Classics, Perceptions and the Passage of Time

A Reader's Respite is feeling a bit pensive these days.

When Sandy, from You've GOTTA Read This! invited her fellow bibliophiles to join her in a reading of Emily Bronte's classic Wuthering Heights, A Reader's Respite couldn't resist.

Fond memories of the novel from our teen years swirled around this novel like a thick fog on the moors. The passion! The tragedy!

We dusted off one of the six (!) copies floating around on our shelves and prepared to dive into the gothic literary fest.

Then we opened the book and.......

...what in the hell were we thinking all those years ago?

As a hormone-driven teenager, Wuthering Heights was the epitome of passion. All those characters literally dying when separated from their one true love....what could be more romantic?

And now, twenty-odd years later? Those same characters just seem, well, stupid.

Sacrilegious, right?

Now read with the older, and we'd like to think wiser, eyes of a thirty-something, Wuthering Heights appears to be the dysfunctional story of a group of violent, egocentric megalomaniacs who abuse their children and randomly will themselves to die when they don't get what they want.

Clearly the passage of time and life experiences have skewered our view of this classic novel and the logical question is: will the passage of another twenty years alter our views yet again?

And so here are some of the things A Reader's Respite is pondering:
  1. Does this experience happen to all bibliophiles?
  2. What makes a novel a CLASSIC?
  3. Why wasn't Viggo Mortensen cast as Heathcliff?

If you have any answers, please speak up.


  1. Answer to #3: Because Viggo is Aragorn, duh!


    Seriously, I've never read it, never seen the film, and have no inclination to do so. "Heresy!" I hear someone mutter in the background, but I say "Bah! I've read 'Jane Eyre!' How can Heathcliff and Cathy possibly compete with Rochester and Jane?"

  2. Mary K....LOL, point taken re: Viggo. I was just slipping in yet another gratuitous photo. It happens.

    In my counts-for-nothing-opinion, Rochester and Jane are in a class by themselves!

  3. Oh...oh...oh, I'm sad. My 18-year-old self adored Wuthering Heights (I still have the Wal-Mart paperback with bits underlined in it), and my 28-year-old self still loved it, though not with the entire destructive passion of a teenager. But I'd definitely agree that it's one of those books that you have to buy into, to a certain degree. (Viggo can go anywhere if he has his slightly shaggy Aragorn hair.)

    Have you ever read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall? I read that a couple of years ago and it just about knocked me over. I'm just about set to read it again to see if I like it just as well.

  4. Kate - I have not read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, although I do own a copy just begging to be read.

    Hmmmmm....who's in?

  5. I read Wuthering heights logn back, say around 4-5 years back when I was in my early 20's and well I didn't like it then, I thought it was very boring. And I hated the main character the girl, I don't even remember her name. I liked Heathcliff but i thought he was wierd to love someone as stupid as "that" girl :)

  6. Ha! I'm not certain I could commit but would love to read it again maybe.

  7. Well...I didn't like this one the first time!

  8. I didn't read it as a teenager, so don't know if I'd have loved it then, but I agree with you as a thirty-something! I didn't like it. They're all so depressed!

  9. Love your post! You just have a way of capturing the essence of a book! If I were to grasp at something positive, you have to give Bronte some credit for creating characters that have gotten us worked up into a lather.

    P.S. OK, I can't get this out of my mind...I think Viggo would make a great Jamie (gotta give him red hair). I know he is too old, but I'm still liking the visual.

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  11. Sigh. Nice photo . . . errrrr, ummmm. Oh yeah [coming out from Viggo distraction].

    The principal thing I remember from the book (which I read lo those many years ago when I was in high school) was Cathy running across the moors yelling "Heathcliff!"

    I never reread the book, but Mr. BFR and I watched this month's Masterpiece version. I have no arguments with Ms. RR's analysis. And how could Cathy's daughter not even know who lived in the next house over? That's so realistic (not!).

    If Viggo were cast as Heathcliff, who would go off and marry Linden (or whatever his name was)??

    As always, what's a post without Viggo? (I got his name in three times in this comment!)

  12. I've always wondered if this would happen to me - I'm only 23, but have definitely left that crazy hormonal teenage stage behind. I'm a little scared to read it again now that my opinions on love and passion have so drastically changed. I'm afraid I'll just think Cathy and Heathcliff are stupid and annoying like you said. LOL. This probably means I would! I'll stick to a reread of Jane Eyre, which I conveniently have with me. ;)

  13. Isn't it interesting how your perceptions change over time? I love the Larry Olivier movie. I begged my parents to buy it for me for Christmas when I was in high school and I still enjoy it every now and again. Is it bad that I've never actually read the book? :O I have it though, collecting dust.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  14. Well, I read "Wuthering Heights" at what you'd consider a young age and found it to be mostly melodramatic, kind of silly at times, and pretty enjoyable other times. On the whole, I saw why some people might really like it, but it wasn't my favorite of the year (or even month...).

