Things Emily Brontë and I Hate About Romance
Personal thoughts on bosom friends, romance tropes, and a book review of Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë.
Please excuse the remainder of this note to you, my reader. For moving forward, I shall write with the excessive passion that characterizes Emily Brontë’s writings and the speech of her characters Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw.
When I was a little girl, I read the book Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery. I remember nothing of this book but one small thing:
Upon reading these words, I became utterly enchanted by the idea of a “bosom friend.” All my life, I’ve been on the hunt for one. If you’re the type to believe astrology, it’d do you well to know that I’m a Gemini and I’ve been told that we’re all on a lifelong journey to find our twin.
If Emily Brontë were still alive and we somehow met, I like to think she would have been a soul twin or a bosom friend. I’ll even go so far as to say we would have been lovers if she chose to indulge me. We are of the same mind on many things and I love the darkness that flows from her mind to her pen. Whatever our souls are made of, hers and mine are the same.
Things Emily Brontë Agree On About Romance
Meddling Friends Don’t Know Best
NELLY IS A MESS! Nearly everything in this book is Nelly’s fault. Often times in romance, meddling, well-meaning friends become matchmakers. They go against characters’ wishes to push couples together and this is portrayed as a positive thing. NO! IT IS NOT! It’s actually super asshole-y to insert yourself into your friend’s personal matters. DON’T BE A NELLY!Wild Girls
Wild Girls Can’t Be Tamed
Catherine Earnshaw is a wild child. The Lintons do their best to tame her. Edgar goes as far to marry her and he stupidly assumes she’ll be happy as homebound wife, when her heart is clearly out on the moors and with Heathcliff. Catherine LITERALLY fakes a seizure to get out of a conversation with her dull as dirt husband and I fell in love.
Pregnancy Doesn’t Automatically Mean a Happy Ending
I found it very curious that Bronte chose to gloss over Catherine Earnshaw’s pregnancy. It’s barely mentioned (I actually didn’t catch any mention of it) until her daughter is born and Catherine Earnshaw passes. Nelly blames the woman’s death on Heathcliff, but I’m skeptical. Given the timing, it’s more likely that the pregnancy killed her. And it makes me wonder… was it the physical act of giving birth or was it the knowledge that once she did she would be a prisoner in that house with a husband and child she didn’t want that did her in? I tend to lean toward the latter because Wuthering Heights is full of unwanted children - Heathcliff, Hindley, Hareton, Linton, even both Catherines to varying degrees. My guess is that Emily Bronte struggled with seeing children as a blessing.
Girls Who Like Bad Boys are Kinda Dumb
Heathcliff gave Isabella Linton, his new wife, the read of her life. It was a page long rant, not even directed to Isabella who was sitting in the room, but to Nelly Dean, about how dumb Isabella was to fall in love with him and marry him. I can’t even copy/paste the full rant, but MY LORD. If someone ever came at me as hard as Healthcliff goes in on his wife, I’d be dead. The rant ends with:
Everyone, including Heathcliff, tried to convince Isabella that Heathcliff was a bad man before she married him. Heathcliff even tried to murder her dog to prove his point. But she still chose to marry him. So foolish.
The Star-Crossed Lovers Thing is Shit
Catherine Linton was warned repeatedly by her father and Nelly to stay away from her cousin Linton Heathcliff. She repeatedly refused and ended up getting moved into an abusive household for her trouble. Listen to your parents, maybe? They’re older and often times wiser.
Real Love Isn’t Forced
Catherine and Heathcliff have a passionate relationship, but I wouldn’t call it a romance. It’s a combination of narcissism and obsession. It’s also a very small part of the entire book, given Catherine’s death halfway through. The true romance of the novel came in the form of Hareton Earnshaw and Catherine Linton. They bonded over books. Neither required outside interference to be forced together and neither of them had to chase or pursue the other. When they were both ready, they were simply drawn to one another. Isn’t real love a beautiful thing?
Additional Thoughts on Heathcliff
I have two interesting thoughts, or maybe thought experiments, regarding Heathcliff.
There’s a scene earlier in the book where Heathcliff is called dirty, likely because he is covered in dirt, but it made me think of an experience I had when I was younger and someone called me dirty because they’d never seen a person with brown skin before. It made me wonder, what if Heathcliff was biracial? He’s repeatedly described as dark and black and this is obviously interpreted as him having dark hair, eyes, maybe a less than fair complexion, and a dark temperament. But WHAT IF???
I actually identified with Heathcliff for the majority of the book, up until the point he became neglectful of Hareton and abusive of his son. Those two actions were unforgivable, but everything else? Meh.
As a poor, dark boy I was fine with him getting back at his abuser, Hindley. I was fine with him being manipulative to acquire wealth, because that’s how land wealth is typically acquired and as a man with no name and no conventional beauty, wealth was the only way he’d ever succeed in life or leave a legacy. And I was totally fine with him marrying Isabella because he warned her. If you tell someone you’re a monster and they still choose to be with you, is that really your fault?
So, that’s one thought experiment. Read Wuthering Heights as the story of a little brown boy trying to assimilate and make something of himself. The book becomes a tragedy then. Heathcliff was a man consumed by his need to rise above his station in life.
Shits & Giggles Fun
A second thought experiment would be to view Heathcliff as a supernatural creature. Nelly actually posits this near the end of the novel. She wonders if Heathcliff is a vampire or a demon and what if he was??? Maybe his child was so sickly because he was the product of an incompatible breeding. Can demons and humans mate?
Sum of my thoughts?
Wuthering Heights was actually one of my favorite movies as a young girl. I couldn’t remember the plot at all when I started the novel, but it was nice to find that I enjoyed it as much as I did. It’s definitely been added to my list of all time favorite novels. It happens occasionally that I fall in love with a novel's characters, but this was the first time I fell in love with an author. As I read Wuthering Heights, I felt like I understood Emily and her innermost thoughts on love and class and how awful the world and people can be sometimes. Immediately, I sought out her other writings and recounts of her personality and this feeling was only reinforced. Her poem Riches I hold in light esteem explains exactly what Emily is about. She was a wild girl a heart, a person who didn't understand or desire the trappings of most - wealth, career, and maybe even relationships.
I fell for Emily in the same way I fell for Holden Caulfield of Catcher in the Rye who was much the same. And unless your brain works like mine, you probably won't understand it when I say, Wuthering Heights is the type of book Holden Caulfield would have written. Wuthering Heights is a book that surfaces all of awful and confusing ways in which we treat each other, the ways in which we obsess over things that don't matter like wealth and land and revenge, the ways in which we use religion as a weapon and indulge in hypocrisy. She took all that shit and made it into an entertaining story, a mirror if you will.
Goddamn, I love this book. I'm not even going to tell you to read it, because like with Holden and Catcher in the Rye, people either love Wuthering Heights or they hate it. If you love it though, hit me up so I can love on you.
Questions for the audience:
What romance tropes do you hate or love?
What’s your favorite classic novel?
- If you could be bosom friends with any author, who would you chose?