Out on the Moor with the Brontes

Despite being an English major and a voracious reader for as long as I can remember, there are some key classics I’ve somehow missed.  As you may have seen on my challenges post, I’m endeavoring to catch up.  Most recently, I’ve ventured out onto the moor with the Bronte sisters.

First, I read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and absolutely loved it.  I stayed up late two nights in a row reading (and kind of felt good about that as a reason for missing sleep!)  I’m not entirely sure what hooked me in.  I liked Jane pretty well as a character, and I liked Mr. Rochester–he was a good dark, brooding hero.  The plot was engaging, especially the middle section at Thornfield Hall.

If you don’t know the plot, Jane Eyre becomes a governess at gloomy Thornfield Hall, owned by gloomy Mr. Rochester.  Jane falls in love with Mr. Rochester, and he with her, but complications, to say the least, arise when…this is a spoiler, but everyone knows it, right?…it comes out that he already has an insane wife locked away in one of Thornfield’s towers.

It was a good plot, even if I already knew about the crazy wife.  I don’t sound all that enamoured describing it, do I?  But I think it was the writing I really loved.  It was a pleasure to find a classic that was really well-written and–imagine!–enjoyable to read.

I think I also kept reading, those nights I stayed up, because I wanted to see how certain scenes played out.  I took to heart the lesson of Sense and Sensibility, and watched a movie first (1944, with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine).  It worked brilliantly–I didn’t wonder why Jane was only ten at the beginning, and I stayed up late waiting for Mr. Rochester to propose, because I knew it was coming any time.

After loving Jane Eyre, I was looking forward to Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.  A different sister, but I felt hopeful anyway.  I tried a movie first–1939, Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon.

I had fair warning–I liked the movie Jane Eyre much better than the movie Wuthering Heights.  And the same was true for the books.

Wuthering Heights is about Heathcliff and Cathy–she’s a fine lady, and he’s a gypsy orphan her father takes in to live at Wuthering Heights (another gloomy manor on the moor).  They’re close as children, but divided by class as they grow up.  When Cathy marries someone else, Heathcliff’s darker side emerges.

At least, that’s how the plot usually seems to be described, regarding that last part.  But I’m not sure you can really say his dark side emerges, because I’m not convinced he has a better side.  And therein lies the problem.

I actively disliked Heathcliff and Cathy.  They’re self-absorbed, unfeeling, and very possibly should be locked up like Mrs. Rochester.  Cathy is emotionally unstable, manipulative, and just plain annoying at times.  She deliberately launches into hysterical fits and makes herself sick because she knows it will make the men around her alarmed.

Jane may be too reserved at times.  She’s a very strong, self-reliant character.  Her strength is in some ways passive.  She can hold herself together very well when Mr. Rochester asks her to watch a bleeding man one dark night, and whatever you do, don’t unlock that door that has strange noises coming from behind it.  Jane handles that.  But does she take the active step of afterwards saying, “Hey, Mr. Rochester, what the hell is going on?”  No–not even in more diplomatic words.

So while I had some issues with Jane, Cathy is in the other direction–having passionate outbursts all the time.  I had much bigger issues with Cathy.

And then on the subject of Heathcliff compared to Mr. Rochester…but I think I have a lot to say about them.  Which is why I’m coming back to the moor in a second post later this week.  Stay tuned!  🙂

7 thoughts on “Out on the Moor with the Brontes

  1. I finished Jane Eyre recently, and loved it. “Reader, I married him,” must be the single most romantic line in a book. I mean… with all that buildup and then the short, to-the-point, matter-of-fact sentence. Knocked me over.

  2. I completely agree with your views on both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights – ESPECIALLY on Wuthering Heights. I read that in high school, and there are few books I loath as much as that one, because of Cathy and Heathcliffe. Urgh.

    Since you enjoyed Jane Eyre, you should check out Charlotte Bronte’s Villette – another very good one!

    1. Books assigned in schools so often don’t work out… Thanks for the suggestion on Villette! I was thinking about reading another one by her, but since I didn’t know anything about any of her others, I didn’t what to pick up!

  3. Diane

    I’m reading Jane Eyre now and just getting to where she arrives at Thornfield to be the governess. I read it many years ago but don’t remember it that well. It’s time for a re-read. I liked it before (and this time, too) because it is written in “modern” English for a classic. The story moves along well. The recent movie is very good in dramatizing the story, too.

    1. I agree with your observation about Jane Eyre’s language! Even though it’s an old book, it doesn’t feel difficult or dated. But I might be a poor judge–a lot of my favorite books are around a century old!

  4. I’ve always liked Jane Eyre (although I haven’t read it in awhile). But Wuthering Heights is a different story–I do not like that book at all! Too melodramatic and I found it hard to relate to the characters.

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