Saturday, November 22, 2008

I am Heathcliff

That's what Catherine, the object of Heathcliff's obsessive love says about him, in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. But to a certain extent, we are all Heathcliff, which is what makes him a Byronic "hero" even though in fact he's kind of a monster. But who among us hasn't wanted some serious revenge on people who have hurt us, out of their unshakable belief in their own superiority and our inferiority.

I was never much for grudges or revenge until I met some of the truly nasty, loathsome creatures in the New York City off-off Broadway theater scene. Only in the last 3 - 4 years have I really come to understand how freakishly evil some people can be, and responded with simmering anger and occasional flair-ups. And there's only so much comfort you can get from sublimating your feelings into art.

But Heathcliff goes way overboard into pathology. Emily's Heathcliff is sometimes compared to Charlotte Bronte's Edward Rochester from Jane Eyre, both being dubbed Byronic heroes. But Rochester is a much better man than Heathcliff. While you can't help but feel badly for Heathcliff in his anguish over losing Catherine, it's impossible to like or forgive him, because not only does he take his revenge on those who have done him wrong - and it's arguable that Linton, Catherine's husband, ever meant to do Heathcliff deliberate harm - he also takes his revenge on children who had nothing to do with him, just because they are related to people he hates.

Compare that to Rochester - he is cuckolded by Celine Varens, his French opera-dancer mistress, and when she abandons her daughter he takes her in, although he's pretty sure she isn't his child. He has little affection for Adele, but he does the best he can by her.

More on Wuthering Heights soon. I wasn't a big fan of the book when I read it in my early 20s, and while I understand it better on an emotional level now, I still don't like it as much as Jane Eyre, and I'm not ashamed to say it's because I don't really like any of the people in Wuthering Heights, whereas I can't help but like Jane and Rochester, and forgive Rochester as Jane does.

And then there's the violence of Wuthering Heights - wow, I haven't seen any adaptations of the novel, but I bet none of them presents the violence on screen the way it's presented in the book. That's what someone should do - adapt Wuthering Heights with all its violence. I'm tempted... I think that the focus should be on Cathy, the daughter of Catherine and Linton. And you'd pretty much have to include that meddling Nelly Dean. Hmm...