Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Wuthering Heights

At last...the long promised review of Wuthering Heights

For many months now, I have thought it a big lack in my knowledge of classics never to have read anything by the Brontë Sisters. However, I didn't want to make the obvious choice by starting with Jane Eyre, so I decided to read Wuthering Heights instead.

I had no idea what the novel was about, and I thought it would be fun to read it without any preconceived ideas.
Now, even if I had known the plot, I don't think it could have prepared me for the tremendous shock it was reading it.

I'm not quite sure how it happens, but by some morbid coincidence I, who love happy endings, often end up being attracted to stories where almost all of the characters die (and no - it is not a spoiler, you kind of figure it out 20 pages into the book. The same place where you realise, there is absolutely no possibility for this story to end happily).

To summarise the plot is easy. The orphan Heathcliff is taken in to a family, where he befriends and falls in love with the daughter Catherine, but is treated vilely by her brother. When Catherine marries her rich neighbour, he leaves for a while, and when he comes back, he swears to get revenge on everyone who have ever been against him.

It all sounds pretty straightforward, but let me tell you - it is not. Mainly because of the narrating style. The story actually takes place after the plot has played out, when a newcomer to the village, is puzzled by Heathcliff, and then is told the whole story by his housekeeper, who was a close spectator. While that gives a wide perspective on the plot, it also prevents the reader from ever knowing what the characters actually think, and therefore makes it impossible to know precisely why they act as they do.

And talking about the characters... I don't even remember if I have ever disliked a character, much less a main character, as much as I dislike Heathcliff. Sure, I felt a little sorry for him at first, but when he started that whole vendetta thing, he was lost to me. He is just plain evil, manipulative, rude, resentful and I could go on plastering negative adjectives on him, but I think you get the picture. I don't like him.

I don't like Catherine either. She is a spoiled, selfish brat, who thinks nothing of the feelings of others. And the whole love story between her and Heathcliff was just wrong. I know they are considered one of the most iconic couples in classic literature, but I feel they are more a study in the wrong kind of love and how destructive that can be.

I mean, two who truly love each other would never act as they did. Their love was selfish and possessive and made them destroy each other and everything around them. True love would make you want to be a better person, and do everything in your power to see your loved one happy, even if it meant making sacrifices yourself. And that was definitely not what their kind of love made them do.
But then again, in my opinion the true love story of the book never happened between Catherine and Heathcliff, but between two of the next generation.

(big spoilers ahead)        

I am of course talking about the love story between Catherine's daughter Cathy (not much originality in names there) and her brothers son Hareton. Somewhere I heard them described as Catherine & Heathcliff 2.0, and that is actually very true.

As part of Heathcliff's revenge he takes over the house which Hareton would have inherited upon his fathers death, and makes sure that Hareton is treated just as vile as Heathcliff himself was as a child, just making sure that he doesn't even know that. And Cathy is the sheltered girl brought up at a nearby estate. So they mostly have the same background and conditions in life as Catherine & Heathcliff did.

And so the scene is set for the whole story to repeat itself - only it doesn't.

For when Hareton gets to know Cathy, and she laughs at him and actually treats him quite cruel, he doesn't get bitter and resentful. On the contrary, he tries to improve himself, doing everything in his power to get her to respect him. And though they don't find each other until the very end, I think that is the true love story.
To me it's like they get the happy ending that Heathcliff & Catherine didn't get.
Because they don't let what's happened in the past ruin their future.

Okay, I got a little carried away there, but I really like the symbolism of it all, so I tend to just ramble on about it.
That ending convinced me that it wasn't entirely wasted to read the book.
Other than that it is one of the darkest stories I have read in along time. I mean it's like a Gothic romance - just without the romance part (if that makes any sense).

And no, I am not discouraged from my purpose of reading more works of the Brontë sisters, but I probably need a little break before starting on the next one. 

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Literary quote of the week

I'm proud to announce that I am starting a new weekly series at my blog.

