Thursday, December 15, 2005

Wuthering Heights

There is a large list of books that every reader has, it's the "List of Books I Must Get Around to Reading" and every list is different. Most have the 'should reads' and the 'want to reads but it's soooo long' and the 'heard it was good don't have time' and of course, the 'classics.' I have a bunch of classics that I must read, and Wuthering Heights is one of them. The idea of the story appeals to me, dark brooding Heathcliff, true, desperate moody love on the moors, very emotional and passionate in a dark, honest, human way. She even talks about how Heathcliff is darkness, and not joy. Anyhow, the book was published in 1847, a time when television and instant communication hadn't shortened our attention span for information and conversation, and the style of writing tended toward lengthy. The characters tend to have conversations that go on for days, and the meaning, while probably clear in 1847, is hard to come by reading it in 2006. I've read a few paragraphs a few times just to clarify the meaning, and the language is fairly difficult not because the words are hard, but because they don't mean the same thing anymore. Oh, Heathcliff and Catherine are both passionate and wild and full of broody, moorish sulking, but to get to the core of the book, you have to navigate the English language of 1847. My favorite passage, the one that exemplifies how you can get a 'feel' for what is being said but not quite understand its literal translation is the following:

I perceive that people in these regions acquire over people in towns the value that a spider in a dungeon does over a spider in a cottage, to their various occupants; and yet the deepened attraction is not entirely owing to the situation of the looker-on. They do live more in earnest, more in themselves, and less in surface change, and frivolous external things.

Now, my take on this, is something like the following: People in the harsher regions of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange live a harder life and due to the harshness and isolation of the regions, don't bother putting on airs, masks, or do the silly little things people in town do, like wear powdered wigs and learn the proper way to wave a fan and worry about proper stations and such. They are what they appear to be, and that's that. They value life more and live life harder, and any outsider looking in can see that, and views it that way.

My problem is the spider. Does the spider in the dungeon live more in earnest than the spider in a cottage? Wouldn't it be easier for a spider in a dungeon vs. a cottage? Especially a clean one. Why would a spider in a dungeon share the same values as people in the harsher regions? Why would an onlooker think that a spider in a dungeon lived more earnestly? As an onlooker, I would think a spider in a dungeon with all sorts of creepy crawlies to munch on would be as happy if not happier than a spider in a cottage. Especially, again, a clean, well-swept one. But, really, as long, I suppose, as I get the 'understanding' and 'feel' I shouldn't spend so much time dwelling on the bizarre analogy. I just wish I knew why she felt spiders in dungeons had something over spiders in cottages.


Wcy said...

OMG, I hated that book. I had to do a book report on it in 10th grade english class, and I literally spent 15 minutes at the chalkboard diagramming young Heathcliff, old Heathcliff, young Katherine, old Katherine, etc. etc. My summary point after 15 minutes of discussion was "Ok, so, now that you guys are up to speed on *what* happened, the book starts here (points) and is told to you entirely in flashbacks and dream sequences."

I, personally, have the top 50 SciFi books printed out and I am slowly working my way down them (buying them on Amazon and reading them) -


Sanya said...

A spider in a cottage is a functional thing, like a broom. It catches bugs. But it's just one of a dozen things going on. The spider in a cottage could be overlooked in all the activity of life.

A spider in a dungeon is a performer for a rapt audience. The prisoner's got nothing to do but watch the spider weave and kill. The spider takes on importance by virtue of filling empty hours.

I totally pulled that out of my ass, BTW, I didn't have to read WH in school. I've got no idea what the Official, Approved Interpretation is.