I remember reading a translated classics for children's edition of Wuthering Heights when I was a child. I do not remember the plot but it produced a tumultuous storm in my head during the two or three hours reading it. It is extremely dramatic and quite fast-paced. I know it is probably not my kind of book because I usually like fictions that are richer in thoughts and emotions instead of dramas. As expected, I do not enjoy reading this book but it was not a waste of time. I am actually interested to know why this revenge story is written. I do not mean to find out the author's intention but the cultural meaning of the novel.
The story is about two related families, the Earnshaws and the Lintons in a remote area of Yorkshire, who reside in two big houses four miles apart, namely Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. It is set between the 1770s and 1802. It starts when Mr. Lockwood becomes the new tenant of the Grange and pays a couple of visits to his landlord Mr. Heathcliff, who lives in the Wuthering Heights. Lockwood becomes very curious of his neighbours and Nelly Dean, who served in the two houses, tells him an epic story happens between the two houses.
Nelly Dean's narrative starts when the old Mr. Earnshaw adopts an orphan from Liverpool and names him Heathcliff. Mr. Earnshaw's daughter, Mr. Earnshaw adores the orphan very much and Catherine develops a very close bond with him since childhood. Yet the elder son, Hindley disgusts him and tries to stop Catherine from being too close to him. Mr. Earnshaw died when the children are still in their teenage years. Hindley thus can abuse Heathcliff as he wants. Catherine, although declares her tremendous love for Heathcliff, later marries her cousin, Edgar Linton of the Grange. Heathcliff disappears on a stormy night when he overhears Catherine's declaration to Nelly. He reappears three years later and tries to revenge against the masters of the two households, Edgar Linton and Hindley, who 'separates' him and Catherine. When the two die, he shifts the target to their offspring, who is also the daughter and nephew of Catherine.
The story is mostly composed of one outburst of quarrel or temper after another but without enough description of emotions or relationships that yield those outbursts. From the narration of Nelly, we just know that Hindley, Catherine, and Heathcliff are naturally very tempered people since their childhood, who just shout and throw things when they cannot get what they want. There are always not many detailed descriptions on the bondage between the two lovers in childhood besides them being good playmates. The lack of psychological descriptions makes the characters development too shallow and the story too melodramatic. With the commentary of Nelly Dean, the revenge of Heathcliff seems like a melodrama of an evil monster destroying an innocent village and finally destroying himself. I think the novel will be much better if it adopts a third person narratives that provide more details of the internal worlds of characters.
However, the reason for Heathcliff's revenge interests me. I think that merely his love for Catherine is not enough to yield his motivation for revenge. He tries to seize the dignity and power of the masters of the two households, who humiliate and bully him when he is young. He then reproduces his suffering to the younger generation, Hareton, and young Catherine. The revenge story is a result of an outsider, an orphan from the city's streets, failing to be accepted in a relatively exclusive social circle of countryside middle class. It reflects how power and class differences are detrimental to human relationships.
When Heathcliff is adopted, he does not regard himself as lower than Earnshaw's children as he receives more adoration from Mr. Earnshaw. When he is hit by Hareton, Nelly thinks 'he would have gone just so to the master, and got full revenge by letting his condition plead for him, intimating who had caused it'. Yet, he is not regarded as equal as other Earnshaw's children. Even Catherine does not defend him. Nelly, in order to avoid Hindley being blamed, 'persuaded him (Heathcliff) easily lay the blame of his bruises on the horse.' When old Earnshaw dies, he is deprived of respect. He runs away when he hears that she says it would degrade her if she marries him. Although Heathcliff plots a revenge to seize the property and status of his former oppressors, he fails to gain their respect and dignity which are granted by blood but is regarded as a devil instead. This reflects how unbreakable social differences are and how detrimental they are to people.
Another interesting point to note is the way the characters subject to the power. Hareton is neglected and degraded and suffers very much because of Heathcliff's revenge. Yet he does not hate him but is very loyal to him or maybe even love him. Nelly just thinks it is due to his habits. Maybe Hareton cannot find his place beside obeying his oppressor. What will happen if it is a common response to oppressive power?
I recommend people to read some critical writings about the book after reading it. I was surprised to find out its many different interpretations, which maybe even more interesting than the novel itself!
Wuthering Heights is in the public domain- Project Gutenberg.