It's called Literary quote of the week" (if the picture and title didn't give it away), and it's will basically be a list of sweet, funny, ironical or just plain classic quotes taken from the books I am reading at the moment. (And if anything else fails, I can always borrow some Austen quotes)

This week I've been reading "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", so logically this week's quote must be from there.

"Peter held the door closed but did not shut it; for, of course, he remembered, as every sensible person does, that you should never, never shut yourself up in a wardrobe." 
                                     The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe  - C.S. Lewis

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Jane Austens unfinished works

After finishing Wuthering Heights (I will get a review on it up shortly), I was in dire need of something new to read. And that plus a necessary trip to the library equaled me bringing home a collection of Jane Austen's unfinished novels, The Watsons and Sanditon.
Now, I used to avoid reading them, because I was sure it would be unnecessarily frustrating to fall in love with a story and with the characters, only to be cruelly told that it would never be finished.

And let me say, that assumption was entirely true. But on the other hand, it was worth the pain, just to be able to read something in Austen's wonderful writing style, that I had never read before.

But let me start at "The Watsons". It's only about 60 pages long, and the main purpose is introducing all the characters and setting the scene. Nevertheless I was completely drawn in after only a few pages.
The story's heroine Emma Watson is just returning to her family, after having been raised by an aunt, and is introduced to the social life of the neighbourhood.
She is a true Austen heroine - observant, clever, wilful, kind - she reminded me a lot of Elizabeth Bennet, except she is more perceptive of her surroundings, but that's also due to the fact that she is entering a completely new ring of acquaintances. I am really impressed at how well Austen manages to describe her and the other persons, on such little space.
And that makes it even more tragic that she never finished it. My only consolation in the matter was that it was mentioned in a postscript, how Jane Austen intended for it to end.

And then Sanditon. Now that one is completely different from anything else Austen have written. At first I didn't quite know what to think of it. Firstly the heroine is almost nonexistent. I mean, she is there the whole time, but you don't know much about her when the story ends off other than she is sensible, unaffected and perceptive. But it is almost like the story is not so much about her, but more about all the crazy different people she meets on a vacation at a bathing resort in Sanditon.
But the descriptions of those persons is just brilliant. Before Austen even starts to describe the persons, you already know what sort of people they are, based on what they do and say - and we're talking max a half page here. And the irony...oh the irony and the sarcastic remarks made by the author...I don't think I have come across so many funny sentences and observations in so short a story before. Almost all the characters get their amount of ridicule, especially those who fancy themselves sick (and it takes place at a bathing resort, so there are a lot of those).
But again, the story cruelly ends, just when you want it to start, and as the reason Austen never finished it was that she died, you can only make guesses as to how it will end.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

North & South

For several years I had heard people exclaiming over North & South the BBC-series, and so I decided to watch it at last.

And it was great I had to read the book right away, and I had actually planned to dedicate this
post entirely to the book, and only use half a paragraph to either say the book was so much better than the series or obsess about the series being the best adaption ever (P&P95 level).

Except when I read the book, I found that none of the statements were true. Instead I found that the book and the series are complimentary pieces - separately they are good, but together they create a bigger picture of perfection.
So therefore it is impossible to separate the two, when talking of the perfection of the story.

But for those who aren't familiar with the story, here is a brief (and spoiler free) summary:

Margaret Hale lives with her parents in the small village of Helstone in South England, where her father is the rector. However, at a point her father feels obligated to give up his living, due to conscientious doubts, and removes the family to the industrial town Milton, in the North. Here he befriends Mr. Thornton, who is a local mill owner. Margaret has a hard time adjusting to differences in thoughts and conducts, comparing to the rural village she is used to. 
Throw in an impending strike, where she takes side with the workers, leading to some heated arguments between herself and Mr. Thornton, and you pretty much have the gist of it.

As I already stated above, I simply loved the story. Some people compare it to Pride & Prejudice (and it's true there are some parallels), but I think it's a completely different story, a little darker and more realistic than anything Austen would write.

