Wuhering Heights written by Emily Bronte
Presentation : Indu Kulkarni
(Sunday, 28 March 2021)
Recording of the Program below in case you have missed the same on zoom.
Review by Mohini Khot
Indu Kulkarni did a thorough job of introducing the novel and placing it in its historical context. Beginning with definitions of the novel form, she went on to a brief discussion of the great novelists of the Victorian period.
She gave a fairly detailed summary of the plot, quoting lines, specifying chapters, so that those who had not read the book could also get an excellent picture of it.
The slide depicting the family tree showing the two families who take centre stage in the novel was very useful, making clear the inter-linking between the Earnshaws and the Lintons.
She emphasised the Gothic features of the novel which she found to be the main character of the book. She also led the discussion into a debate about the nature of the heroine. Cathy is certainly not the typical beautiful, virtuous, sweet romantic heroine. She shares more in common with Becky Sharp of Vanity Fair and Scarlett O’Hara of Gone with the Wind.
The first question that arose (Mohini Khot) concerned Heathcliff as a Byronic hero. There followed a comparison of Heathcliff and Rochester, both traditionally labelled as Byronic heroes.
Thereafter Prashant Sinha made an interesting point about the psychological interpretation of the book in which Cathy is to be seen as the Ego, Heathcliff as the Id and Edgar as the Superego. He also brought up the Marxist reading of the novel in which Heathcliff is seen as the proletarian hero defeating the forces of capitalism, taking his revenge on the upper classes.
Tazeen Canteenwala echoed Mohini Khot’s earlier description of Heathcliff as the elemental man, shorn of any veneers and mentioned the influence of Voltaire on Romantic writers, pointing to Heathcliff as the natural man.
Virginia Naude said she felt a sense of sympathy with Heathcliff: the storyline gives ample understanding of his need for vengeance. Monali Chatterjee questioned Heathcliff’s uncharted disappearance but, as Indu pointed out, there are several such lacunae in the book.
More than one participant expressed the feeling that Wuthering Heights is the emanation of a very young woman’s imagination. Perhaps Jane Eyre is more mature.
Book Club presentation of the novel Wuthering Heights written by Emily Bronte, by Prof Indu Kulkarni was very elaborate and well expressed with her long time experience as a teacher of English Literature.
She called it a romantic novel.
She referred to Heathcliff as a rich and powerful man in his later life but not educated and consequently not polished though he sobers down a bit.
Mohini Khot referred to Heathcliff as a Byronic hero , brooding , melancholic with a great capacity to love . But he is barely human and his cruelty appears beyond comprehension.
She also appreciated Bronte’s well crafted novel about elemental characters who are unsophisticated . Passionate without brakes. Heathcliff displays enormous anger.
Among the members present (on Zoom), Poonam Arora expressed her views about the novel as follows – There is no gentle love shown in W.H but more of rage.
Dr Prof Sinha called W.H a brilliantly crafted novel.
The class distinction is well brought out between the two families of Earnshaw and Linton. Former stay on the highland Moors while the latter stay down in the valley.
It is the only one novel to the credit of Emily Bronte. She wrote under the pseudo name of a male writer Ellis Bell as there existed a prejudice against women writers in the Victorian era.
There is a supernatural element in the novel in the Gothic style of writing prevalent in the Victorian era.
Heathcliff sees a bleeding hand on the window sill . He hears Cathy who is dead crying out to him to let her in through the window.
Nelly, the housekeeper who reads dead Catherine’s diary and narrates part of the story hears the wails of a child.
These scenes create an eerie atmosphere.
When I looked up Wikipedia on Google for more information about Wuthering Heights I was surprised to see a lot of reviews by some 20th century journalists criticising the novel more than appreciating it.
Following are some of the quotes that I picked up from their reviews –
Wuthering Heigthts by Emily Bronte is ‘wild, confused , disjointed’..about people who look like ‘improbable savages’.
The reader is ‘shocked , disgusted almost sickened by details of cruelty , inhumanity and the most diabolical hate and vengeance…violence and immorality.’
Characters look ‘ like demons in human form’…’Rebel, and iconoclast…more pagan than Christian.’
‘Women (are) of fiendish – angelic nature, tantalising and terrible and men indescribable’.
‘No character(is) worth admiration’.
“Not one of the finer feelings of our nature ‘ is displayed by them.
The author seems to challenge the Victorian orthodox values of morality and religion.
Heathcliff is depicted as a ‘dark skinned, demonic Don Juan. Devillish, cruel, fierce and sadistic, pitiless wolfish man.He tortures a dog and a cat….( as reaction due to) Hindler Earnshaw’s brutality towards him during his childhood when he was brought home as an orphan by Hindler’s father.
Heathcliff is shown as ‘ an anti hero.
Catherine is depicted as ‘a wayward wilful girl ‘.
They portray ‘extremes of love-hate relationship’.
Some critics have also referred to their’ savagery and selfishness, vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors, fierce passions ‘.
On the plus side –
The novel bears’ a powerful testimony to the power of love even over demons in the human form’.
The humour is’ grim’. The story is ‘puzzling but interesting’.
‘Inspite of the disgusting coarseness of the dialogues and improbabilities of the plot,we are spellbound’
Rossetti admired the novel for its’ power and sound style’. But he calls it ‘a fiend of a book – an admirable monster..The action is laid in hell – only it seems places and people have English names here’.
Virginia Woolfe admired the novel. But she found it more difficult to understand than Jane Eyre. She also admired Emily Bronte’s power to write about the gigantic disorder in the world.
Critic John Cawper Parys admired Emily’s ‘tremendous vision’.
Charles Sanger appreciated her ‘literary craft and meticulous planning’.
Robert Mac Crun, Editor of The Guardian placed Wuthering Heights at no. 13 in the list of 100 best novels in 2015.
‘Bronte releases extraordinary new energies in the novel, renews its potential and almost re-invents the genre.’
It is’ a passionate exploration of a fatal yet regenerative love affair. , brilliant manipulation of time and space’.
Rachel Cooke, a journalist calls WH ‘a masterpiece’.
Penguin called it ‘a staple of Gothic fiction’.
‘It inspired many generations of writers.’
Ceri Radford, author says ‘ Bronte’s vision of nature blazes with poetry’.
The title Wuthering Heights denotes a barren moorland with stormy weather with ‘an atmospheric tumult’.
Similarly the children of the Earnshaw family living there are fiery and untamed .
In contrast, the family of Lintons living in the leafy sheltered valley of Thrushcross Grange below are gentle, passive and timid.
The novel shows a union of these two families with contrasting traits.
They live in total isolation in a closed world .
I had read Wuthering Heights first time during my teens while studying for my B.A, Hons in English Literature in Wilson college, Bombay.
I had also seen the marvellous movie based on this novel with Lawrence Olivier , our fantasy idol acting as Heathcliff.
We youngsters would go ga ga and would swoon over such romantic novels and heroes of the Victorian era but never gave it a critical assessment as I am doing now while writing this flashback review of it based on Prof Indu Kulkarni’s presentation and my reading of reviews on google. Google did not exist during my teens in fifties.
So my hearty thanks to Mohini and Satish Khot , our enthusiastic organisers of the Book Club and Indu Kulkarni’s presentation for reviving and refreshing my memories of this wonderful novel Wuthering Heights by Emile Bronte.
Best wishes and regards