Wuthering ASBOs

de Hurl Event - couldn't have put it better myselfOne thing I don’t do here is literary criticism. Either you’ve read the book already and know what you think about it and won’t care what I think, or you haven’t and still won’t care. But (you knew there was going to be a “but”, didn’t you?) but tonight I’m going to rant about Wuthering Heights which was our book group’s Christmas read.

Most people there enjoyed it.

I hated it from the snowstorm in the beginning right through to the rainstorm at the end, though I’ll admit to being amused by the detail of Heaton (or was it Hindley) hanging a litter of puppies in the door frame which Isobella has to rush past when she escapes. Yes, we know that everyone in the book is nasty, brutish and short. Enough already. No need to labour the point.

Wuthering Heights is a load of adolescent tosh which confuses self-indulgent bullying for passion. It’s not big. It’s not clever. It’s not grown-up. It’s an early 19th century version of Big Brother. As Dorothy Parker said of another book entirely “this is not a book to be tossed aside lightly, it’s a book to be hurled away with great force”.

Anyway, when I asked myself whether or not I thought it was credible that an entire cast of characters should be so unremittingly selfish and unpleasant I realised that you could set the whole thing on a sink estate or a trailer park, add in a cast of social workers and probation officers, tell exactly the same story, and it would be entirely credible. Which leads to the question of why I assumed that the West Riding of Yorkshire wouldn’t be ASBO-central among the landed gentry of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. I guess Miss Austen has a lot to answer for, we most certainly aren’t in Hampshire any more.

Amusingly, MTV made the first half into a movie in 2003 with a contemporary setting, with the following viewer review: “the film … seriously lacks any warmth or emotion … If you’re a fan of disjointed and heartless romantic dramas … then by all means rent this movie.”

Sounds like a faithful adaptation to me.


11 responses to “Wuthering ASBOs

  1. You mean Emily Bronte, right? Not Jane Austen. They’re easily confused.

  2. I agree. The most miserable book I have ever read.

  3. I guess I moved a bit fast in that paragraph Irene. I was trying to say that if your expectations of the 19th Century landed gentry were set by Austen, which mine were, you’d find Emily’s characters shallow and adolescent. Austen and all the Brontes were the chalk downs and wensleydale cheese in every respect.

    Charlotte, I’ve come to the conclusion that you either love WH or hate it – you either get swept up in the whole thing or have a strong urge to slap everyone in the book. What irritates me though is the meme that it’s a love story. It’s not. It’s the Jerry Springer show.

    Thanks both for reading and commenting.



  4. I had similar thoughts when forced to read “Far From the Madding Crowd” by Thomas Hardy. For those spared the tedium, be glad. Wikipedia can furnish you with the details of the ridiculous plot. What it can’t do is bore you rigid by repeatedly informing you that the banter between the comedy rustics is funny, when it patently isn’t, or make you look in pity at your English teacher when she informs you that Gabriel “really loves” Bathsheba.
    The truth of the plot is that the “heroine” is a vain, shallow, dimwitted whore, the “hero” is blinded to these facts by his physical attraction to her (there can be no other explanation for his wanting her than that he wants to fuck her – she has no detectable redeeming qualities of personality or of any other kind and it’s made repeatedly clear that Gabriel is too stupid to be interested in whatever money she has) and the supporting characters are, without exception, bastards or idiots.

    What the wikipedia plot summary does do, that surprises me, is remind me that actually, quite a lot happens. My memory of reading the book was of interminable chapters almost entirely without incident. The one that sticks clearest in the memory is a chapter entitled, to humourous comedy effect for a fourteen year old, “The Gurgoyle: Its Doings”. In this chapter – CHAPTER, mark you, not sentence, or paragraph, what happens is this: it rains, and the rainwater from a church gargoyle washes away some flowers. That’s it. No dialog. No characters even. An entire chapter. Sheesh.

    Sorry, there’s my rant for a Friday morning. I could, believe me, go on at much greater length about how much I hate it.

  5. I find to my joy, on further reading of the wikipedia entry, that “Far From the Madding Crowd” is also the title of an album by the Danish heavy metal band… Wuthering Heights.

  6. Also, to be clear, in reference to the first sentence of my post, Thomas Hardy did not, himself, force me to read his book, what with him being dead and everything.

  7. How strange, I was having exactly this conversation a bit over a week ago!

    I often browse in our local bookshop and chose a book from new titles, sometimes I’m happily pleased other times it’s woeful, but I read voraciously and like to dabble in new fiction.

    But every month or so I’ll be tempted to read some “proper” literature and pick up something more lofty.

    Last year I tried 3 times to read Wuthering Heights. I just couldn’t, even though I wanted to so much. The language was a small barrier, but as you say the content was dire. I guess I was imagining a Kate Bush/moors/romance and passion type thing, but the moors feature just 3 times and as you say it’s mostly the vast families of 2 households wrangling . . . very Big Brother.

    Ho hum.

  8. God, it’s brutal isn’t it. When I was in school, there was a girl who said of Wuthering Heights “Favourite book, favourite song, favourite film”. I felt you should know.

  9. Completely agree! Awful book. I read it after Jane Eyre expecting the same level of enjoyment and just couldn’t understand what a big deal it was – it’s a terrible book with a terrible setting filled with terrible people!

  10. I’ve just finished reading the complete edition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Letters – fascinating! RLS hadn’t much time for Hardy, and found “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” unreadable.

    As for the Brontes, I could never make out what all the fuss was about [and I grew up near Haworth]. All their women are wimps, except for the mad Mrs Rochester, who did have the guts to burn the house down.

  11. Ah. Well. Hardy. Gloomy bugger. Can’t be doing with him. Always felt very sorry for his wife.

    Try “Shirley” Shrink and Courtney. It’s by Charlotte and about grownups.

    Anne, it rather proves my point that it’s written by, for and about teenagers. Is this the point that I say that I went out with a bloke for a while who’d dated Kate Bush? I took great pleasure in sending him her latest album for Christmas two or three years after we’d split.

    My big sis was very fond of Stevenson based on his letters, Anticant. I really ought to get on and read them.

    Thanks all for reading and commenting.


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