The characters are probably the main reason I liked the series so much, comparing to the book, for in the book the secondary characters only have a few appearances, whereas in the series they are brought forward, and their relevance to the story is underlined a lot. And also I actually didn't like many of the characters in the book, but in the series I found them more likeable.
But to avoid this getting to messy, let me take one character at the time.

I really liked the main character, Margaret Hale. In the series I had a pretty neutral opinion of her, but when I read the book, I discovered, it was because, I didn't know the background of her actions. In the series she continually says things that puts her in awkward situations, but in the book it is explained, why she does everything, and that brings the difference in habits in the North versus the South out beautifully.
Also, she is very strong and very capable of taking action
when necessary. During the book she is given a huge amount of responsibilities for one so young, because her parents are to weak to make the decisions,but she bears it all with  great strength. And I also admire her patience - I really found her family tiresome and annoying at times.
I don't know how common it was at that time to write strong literary heroines - but Margaret Hale is definitely a very remarkable heroine.

On to the hero - Mr. Thornton.
It is very hard not to start rambling about his many perfections, but I will try to restrain myself. If it is possible, I loved him even more in the book, than in the series. He is just as close to perfection as is humanly possible (no, I'm not exaggerating.. if you don't believe the book).
He is a perfect example of the dark brooding hero, that you love from the very first moment. He is determined, has strong opinions, is capable of deep feeling, is thoroughly trustworthy, has a strong sense of honor, shows kindness without expecting anything in return....I could go on, but I think you get the picture. He is definitely my new favorite literary hero (actually I didn't have one before, never could decide on only one).
Another thing I noticed, is that he hardly changes during the course of the book, the main change is in Margaret, as she learns just how good a man he is.

And the relationship between the two... it's just so beautiful, that it deserves it's own section.

I admit, their encounters are a bit more dramatic in the series than in the book, where they are probably more realistic, but I think both approaches work quite well.

Their first meeting, however, I definitely liked the best in the book. Mostly because, in the the series Mr. Thornton displayed a big flaw of character, making Margaret dislike him - however, he didn't even have that flaw in the book. There, the first meeting consisted of them sitting, waiting for Margaret's father, and having an awkward up stilted conversation, leading to Margaret thinking Mr. Thornton coarse and unrefined, and Mr. Thornton thinking that she thinks he is beneath her.
See - same effect, but less drama and Mr. Thornton remains perfect.

And from then on, it is just great reading - how Mr. Thornton slowly falls in love her, resulting in many pages of suppressed emotions.
How Margaret gets to know and understand his character better.
The unavoidable rift, leading Margaret to think she has lost his respect and only then realizing her own feelings.
How you wait 400 pages for them to finally find each other - and then it is all suddenly resolved and ended in less than a page...
Yes, I admit, the ending is quite abrupt, but not all authors give the readers the luxury of an epilogue with the aftermath.

Then..the other characters...
I actually disliked almost all of the supporting characters (book verse), I found Mr. Hale to be weak minded, and pushing all the pressure onto his daughter in times of trouble.
Mrs. Hale was proud, and always complaining over her living conditions.
Mrs. Shaw and Edith were proud, selfish and never took Margarets feelings into account.
In the series, however, I liked them much more.

A character I actually liked in the book, was Nicholas Higgins, the worker whose family Margaret befriends, and a big part of the strike later on. Again I felt I got a bigger insight to his character, reading the book. He showed a big sense of duty, both to his own family but also in matters he felt responsible for. And a great kindness, when he swallowed his pride, and asked for work at Mr. Thornton's mill, in order to provide for the orphans after a colleague whose death he felt responsible for. A really likable character.

Another character, that is mostly forgotten in the series, but that I really liked in the book, was Henry Lennox. I know he is just a minor character, and when I saw the series, I merely thought him an annoying distraction from the true plot. But in the book I actually liked him a lot, and felt a little sorry for him when he lost Margaret not one, but two times. And even in the end he didn't harbor any bitter feelings against her, but readily helped her throughout the book, and even arranged a meeting between her and Mr. Thornton in order for them to talk undisturbed. That shows a largeness of character, I think is admirable.

But all in all..a great story, that I would recommend to anyone.    


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