What’s the worst back cover copy you’ve ever seen?
I nominate this description on the back of Wuthering Heights of a book that is definitely not Wuthering Heights:
Wuthering Heights…the haunting story of Heathcliff, who came to the brooding mansion on the Yorkshire moors as an orphan – and Cathy, the daughter of the wealthy family that took him in. The gypsy waif and the bright-eyed beauty were from different worlds, yet were drawn together from the moment they met. The cruel twist of fate that parted them resulted in tragedy for two generations. But even death could not break the bond between them, for their love was stronger.
First published in 1847, Wuthering Heights is a classic of English literature, and one of the most unforgettable romances of all time.
*rubs bridge of nose*
LET’S UNPACK THIS A LITTLE, SHALL WE
1. Wuthering Heights…the haunting story of Heathcliff, who came to the brooding mansion on the Yorkshire moors as an orphan
I don’t love how this implies Heathcliff just showed up one day. He didn’t. He was picked up on the streets of Liverpool by the then-master of Wuthering Heights (whom I’ll call “Mr. Earnshaw” for clarity here), who brought him home because Mr. Earnshaw didn’t feel right about just leaving a child out on the street where clearly nobody wanted him.
Also, a point of pedantry: Wuthering Heights is not a mansion.
I can completely understand how someone who grew up reading The Secret Garden (“that other book set on the moors”) could get confused here. Misselthwaite Manor, the setting of The Secret Garden, is a mansion; it’s said to have “over a hundred rooms,” and Mary spends at least one entire chapter doing nothing but wandering through them.
Wuthering Heights, however, is much smaller, and we know this because it’s described in painful detail. It consists of a back kitchen area with sleeping quarters for the servants and a buttery; a large “house” that includes a sitting/dining area and the main fireplace; at least one smaller room off the “house” that gets converted into a sitting room/parlor; about 3-4 bedrooms upstairs; and an unspecified but apparently vast number of staircases and landings.
It’s a large house, particularly since it was built in 1500. But it’s not a mansion. In fact, the other house in which the action of the novel takes place, Thrushcross Grange, is larger than Wuthering Heights – and this shouldn’t be that hard to miss, because it’s an actual plot point.
3. – and Cathy, the daughter of the wealthy family that took him in.
Readers are going to end up confused as heck here, because Heathcliff is literally the only person to call Catherine Earnshaw “Cathy” once she’s past the age of six. Everyone else calls her Catherine.
This Catherine has a daughter about halfway through the novel, also called Catherine, whom everybody calls “Cathy,” and who eventually marries Heathcliff’s son.
So if you ever had the weird impression Heathcliff has the hots for his daughter in law, he doesn’t.
4. The gypsy waif and the bright-eyed beauty were from different worlds,
…Were they, though?
One can certainly make the argument that one of the novel’s main themes is that outsiders are bad, because just look at what this one (Heathcliff) did to upset the tranquility of the Earnshaws and the Lintons. But.
But. Much of Heathcliff’s plotting arises from the fact that, until Mr. Earnshaw’s death, he’s treated exactly the same way that Earnshaw’s own children, Catherine and Hindley, are treated. He’s raised with them, and he’s never given to believe or understand that he’s in any way inferior to them…until Mr. Earnshaw dies and Hindley (now an adult and several years older than Catherine and Heathcliff) starts treating Heathcliff like the unpaid hired help.
It’s this treatment that makes Heathcliff swear revenge on Hindley and the Lintons, leave to seek his fortune for three years, and then return bent on the slow destruction of everyone except Catherine.
Tl;dr it’s a lot more complicated than this “Uptown Girl” take would have you believe.
5. yet were drawn together from the moment they met.
Sure, except that the night Mr. Earnshaw brings Heathcliff home:
Hindley and Cathy contented themselves with looking and listening till peace was restored: then, both began searching their father’s pockets for the presents he had promised them. The former was a boy of fourteen, but when he drew out what had been a fiddle, crushed to morsels in the great-coat, he blubbered aloud; and Cathy, when she learned the master had lost her whip in attending on the stranger, showed her humour by grinning and spitting at the stupid little thing; earning for her pains a sound blow from her father, to teach her cleaner manners. They entirely refused to have it in bed with them, or even in their room; and I had no more sense, so I put it on the landing of the stairs, hoping it might be gone on the morrow. By chance, or else attracted by hearing his voice, it crept to Mr. Earnshaw’s door, and there he found it on quitting his chamber. Inquiries were made as to how it got there; I was obliged to confess, and in recompense for my cowardice and inhumanity was sent out of the house.
This was Heathcliff’s first introduction to the family.
It takes “a few days” for Heathcliff and Catherine to strike up a friendship; for “the moment they met,” at least, Catherine refuses to be in the same room with him.
