilization. As I read the latter part of the story in which Heathcliff carries out his revenge, I felt it ironic that he uses the power bestowed by civilization itself to bring destruction on it. Even more ironic is that Hindley is already deep into wildness, addicted to wine and gambling when the revenge begins. Of course, Heathcliff pretends his civility, and reveals his true wild nature as he treats his wife cruelly. It is my opinion that Heathcliff might have learned from Catherine how to take advantage of civility. He totally devastates civilization in a civilized manner.

As Heathcliff's revenge proceeds further, I could observe more of ironic conflicts between wildness and civility. As a revenge, Heathcliff terminates the education of Hindley's son, Hareton Earnshaw. He grows to be more and more untamed. On the other hand, Heathcliff begets a son who grows to be a weak, well-educated young man. By this alteration of wildness and civility in the following generation, Heathcliff's vengeance seems to be completed. Upon his death, however, young Catherine and Hareton announce to get married, and this happy union ends the story, not with an ultimate collision between the two somewhat contrasting natures, but with their reconciliation.

Wuthering Heights depicts the true picture of contentious human nature through the constant confliction between the two extreme qualities, which are wildness and civility. In every human mind, I believe that these two elements exist simultaneously, struggling and seeking balance. It must have been Emily Bronte's intention to represent this inner confliction through the ruthless revenge of mysteriously untamed Heathcliff on the Earnshaws and the Lintons that symbolize civility. The miseries in our personal and social lives are unavoidable because of the coexistence of animal-like wildness and ideal civility in ourselves. But as we seek for the reconciliation between the two extremes, our life will gradually turn more pleasant and harmonious.
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Re: [Journal 6] Upon Reading Wuthering Heights

Post  Young on Tue Jun 10 2008, 13:18

Long essay!! The story of that old novel sounds very difficult to me. Mad
I should have taken the classes about English Literature more, but it is always challenging to take ancient literature. Nevertheless, I think it is good experience to read antiquated literature as a university student. Last year, I took the class about British old literature. I had a very tough time to understand old style English and weird stories, which were about battles and fairy tales. However, I enjoyed that class to come in contact with old things that I can not read with my own will.
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