Friday, January 16, 2009

"Wuthering Heights" - Discussion on the first 15 chapters

Well, C.B. James said I was "in for it", with regards to reading this novel. He was right. What a bunch of dysfunctional narcissists! My goodness, these people would have benefited from some intervention. Anyway, a few of us are reading this lovely tale at the same time, and we thought it would be fun to break it up into two parts, and have some discussion questions to volley back and forth. But even if you read this book 15 years ago, please join in!

1. What was your first impression of the inhabitants of Thrushcross Grange, as described by Mr. Lockwood?

It took me a chapter or two to really figure out what was going on. I'm also not used to reading this type of prose, so I felt like I was wading through it a bit. However, it became apparent straight away that this was a house full of angry, unhappy people. Maybe even a little sadistic. It is the state of this household that grabs hold of you and makes you want to know more. How on earth can three people (Joseph doesn't count because I can't understand what he is saying!) be so wretched?

2. Do you think the ghost of Catherine was real or a product of Mr. Lockwood's imagination?

I don't think Mr. Lockwood knew anything of Catherine, except seeing her named scratched in the bureau. He did not even know she was dead, I don't think. Therefore, my love of a spooky story makes me want it to be real.

3. Can we rely on Nelly's account of events?

To me, this is the million dollar question. Nelly never did seem to like Catherine, and the altercation with the pinching incident sealed the deal. I think Nelly liked Heathcliff originally, when they were younger, but after seeing what he was capable of, I believe she became disenchanted with him as well. As much as it is painful to read about these horrible people in the story, and how easy it is to be disgusted by them all, I keep asking myself whether the stories are fact. It is a human frailty to undermine the reputation of people you don't like. My gut instinct tells me there is some exaggeration in Nelly's tale, along with snippets of truth. I just haven't figured out yet the difference between the two. (Side note: So what is up with the fact that Nelly is always in the room during these intense, private, awkward moments? Is that what servants do? Or is Nelly too dense to give people the privacy they need?)

4. Do you think Catherine really knows the true meaning of love?

I think Catherine is a spoiled, self-centered, drama-queen, materialistic narcissist. When Nelly asks her why she loves Edgar, she can't answer the question satisfactorily. When asked how she feels about Heathcliff, she provides a fairly heartfelt answer. She justifies her marriage to Edgar as a way to protect Heathcliff from poverty (so she can take care of him) which I don't buy at all. I think it is obvious she doesn't love Edgar, unless loving his money counts. As for Heathcliff, I think in a weird, perverse way, she does love him. But greed and pride get in the way and override any possibility for the relationship to work.

5. Which character so far do you like the least? The most? Why?

Ugh! It isn't hard to dislike anyone in this story. If I had to pick the greater of the evils, I guess I dislike Heathcliff the most. See below for my rationale. And I'm going to take the easy way out of the second part of the question. The character I like the most is Mr. Lockwood. He is lonely and wants someone to talk to. He is a benign character, and nobody else in the story really is. That is pretty pathetic!

6. If you had to come up with one word that represented Heathcliff, what would it be?

The perfect word for Heathcliff is Revenge. He comes into the family hating Hindley because of the childhood abuses he receives from him, and I suppose for the competition for the father's affection. Heathcliff manages to win over the father, thus causing the father to extricate his love from his son. Heathcliff also wins the affections of Hindley's sister Catherine. And once Heathcliff returns from his 3 year departure, he forcibly stays in Hindley's house, and dominates his son Hareton's time, teaching him awful words and actions. Then he exerts his efforts of revenge on Edgar, for "stealing" away Catherine. He marries Edgar's sister Isabelle to avail himself of the Linton fortune, then treats her cruelly. He continues to stalk Catherine, and ultimately contributes to her death (well sort-of, if you can get past this woman martyring herself.)

I am off now to read the last half of this stomach-ache-rending story. We'll see how everyone fares after Catherine has met her maker...


Unknown said...

I enjoyed reading your comments. It's fun to see what a first timer thinks of the book.

I have been to Haworth Parsonage where the Bronte sisters lived, and if it's at all like the house Wuthering Heights then the servants probably heard every word their masters said. They all lived in very close quarters in those days. Many homes had a servant waiting outside of every door just to be called in whenever needed. A servant like Nelly was probably very intimate with everyone in the household.

That said, I still don't trust her. ;-)

I think the ghost is real, too. And she's pretty mean appearing to Lockwood and not Heathcliff.

