Wuthering Heights: Re-reading an old favorite

The next dissertation chapter that I am working on concerns some ideas I have about Wuthering Heights. I won't go into those thoughts here because they would most likely bore everyone...but I am finding, once again, that I never get tired of reading this book. It, along with The Secret Garden and just a few others, is always a book I immediately fall into and want to keep reading.

I have read The Secret Garden over twenty times in my life. There was a time, when I was about 11- or 12-years-old, when I could quote from it. I can't do that anymore, but I remember every feeling I ever had while reading that book. It was the ultimate escape. I read it again about three years ago and ended up writing two seminar papers that included the novel (and a shorter paper analyzing the last film version). I don't know why certain books speak to us, but looking back on it all, I can say that I have always been attracted by the orphan character...which makes sense because I am writing my dissertation about orphans!

Actually, I didn't come to any of the Bronte novels until very late in my academic life. I read constantly as a child and in my young adulthood, but I have to say that I didn't read many classics. In a way, I think that it made me a better reader to have the freedom (other than when I was assigned something in school) to read what I wanted. My mother never monitored my reading and if something proved too mature, well, I actually self-censored. But through just learning to love to read and to love a good story, I learned to look for things that allowed me to be a better critical reader when I ultimately decided that I wanted to pursue this career.

I didn't read Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights until I came back to school. I already had a college degree, had worked two years in publishing, and decided to come back to the university as an undergraduate to pursue my degree in English. In fact, I was, when I came back, unsure of what I wanted to do. I really didn't have a thought about making English my career. I only knew that I had more things to learn. I remember sitting at my desk at Southern Living magazine, not long after I started, thinking, "OK...I have a degree. Is this it? Was that all? Is that all that I got out of it?" I was a Journalism and Spanish double major. I had learned a lot, but I felt disconnected and that I was actually quite ignorant. So, after two years at a job I loved, I left my salary and benefits and jumped back into school.

Now, at that point, I felt a connection with Romantic poetry, as far as centering my studies on a particular area (though, when trying to just major in a subject, you have to take courses in all areas). But, during my first semester back, I met an incredible professor, Myron Tuman, who opened up the world of Victorian literature to me in a way that made me fall in love with it. He was my mentor and he is responsible for making me into what I am today, as far as my love for Victorian literature and my love for teaching. The first course (of many, and eventually we taught together as well--another experience that taught me so much) was a Victorian novel survey. It was here that I read Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre for the first time. God, I love it. I loved everything about it, from the atmosphere to Jane's crazy behavior to Rochester's at times annoying charisma! I devoured everything we read in that class, and started reading more Victorian novels that weren't on our reading list that semester. Right after reading Jane Eyre, I picked up Wuthering Heights. We hadn't even finished discussing Jane Eyre in class. I read Wuthering Heights in one day, unable to put it down. I was both horrified by and in love with the characters. When Tuman and I taught together, we discussed the problems of filming the novel (it is a huge problem), but both of us agreed that the old version was great...and it is still a favorite of mine.

The next time I read Wuthering Heights it was actually on a class syllabus in another Victorian survey at the University of South Florida, where I attended a PhD program for one year. That was the most valuable year of my life. Everything changed for me. I grew so much intellectually. I read and read and read. The Victorian survey was an introductory course and at first I thought that I shouldn't take it (by that time, I had a considerable amount of Victorian courses under my belt), but I did. I had already read everything on the list, but rereading the same books is valuable. You always realize different things when you reread something. If the book is good enough, it provides "life and food for future years," as Wordsworth says. When I read Wuthering Heights in that class, I was compelled by it so much that I became obsessed with it for a while. I would daydream in class about it, wondering about all of the strangeness in the novel. I still didn't know quite what to do with it, but I loved it again.

Well, here I am, once more, rereading the novel for my dissertation. I am once again obsessed (a good thing, considering that I am actually going to write about it this time). I have never written about the novel. I am terrified to do so, but it is so important to my topic. I am terrified because it is greatness and because, in many ways, I am much too close to what the Brontes write. I have never been able to express myself well when I write about the Brontes. I have tried composing papers about their work, and these papers turn out to be my weakest. I feel so emotionally connected to the novels that I find it very hard to critically think about them. I feel sick, physically, when I try to do so. Hey! This is going to be a fun experience then, huh? :)

But, I must try! I have a wonderful dissertation director who will help me through it, I know. I respect him and his advice so much, so maybe he will be able to guide my thoughts when I get off on some tangent! (Probably about Heathcliff...) Anyway, this book is better than most and worse than most. As I read through it, I do notice that this time I am achieving a bit more distance. I do see the flaws this time around that I willfully ignored in the past. The flaws I see are in design--narration--not in characterization. I have always been drawn to character-centered stories, and I still feel that the characterization in this book is so intriguing that it is addictive.

I do get sick of people wondering, as with Emily Dickinson, "How on earth did a girl isolated on the moors of England, without any sexual experience, write such work?"


Human desire does not necessarily depend upon experience--especially sexual desire. It is just like with Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn"--the draw is anticipation, unfulfilled desire, longing. All of the Brontes had gifts beyond measure, but Emily, I think, surpassed them all. She had to be one hell of a person to know, but I can also see her as being one of the most difficult people to know. I wish that she had lived to produce another work, but I will be forever grateful--as will many others--that she gave us Wuthering Heights.


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