Wednesday, May 14, 2014

"The (Mis)Use of Classic Literature in Modern Literature" or "Wuthering Heights is Gothic Horror, Not a Romance"

I'm sure any writer can relate when I say that we all pay homage to those who and that influence us. As a writer, my greatest influences are authors of Gothic Fiction: Edgar Allen Poe, Mary Shelly, Sheridan La Fanu, Bram Stoker, and Emily Bronte...

Whoa, hold up, I hear someone say. Emily Bronte? As in Wuthering Heights? But I thought that was supposed to be a romantic love story!

At the risk of sounding cliche, I will go on to say that Wuthering Heights is one of my favorite books and therefore, it has influence much of my writing, especially in The Birthrite Series. It's also a favorite book of a couple of my characters (Dorothy and Joanna). But do they love the book because they think it's soooo romantic and they crave a man like Heathcliff? OR do they more like the darkness in the novel that they can relate to their own lives and views of the world along with the question of classicism the book also seems to touch on?
I honestly don't know when (or how) Emily Bronte's famous novel came to be labeled as a romance and Heathcliff as a romantic hero (see, there's my own ignorance right there...I may want to research that one), but to me, calling this story anything other than a gothic novel with elements of horror is setting a reader looking for a hero and characters to fall in love with up for major disappointment and disdain for the book. In fact, many negative reviews I've read on the book seem to come from readers who were expecting a great romance when it is anything but. This, I believe, has also been fueled even more by new authors using books like Wuthering Heights and stories like Romeo and Juliet (Twilight series) and Tess of the D'Urbervilles (Fifty Shades series) in a romantic light. I don't know if this is done out of ignorance on the author's part or if its part of a packaging ploy. After all, we are supposed to believe that the heroines in both the Twilight and Fifty Shades series are intellects into Classic Literature and model their boyfriends off of "literary romantic heroes." However, when it's interpreted wrongly...? It sort of loses its effectiveness.

Now, I can accept and appreciate that different people interpret works differently, but some works just are not romances, and I do not believe they were intended to be. While I have not read Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles (I did buy the book a few months ago and it's on my summer reading list), but I've read and watched discussions on it, and it seems to me it was Hardy's own views on society of his time, and each character is a representation of a certain society archtype. Of course, I won't really be able to judge until I've read it, but even from this information alone, it doesn't seem like it's supposed to be a romance.
So, why are these books being horribly misrepresented in modern literature? I really don't know the answer to that. While I can appreciate that use of these classics might encourage people who otherwise wouldn't have picked them up to do so, it unfortunately is under false pretenses of what the books are, and therefore they cannot-for the most part- be fully appreciated by a new and younger audience.

So what did I get out of Wuthering Heights? 
Well, in short:
 -I do not believe Heathcliff is a romantic hero, nor should he be considered one. More like a tragic individual who became a victim of circumstance, a product of his unhealthy environment, and someone who allowed himself to be consumed by the dark that surrounded him.

-Cathy is a walking contradiction and quite honestly, not anyone any woman (or person) should aspire to be like. While she is a free spirit in her true nature, she conformed to societal norms and whether her intentions were good or not, she ended up hurting herself and others. As a result, she became whiny, spoiled, and unhappy.

-It IS a love story, but not a romance in the traditional sense. I do believe that in their own messed up way, Heathcliff and Cathy did love each other but were both too much a product of their own dysfunctional environment, not to mention classicism.

-While I can't speak for Emily Bronte's intention with writing the story, I don't believe she meant for this story to be a romance. If you read her biography, she was actually quite isolated for much of her life which is very much reflected in Wuthering Heights. The atmosphere she creates of the moors is absolutely brilliant, and she does so with few descriptions. In reading it, I actually feel she didn't like her own characters half the time. Sometimes you sympathized with them, other times you despised them. I think part of it was a look at humanity as a whole, and how humans aren't all good or all bad. There are many good points and observations, passion, and emotions throughout the book that I think get lost on those going into this expecting to be a romance.

So, if you are planning to read Wuthering Heights, go into it expecting a Gothic Fiction read and you will likely enjoy and appreciate it alot more. Don't go in expecting to love the characters, because a lot of the time, you won't.

A Chainless Soul: A Life of Emily Bronte:

The Bronte Myth:


My stories, "The Cemetery by the Lake" and "Dusk to Dawn" are available at Smashwords and Barnes & Noble NOOK. More retailers will follow, but Smashwords is pretty compatible with most e-reader and PC formats.
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