    I think this experience does often happen with books we love. Sometimes opinions evolve with time. Some books are horrible when you first read them but then get better with every read (I didn't like "All Quiet on the Western Front" so much at first, but now I love it). Others lose their charm the second time around. Regarding the classic question, it's one I've been struggling with for a long time. When you have a good answer, give a ring. I'd love to know.

  15. I guess you could say the same about Twilight: raging teenaged hormones. I still enjoy it but for different reasons now.

  16. Michele - I've never read Wuthering Heights. Six copies?!?! I think you need to post a pic of your bookshelves!


  17. Violet - it is a "different" kind of story. I'm amazed at how many people don't care for it (thought I was in the vast, vast minority here).

    Kate - just say the word when you have a break in the reading and we'll pull out Tenant.

    Amy - it's pretty dark, isn't it?

    Farmlanebooks - I truly do think when you first read this one makes a difference. Adults (esp moms with kids) have a different worldview of responsibility and not giving in to our every emotion.

    Sandy - I'm so glad you had us read this one. Your questions were excellent and one thing is for certain: I finished this last week and I STILL can't stop thinking about it. And oh goodness, never thought of Viggo as Are you a casting director in another life?

    Beth - I watched it, too, and was amazed at how much they had to change to make Cathy and Heathcliff even remotely sympathetic. Now I'm looking for the Olivier version to see how much they changed that film. (3x is the charm....maybe if you say his name 3x he will appear. If we don't hear from you in a week I'll know that's the case, ha).

    Meghan - Jane Eyre sounds like a wonderful idea! Regardless of what I think of WH these days, those sisters were indeed amazing writers!

    Anna - screenwriters tend to change the storyline a lot to make the movie work better. I'm looking for the Olivier version to see how much they changed it. The casting of Cathy looks wonderful in that version, though.

    Anonymous Child - I've heard that WH has never been out of print since original publication. I suppose that is mostly because it's taught in so many secondary schools and universities. Sometimes I can't help but wonder if professors keep teaching it because of it's literary value or just because it's always been taught?

    I've never read All Quiet on the Western Front, but would love to give it a shot sometime.

    Chris - good point. I enjoyed Twilight a lot (the first one, anyway). Maybe I liked it because there was always hope that everything would work out in the end? Not sure.

    Shana - I know, I know, how does one amass six copies? I think my shelves would scare the heck out of everyone. Talk about an eccentric, overloaded mess that spills over onto tables, in corners, stacked on the floor....everyone would think I'm the crazy cat lady down the street!

  18. Uggggggh, I tried reading it a few months ago and I don't even think I got past the first chapter. I just couldn't go on.

  19. This makes me feel a little better. I've tried to read Wuthering Heights 3 times, several years apart, and have never gotten past my dis-like of the characters.

    Jane Eyre, is a whole different story :)

  20. Great question. I think a classic has a theme that can resonate across generations. I read To Kill a Mockingbird last summer, and the theme of race/class conflict still rang true. Same goes for The Catcher in the Rye's theme of teen-age angst. I haven't had your disappointment in re-reading a "classic", but I was stunned to see a blatantly racist portrayal of an Asian-American (played by Mickey Rooney, no less) in Breakfast at Tiffany's, which I watched this weekend.
    As for Viggo, I don't get the attraction.

  21. Dar - I think even a dark book needs a few points of light to keep it going. Not sure WH has enough of these to keep readers interested.

    TexasRed - I'm always amazed how the sisters wrote such different material. I'm looking forward now to reading some of Anne's work for comparison.

    Dave - That's a good start on a definition of a classic. So I'm wondering what overarching themes WH presents. I'll have to ponder that a while. Now as for movies, the place and time of creation certainly do show through. I've not get read Breakfast at Tiffanys (sorry Capote), but the film has never really grabbed me. (Altho it was nice to see such a young George Peppard.)
    Oh, and re: Viggo....completely understandable. ;)

  22. This happened to me with Little Women - wasn't crazy about it as an adult.

    I've only read WH as an adult, and have to agree with you - I found it more obsessive than romantic.

  23. See how things change as we get (ahhumm)older...

    You have got to be the funniest! Your posts are so good!

  24. This is funny, because while I've encountered a number of people who had the same experience as you, I'm sort of the opposite. I read WH for the first time in high school, and loved it, but never thought it was romantic or cared for Heathcliff or Cathy. I always thought it was "the dysfunctional story of a group of violent, egocentric megalomaniacs who abuse their children and randomly will themselves to die when they don't get what they want."

    Of course, that's part of why I liked it. A bigger part of why I liked it though was the way the story was told, like Russian nesting dolls. I re-read it about a year ago and appreciated those aspects even more. Everything in the novel comes in pairs and parallels, it's structurally very neat. And I am a fan of the gothic element also.

  25. I never read this one as a student, so my read for Sandy's challenge was the first time through. I'm glad I read it, but didn't really enjoy it.

    If Viggo was Heathcliff, however, I might be tempted to watch the movie.

  26. And I thought my three unread copies of Dracula was bad!

  27. Ladytink --- yes, three copies of Dracula is just as bad, lol.


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