Wuthering Heights

Emily Bronte (aka Ellis Bell) 1818-1848

Acclaimed as “perhaps the most passionately original novel in the English language”, Wuthering Heights (a Yorkshire word for turbulent weather) was the only novel of Emily Bronte (originally published under a nom de plume of Ellis Bell, in the days when women couldn’t get their books published), who died of tuberculosis at age 30, one year after publication of WH. Bronte, a Brit, was primarily a poet and published a literary magazine with her siblings, Charlotte, Anne and Branwell. Bronte was three when her mother died, and she lost two sisters during her youth. She was raised in a bleak parsonage by its curate, her father. She was a contemporary, more or less, of Thomas Hardy, George Eliot (Mariann Evans), Dickens, Flaubert, Zola, et al.

The story, which takes place in the mid-1700’s, is melodramatic, complex, convoluted, replete with ghosts and visions and dominated by the brooding Heathcliff. While it has been made into movies, plays and even a musical, its appeal escapes me. From the very first page, I found the literary style repugnant; she recklessl uses dashes in lieu of commas; her paragraphing and chapter breaks often lack logic and meaning; her characters are more caricatures than people; her descriptive passages and metaphors are scant and uninspired, especially for a poet. It’s hard to explain this novel’s success, much less its continuing sales now 150 years later. If public opinion is the barometer, however, it looms as a must-read.