11 June 2010
Yes, it's not really a fitting title for my first post on this fancy new template...but I would not exchange the amount of glee I got out of typing it for anything. (And while I'm getting all this foolishness out of my system, I would like to open a cafe and call it "Oomlattës"). Really now, though, on my vacation and the subsequent week, I read Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre by Emily and Charlotte Brontë respectively. It was odd to read them back to back and see the similarities and differences in them. The settings are very much the same (vast wild moorlands) and some of the characters bear rudimentary resemblances to each other, but really, that's where the similarities end. I'm going to contrast and compare them here, which is what I have been doing in my head for the past couple of days. (Warning: there be spoilers ahead, so if you've missed out on the past 150 years, avoid!)
Heathcliff is the hero (for lack of a better term) of Wuthering Heights. He is harsh, rough, cold, and calculating throughout the entire book. Really, he cares only for his own good; though he says he cares for Cathy more than himself, his actions speak otherwise. He is willing to ruin the lives of his son and Cathy's daughter to get revenge on Cathy's husband and his family. The only way any of their offspring or relation is able to be happy is after his death. He marries Isabella, Cathy's husband's sister, just to get revenge, even though he tells Cathy before the marriage, "“You’d hear of odd things, if I lived alone with that mawkish, waxen face; the most ordinary would be painting on its white the colors of the rainbow and turning the blue eyes black, every day or two; they detestably resemble Linton’s.” And this pattern of treatment for women is carried out throughout the book; he routinely abuses Isabella until she runs away and abuses Cathy's daughter when she comes to live with him after marrying his son.
Rochester (of Jane Eyre) is not a flawless hero by any means, and he is rather harsh and rough too. However, as the narrative continues, we see that he is not rotten to the core, but is a truly good man possessed with the same frankness and disregard for manners as Jane herself, which makes him rude at times. He is flawed in others ways, too: he has had many mistresses, he courts a lady to make Jane jealous, and he deceives Jane by not telling her of his wife and, after she finds out, attempts to persuade her to stay with him regardless. However, he has kept his wife in good living conditions (when he could have sent her to his wet, unhealthy house and soon been rid of her), and makes sure that Blanche Ingram, the girl he courts, suffers no pain from his actions. Moreover, he is effectively 'punished' by his misconduct in the redemptive conclusion, when Thornfield catches on fire he makes sure everyone has gotten ou,t and in his efforts to safe his wife he is blinded and lamed, but freed.Cathy is a match for Heathcliff (and that's not a compliment). She is selfish and careless, a bad combination, and she too cares only for her own good. She marries not for love, but for status, she says, “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now, so he shall never know how I love him…”. She seems to delight in stirring people up against one another and pouting in distress over the consequences (she stirs up arguments between Heathcliff and Isabella and Heathcliff and Linton numerous times). She eventually dies after being taken sick as a result of one of these arguments.
Jane Eyre would probably not be a very likable character if the story were not told from her first-person perspective. Many of her thoughts remain unvoiced in her head and she speaks with a frankness and disregard for common notions of propriety that we would probably be annoyed or shocked with her most of the time if we did not know her though process. Jane has had a difficult past that many would not survive, but she emerges a principled character with a strong moral compass, and what's more, love for God and her fellow-man. Of course, the largest example of her principles is her refusing to stay with Rochester after she learns that he is married.
Both books are also populated by colorful and fascinating secondary characters. In Wuthering Heights, the secondary characters are really the only ones that could be termed 'heroes' in any sense of the word: Hareton, Cathy's nephew whose potential Heathcliff has quelled, stalks about through most of the book as a slob, but he shows glimmers of true goodness which are revealed more fully at the conclusion through the love of Cathy II. Cathy II, Cathy's daughter, shares some similarities with her mother. She too is rather spoiled and careless, but she also is much sweeter, innocent and other-centered. Jane Eyre has Blanche Ingram, the beautiful lady Mr. Rochester woos for a short time. She is perfect, beautiful, and very shallow; the instant Rochester reveals to her a chance of his losing his money, she desserts him. St. John Rivers is one of the most fascinating characters in any book I've ever read. Some might misinterpret him as a mockery of Christians, but he is in fact a well-drawn satire of a particular kind of Christian. There is never any doubt that he is a good man, devoted to God, but the way he views callings and missions is flawed. He holds the view that the missionary calling is superior to all others. When he asks Jane to be his wife so that she might accompany him to India, Jane replies that she has no such calling. He argues that since she possesses qualities necessary to a missionary, if she did not use them for mission work, she would be disobeying God. While St. John is an obvious character, this view is actually fairly prevalent among evangelicals today- that is, that mission work and ministries are superior to all other callings.
Love is of course, a main topic of each book. In Wuthering Heights, love is an unrestrained, vague 'force' that sweeps Heathcliff and Cathy along on its selfish tide. They are held mysteriously together by this mystic strand, even though there is nothing lovable or even likable about either of them. Cathy herself says of Heathcliff, "Pray don’t imagine that he conceals depths of benevolence and affection beneath a stern exterior! He’s not a rough diamond—a pearl-containing oyster of a rustic; he’s a fierce, pitiless wolfish man.” She knows that he's rotten to the core, yet she still 'loves' him. Love is also freed from the boundaries of marriage, as Cathy and Heathcliff each marry individuals they do not love and continue their trysts after marriage. In Jane Eyre, love is constrained by morals. Jane and Rochester grow to love one another through daily interactions and conversations, and their similarities and complimentary differences become apparent to the reader. However, love is only allowed by God's rules. Jane refuses to stay with Rochester when she finds out that he is married, even though this nearly kills them both. Jane also acknowledges that Rochester became, in the time before she knew he was married, an idol to her. And he is snatched away from her. All of this only makes their final reunion, brought about by a supernatural event (the voice across the moors) more sweet. After being separated by various sins on both sides, they are brought together by God, the obstacles removed.
The overall story of each book is nearly as different as can be. Wuthering Heights is a story of illicit, tempestuous love that nearly ruins the lives of those who come after it, while Jane Eyre is a story of love being constrained by piety, and because of that, ultimately triumphing. The concluding words of Wuthering Heights offer no such redemption, only vain hope. As the narrator examines the graves of Cathy and Heatchcliff, he muses to himself, “ I…wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.” It's quite easy, actually.
These words from the final chapter of Jane Eyre show an entirely opposite worldview. “When his first-born was put into his arms, he could see that the boy had inherited his own eyes, as they once were—large, brilliant and black. On that occasion, he again, with a full heart, acknowledged that God had tempered judgment with mercy.
My Edward and I, then, are happy: and the more so, because those we most love are happy likewise.”