Unknown said...

I love your questions! I'll have to think about them a bit, before I come back with a few answers.

I have to admit that I'm not really enjoying the book so far though. The characters are all miserable, the writing style is slow, and difficult to follow in places and there isn't any action, or emotional depth - not much to like really!! I hope everyone else is enjoying it more than me!

Sandy Nawrot said...

James - How cool is that, visiting the Bronte home! I imagine the Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange homes are not that different than Emily's own surroundings, although in my mind's eye the fictitious homes are huge mansions! And I don't trust Nelly either, as far as I could spit.

Jackie - You know, it definitely is not a "curl up with your blanky and read all day" book. Had I been younger, I would have ditched it by now. And, I get very twitchy if it takes me more than a week to read anything, so I must keep my head down and get it done. I will look forward to your opinions!

Amateur Reader (Tom) said...

I named half of my blog after this crazy book. No emotional depth! If anything, these lunatics have altogether too much emotional depth.

Your questions about Nelly are spot on. Much of the fun of the book is trying to pin down Nelly's role.

Anyway, I hope everyone enjoys the book.

Unknown said...

The characters are suffering from emotions, but I like a book to affect mine. In this book they all feel very distanced from me. I don't feel any emotion for them - I don't care about what they do. I like to know what characters are thinking. Sorry, it's just not my type of book!

Sandy Nawrot said...

Well, heck, that is what makes the world go 'round, right? I can completely see how this book would be polarizing. Personally, there is so much angst and hatred and bitterness and avarice and dysfunction (I could come up with about thirty-two more words) in this book, I find myself wishing damnation on ALL of them, which is truly a literary talent. I have also found myself laughing at the insanity, like "I can't believe he just said that."

Unknown said...

I've written my answers to the questions you posed. What would you like me to do with them? I think they're a bit long to add to the comments here. Would you like me to email them to you, so you can add them to your blog? Should I post them on my blog? Both?

Sandy Nawrot said...

I would post them on your blog, and just leave a link to them in my comments. I am very anxious to hear your thoughts!

Unknown said...

I've posted my answers to the questions here:

Michele said...

Oh crud, I'm running behind! I'll catch up with you all real quick and post some answers for you, Sandy! (Great questions, by the're bound and determined to make me think, ha).

Anonymous said...

I posted my answers:

Michele said...

Okay, I think I'm caught up here, Sandy. (Whew, frantic reading there for a day or two!). Let's see here....

First impression? Absolute heathens! What a spooky place for a sane, rational person to stumble into! But Bronte does a great job of laying out some characters that you are dying to know more about.

Initially, I thought it was real. But Mr Lockwood certainly makes us doubt that as he doubts himself. I think because the average reader would empathize with Mr Lockwood than Heathcliff at this point, you tend to find the former more reliable.

As for Nely, I tend to think her dislike of Catherine makes her a tad unreliable, although Nely certainly seems salt-of-the-earth. And who can blame her for not liking Catherine...heck, I can't stand her at this point!

I don't think Catherine is capable of any adult emotion, quite frankly. She's a child through and through. I can't understand what Linton saw in her or why he would marry her, unless it was looks alone. But he was around her enough as a child to know what a spoiled little twerp.

Least liked character? Cathy, so far. But Heathcliff is running a close second.

Best liked character? Nely. She cracks me up with her smart-@ss remarks.

One word for Heathcliff might be "ruined." His childhood was so miserable, it's hard to imagine him ever emotionally pulling himself out of the gutter.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Michele, you rock! I love your answers, and like your blog, your personality shines through. You have to hope like heck that these people are damn good looking, because there isn't a redeeming quality on paper, huh?

Ruined is an excellent adjective. This man is good for nobody, not even his "one true love".

I hope you are enjoying yourself, in a self-torturous, demented way. I am planning on posting the questions for the remainder of the book on Friday. I think you will find the rest of the story to be very intriguing!

Michele said...

Sandy -- Did you watch the Masterpiece movie yet (or at least, the first half)? I'm saving it till we're done with the book. But you're absolutely right...they had better be drop-dead gorgeous to make the film work!

I remember this being my mother's favorite book when I was little - she read it over and over. I'll have to ask her why now....hmmmm.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I have not seen that on TV. I'm not even sure how to track it down at this point. I have finished the book, so I guess it would be safe. So many times if I see the movie first, it ruins the book!

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