Over break, I had an argument with my brother in which he argued that Jane Austen and all of the Brontës were effectively the same.
He was joking, but I got really upset about the whole argument.
Upset is a bit of an understatement.
I was furious, honestly, even though I knew, on some level, it was a joke. It felt like so much of my honors project has been resisting this sameness of female authors. That is to say, I feel like so much of the literature I like and consume and am inspired by has been brushed aside as trivial or unimportant. This is especially in the case of female writers who write any sort of romance.
Which is why I want to talk about Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë in this post, because she is one of the earliest examples I read of direct resistance to this “sameness.”
I first read Wuthering Heights because it was Bella’s favorite book in Twilight. With that in mind, I went into Wuthering Heights thinking that I was going to get this beautiful love story as magical as Bella and Edward’s.
Needless to say that I was surprised.
The main problem is that Meyer’s reading of Wuthering Heights is both flawed and problematic. Though Bella and Edward flag up the relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff as imperfect, I don’t think they really parse out how truly troubling it is—and how nuanced it really is.
And that’s kind of the point of the book, in my opinion!
Because no one in Wuthering Heights is a conventionally “good” person, and no one is even really nice to anyone, which is fascinating, because much of the book seems to be Brontë pushing us further and further. Because we go into the novel with expectations that it will follow the generic conventions of the gothic romance, we’re struck with surprise again and again throughout: thinking someone will fall in love or be redeemed, but she continuously denies us these things.
It’s like this insane thought experiment, and I can only imagine Brontë laughing at how much people nowadays try to still romanticize Heathcliff and how the modern adaptations try to make it a traditional love story of two people who are able to get together in death.
That’s only the tip of the iceberg, is the thing.
Because you also have to consider the fact that this story is narrated both by Nelly and by Lockwood, and that the latter is consistently mocked and his narrative authority is undermined. This was a time when male narrative authority would have naturally been privileged, but Brontë totally turns that convention on its head.
There’s so much more to this novel. One of my teachers said that any essay or argument that tried to essentialize Wuthering Heights got something horribly wrong, because the novel was so nuanced. A lot of it is dark beyond nightmares, and some of it is beyond tongue-in-cheek, and it’s just an incredible roller coaster!
Especially in the aftermath of the women’s march, this post felt important and empowering to write. For years, society and male narrative preference has tried to put women into a tiny little romance box—specifically romance that served to place women in a role subservient to men. But women have been battling with this for years, and we will continue to do so until we are truly treated equally.