6. The cruel twist of fate that parted them resulted in tragedy for two generations.
There are multiple candidates for “the cruel twist of fate that parted them.” Let’s examine them one by one, shall we? [SPOILERS]
- Heathcliff leaves. Somewhere around the age of 15, Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights without so much as a goodbye. He’s gone for three years, and we’re left to assume that whatever he did during that time, it made him pretty rich, because he comes back with enough cash to fund Hindley’s gambling habit against a mortgage on all of Hindley’s property.
- Catherine marries Edgar Linton. Which she undertakes to do in the three years Heathcliff is gone. You know, Heathcliff, the guy who never said where he was going or how long he’d be away. Edgar is, by the way, literally the only marriageable man Catherine knows once Heathcliff leaves.
- Edgar Linton banishes Heathcliff from his house. Not surprisingly, Catherine is pretty thrilled when Heathcliff returns, and she wants him to visit her at Thrushcross Grange all the time. While there, however, Heathcliff repeatedly threatens to kill Edgar, mocks Edgar to Catherine’s face, and elopes with Edgar’s sister Isabella in order to get his hands on Edgar’s money. It’s “a cruel twist of fate” indeed when Edgar grows a spine and decides, hey, I’d rather not have this guy in my house.
- Catherine dies. Catherine dies in childbirth around 1790 or 1791. It’s a pretty normal thing to die of in 1790 or 1791. And to make it even more normal, Catherine dies in childbirth after a long illness, which is caused by her locking herself in her room and refusing to eat for a week, while also leaving the window open in January, because it’s so meeeean that Edgar won’t let Heathcliff abuse him in Edgar’s own house.
Catherine’s argument is literally “if you really loved me, you’d let my bff threaten to kill you and also elope with your sister to steal your fortune.”
7. But even death could not break the bond between them, for their love was stronger.
Huge if true. But…is it true?
The idea that Heathcliff and Catherine end up together after death is one of the least developed concepts in the entire novel, and it represents perhaps the one major weakness in Emily Bronte’s storytelling.
Throughout the story, it’s hinted that Catherine and Heathcliff are two souls in one body, and that upon death they’ll be reunited not only into one couple, but into a single soul. But the only indication that this actually happens is a vignette in the last few pages of the book:
I was going to the Grange one evening—a dark evening, threatening thunder—and, just at the turn of the Heights, I encountered a little boy with a sheep and two lambs before him; he was crying terribly; and I supposed the lambs were skittish, and would not be guided.
‘What is the matter, my little man?’ I asked.
‘There’s Heathcliff and a woman yonder, under t’ nab,’ he blubbered, ‘un’ I darnut pass ’em.’
I saw nothing; but neither the sheep nor he would go on so I bid him take the road lower down. He probably raised the phantoms from thinking, as he traversed the moors alone, on the nonsense he had heard his parents and companions repeat.
When asked whether actual ghosts inhabit the neighborhood, however, Nelly (the narrator of this story) says:
‘No, Mr. Lockwood,’ said Nelly, shaking her head. ‘I believe the dead are at peace: but it is not right to speak of them with levity.’
The novel ends with this meditation at Heathcliff’s and Catherine’s graves:
I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.
I think it’s possible to argue the question “So do Catherine and Heathcliff end up together after death?” in a number of ways. The fact that Lockwood (the narrator above) is such a deeply unreliable narrator, who has come to the entire tale of Wuthering Heights through hearsay from another deeply unreliable narrator, makes it possible to interpret this ending either as indicating the dead are in fact at peace, or that the dead are in fact not – and the text supports either argument.
But the fact that this is such a deeply complex argument, central to the entire story, makes me sideeye this back cover copy realllllly hard.
8. First published in 1847, Wuthering Heights is a classic of English literature, and one of the most unforgettable romances of all time.
…I’ll give you everything except that last clause.
It is unforgettable. I’ve read it multiple times in my life, and each time, I find something that makes me go “holy shit, this book is way worse than I thought!” I love it for that reason.
I cannot, however, classify it as a romance – not even a Gothic one. Heathcliff and Catherine’s story is one of obsession, intense shortsightedness (on Catherine’s part) and monomaniacal revenge (on Heathcliff’s). Heathcliff returns to Wuthering Heights bent on the sole purpose of destroying the Earnshaws and the Lintons – one can infer that he thinks he’ll get Catherine back by doing this, but Heathcliff never indicates that’s actually his intent.
The only romance in this book appears in the final chapter, and we only see it after Heathcliff is dead. That’s 400 pages to get us one single scene that might be classified as a love story.
This back cover copy reads like someone slept through most of a terrible movie version of Wuthering Heights, then tossed something together on a deadline. I’ve read student essays that evinced a better understanding of this book, yet still demonstrated the student hadn’t read it.
Therefore, I give this back cover copy the ignominious honor of being the worst back cover copy I have ever read. Ever. I award it no points, and may it be buried at a crossroads without ceremony.
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