Most people don’t have to defend their favorite books. At least, that’s my perception. Most people name their favorite books, and in reply, they might receive a sage nod. As in, “Yes, I could see that. I understand why that book might be someone’s favorite.” Or they might receive enthusiastic support. “Oh, I love that book!” When I name my favorite book, I usually get some variation on the question, “Why?” As in, “Why on Earth, would that book be your favorite?” I wrote the other day about how much I love the Harry Potter books, and I could make a strong case for their being my favorite books, but I find it hard to separate them. They tell one larger story, and they tell that story over seven volumes. If I am pressed to pick one book, however, I usually say my favorite book is Wuthering Heights.
I can hear you asking the question as you read this. I can see the look on your face. I can’t tell if you’re confused or disgusted, though. Believe it or not, I have met other people who love this book, too, and it is recognized as a classic—I think we can agree books don’t stand the test of time for absolutely no reason, right?
One question that usually follows my declaration of love for this book is how I can like the characters. They’re all horrible! Yes, I agree. They are. I have actually come to wonder if Nelly Dean might not be the most villainous character of them all. Lockwood seems bumbling and clueless with very little self-awareness. Heathcliff and Catherine are awful. Hindley is awful. Even Hareton and young Cathy can be pretty awful until the end. The minor characters, too, are unsympathetic at best and horrible at worst. So yes, I agree with folks who have trouble enjoying the book because of the characters. In spite of the fact that I don’t think I’d want to hang out at either Thrushcross Grange or Wuthering Heights, I do find the closeness with which the characters live to be intriguing. What I mean by “closeness” is that they seem to be existing right at the elemental level. They are all passion. I am not saying I hold with those who see Heathcliff as a romantic lead. I think anyone who views Heathcliff as some ideal boyfriend probably hasn’t read the book. He’s tormented, obsessive, controlling, and just plain mean. Why would you want to date that? Still, a book with characters who are absolutely impossible to connect to makes for a hard slog, so as horrible as they are, I supposed I see something intriguing in those characters.
So if even I don’t find the characters all that likable, what do I like about the book? Actually, I find the setting entrancing. I absolutely love the descriptions of the two houses and the moors over which Heathcliff and Catherine run. I have a clear picture in mind of this place. It’s forbidding, windy, mostly barren. It’s as if nature itself wants to break the people who live on this land. And they fight against it, yes, they do, but in the end, they aren’t broken. There is something of the indomitable spirit about the people who live in Gimmerton. Even old Joseph has it—tough, craggy, mean-spirited Joseph. This book uncovers something uncomfortable about human nature: that its possible to love what you hate and hate what you love.
Ultimately, I don’t really know why I love this book. I think about the answer to that question a lot, and the best conclusion I can draw is that the writing draws me in, though the world I inhabit while I’m in the pages of the book may be “a mighty stranger.” Wuthering Heights as it exists today is probably a ruin, much like Top Withens, which may have inspired it. Thrushcross Grange probably no longer exists. If you look closely, though, I’ll bet you can see the ghosts of those people who lived there, and something is alive in the crumbling brick of Wuthering Heights, just waiting to be uncovered. And somehow, each time I open that book to read it again, that whole world comes back to life, stark, beautiful, and turbulent as ever. The book surprises me all over again each time I read it.
Also, how can you not love a book that inspired something like this:
Slice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.