Book Simple: A Symptom of Broken Relationships [Heathcliff...] Nov02

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Book Simple: A Symptom of Broken Relationships [Heathcliff...]

“No one’s gonna love you the way that I do.”  From Cease to Begin, the 2007 album by Band of Horses, I heard the song “No One’s Gonna Love You” first on NBC’s Chuck.  I loved the song, but I’d heard the refrain before.  One of the few constants I’ve found in relationships is that when “things start splitting at the seams,” love seems inherently unrepeatable.  I don’t know why nostalgia sets in – an effort to remain in control, generate sympathy, break down defenses?  But the inability to recognize that life contains many options seems to be a symptom of broken relationships, and from long, long experience, I’ve learned to recognize it as time to bail.

It’s a lesson that the characters in Wuthering Heights would do well to learn.  The advent of Heathcliff, an orphaned “cuckoo” found starving, silent and parentless by Catherine and Hindley Earnshaw’s father, begins a fateful enmeshing of two families’ fates.  After the death of her father, Catherine and Heathcliff “promised fair to grow up as rude as savages; the young master being entirely negligent how they behaved.”  No matter how they were punished, “they forgot everything the minute they were together again: at least the minute they had contrived some naughty plan of revenge.”

But through their misbehavior, Catherine meets Edgar and Isabella Linton of Thrushcross Grange.  These spoiled and petted children introduce Catherine to an entirely new idea, that of civilization.  Heathcliff’s Cathy becomes Edgar’s, exchanging her passion for wealth.  Catherine explains: “if Heathcliff and I married, we should be beggars…My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees.  My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary.”

Wuthering Heights is the kind of novel that people list as their favorite on what must be the strength of varied movie adaptions, as certainly not a single likeable character appears in the novel, and that includes the narrator and the pets.  Heathcliff discovers the appeal of vengeance; enraged by Catherine’s betrayal, he seduces Isabella Linton, strangling her pet dog and taunting her with his hatred once they are married.  He visits his revenge on the next generation of the family as well, stealing away Hindley’s son Hareton’s inheritance to leave him ignorant and friendless, and kidnapping Catherine Earnshaw’s daughter to force her marriage to Isabella’s feeble son.

Love in the novel destroys without mercy; Edgar Linton “possessed the power to depart [and leave Catherine] as much as a cat possesses the power to leave a mouse half killed, or a bird half eaten…there will be no saving him: he’s doomed, and flies to his fate!”  To be honest, the love that appears in Wuthering Heights appears to a modern reader almost as a parody of gothic romance.  Heathcliff digs up Cathy’s body to hold her dead body in her arms and goes mad for love of a ghost.  “’Come in! Come in!’ he sobbed.  ‘Cathy, do come.  Oh, do – ONCE more!  Oh! My heart’s darling! Hear me THIS time, Catherine, at last!’”

It’s an exhausting book, dark, cynical, depressing.  Realistic, one might say, after one finishes reading it.  Clearly the novel anticipates more modern techniques with some brilliance, but I still can’t like it.  Move on, I want to say to the characters.  Love your spouses.  Make the best of things.

In case you don’t know the song, here’s “No One’s Gonna Love You.”

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