Classics have always been an important part of culture and art. No matter how much time passes, they are still considered to be highly influential, both for the mentality and for the direction arts take.
Today, despite the emergence of simpler, popular literature, classics are still widely read and appreciated. Just a month ago, I read the magnificent Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, that was written in the 1800s. The complexity of its plot and the diversity of its characters is what makes it an exceptional book.
The story begins with a homeless, possibly gypsy boy being adopted into a normal, well-off Victorian family. As the boy is named Heathcliff, he quickly bonds with his new “sister” — Catherine Earnshaw but, stealing away the attention of the father, he just as quickly becomes an enemy of his new “brother” — Hindley Earnshaw. From that point on, the novel will tell us of the characters’ growth, both mental and physical, and development (or lack of thereof).
Wuthering Heights is Emily Brontë’s only published book. She grew up with two sisters and a brother, and all the girls wrote books and poetry. Her biography states that she was melancholic and reclusive; an introvert of nature, with a strong mind and immense knowledge, which even made her teacher say that she should have been born a man1.
We can certainly see that Brontë was of special character — the way the book is written, with strangely convoluted sentences, and the ways in which characters behave and respond to certain situations are overblown and excessively emotional. In addition, Brontë purposefully makes the book very confusing — even the names of the characters make us question who is who.
Wuthering Heights juxtaposes classicism and romanticism within itself, as it opposes Wuthering Heights, the abode of the Earnshaws and later Heathcliff, and Thrushcross Grange, Lintons’ property.
Lintons are the embodiments of classicism — they are driven by knowledge and reason; they are calm, patient, and mostly realistic. They execute the power of their social status just as much as they live up to the standards exerted by the status on them. In addition, the Grange is big, bright and surrounded by a well-attended park.
Earnshaws (including Heathcliff) are the opposites — they are a walking pillar of romanticism. What pushes them forward are passion and emotions. They are individualistic and have strong personalities; perhaps too strong for even themselves, seeing as all of their generation spirals down into moral decay and madness. The Heights is dark, the nature around it is wild, the residents are free-willed and savage.
During the Brontë’s era, the book received very mixed reviews. Many people thought she was crazy, and they went as far as to burn it. To be fair, she did quite distance herself from the Victorian ideals, and even questioned some of the principles of that society — in the book, religion is not portrayed in a very positive way, for example, as Joseph is a huge hypocrite; the difference in social classes is challenged as Heathcliff climbs to the top; the gender equality is questioned, as Catherine spends a lot of time trying to define herself as a free-willed individual, only to end up married accordingly to Victorian traditions and imitating real happiness. The book also did what they usually did not at that time — it highlighted the negative in people, and how this negative can ruin one’s life.
Today, it is deservedly seen as one of true masterpieces of English literature, surpassing Emily’s sister’s, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, which was thought to be superior at that time. Its meaning for contemporary literature is immense, because, as I previously mentioned, it diverged from what was considered to be appropriate at that era. It also explored the difficulty of human relationships, the destructive power of human emotions and of mental instabilities.