a summer of classics

journal. happy thursday! hope your week is moving quickly (or slowly if you’re on vacation- I know this is a popular vacay week). Today, I wanted to take the time to write about some books I’ve been reading recently. If you know me personally, you know I’m crazy about GoodReads, which is basically social media for readers. Here, we can post and rate our books as well as discover new ones and save and tag new releases.

It’s a pretty nifty site, and I’ve been using it since high school to keep a record of what I’ve read and to stay on top of reading new releases mainly from the young adult, middle grades, (can you tell why I changed my major yet?) and Christian categories.

I began this summer with the goal of finishing my 2020 reading challenge. I set the goal of simply wanting to read 25 books. I shattered this one a few weeks ago thanks to quarantine. Most of the books I read were YA (young adult), although Christian and Middle Grades were up there as well. I’m currently on my 27th book, and I’m praying I’ll make it to fifty if only I can squeeze in some reading in my busy work schedule.

After reading most of the purchased YA books on my shelf (they’d been sort of rotting there for a bit and were surely glad I finally gave them some attention), I started reading classics. It was an accident, really. I love Jane Eyre, the Charlotte Brontë novel. I think it’s mostly related to the fact I enjoy a good tragical plot with a bittersweet ending, and something about Brontë’s books makes me feel all the emo depressy moods of my angsty middle school self.

That being said, I purchased Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights a few months back just because Emily and Charlotte were sisters, and I’ve heard Wuthering Heights was as fairly tragical as well. So one Sunday afternoon, I started reading it just to peek at the first few chapters and then I couldn’t put it down. And, oh, Reader, it did not disappoint.

Wuthering Heights is a story with an unreliable narrator, and it’s a love story between two monstrous people consumed by pride, revenge, and blinded by their own dissatisfaction (kind of like us in real life, don’t you think?) That being said, after talking to some of my friends, I think this is why I took to it so much. The story feels real. It feels like I know these characters, and it sometimes feels like I could be one of them, as I too am a prideful, grudge-holding freak.

For those of you who haven’t read it or heard of it: Wuthering Heights follows the tragical love story of Catherine Earnshaw, a somewhat wealthy woman living at the house Wuthering Heights, who falls in love with the gipsy/boychild her father brings home, Heathcliff. In true Brontë fashion, Cathy and Heathcliff endure several tragedies growing up, and since this happens in the first one hundred pages I’ll say it, they never get to be together.

Cathy rejects Heathcliff because he has no money and is the servant of their house. She can’t live without wealth to pad her pride, so she marries the rich neighbor boy at Thrushcross Grange, Edgar Linton. I think they do have some feelings for each other, as they do end up having an heir, but it’s Cathy’s words when she’s taking to the narrator, Nelly, about her qualms marrying Edgar that show her true colors.

You may have heard the famous quote “whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” Yeah, this is where it comes from. Brontë takes “soulmate” to a whole new level when Cathy says Healthcliff’s “more myself {Cathy} than I am.” Heathcliff and Cathy aged together against the abuse of Cathy’s older brother, Hindley, and together, they survived as if their souls were intwined to save them both. They weren’t perfect, though, as the movie would have you believe. Cathy and Heathcliff grew up cruel and remained that way.

“What were the use of my creation if I were contained here?…If all else perished and he remained, I should still continue to be, and if all else remained and he were annihilated the universe would turn to a mighty stranger. I should not seem part of it.”

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte pp.81-82

But it’s the fact she’ll be separated from Heathcliff that makes her have and issue “here and here” (pointing at her chest and head). Their souls intwined, Cathy is not at home in heaven or hell unless Heathcliff is with her. (The “heaven didn’t seem like a home” quote was totally blasphemy, but I love a good metaphor, Emily *winky face*). They love each other in that deadly-no-good-omg-this-is-a-toxic-relationship way, which is totally fun to read, but hits super close to home when it comes to real life relationships. How easy it is to get caught up in our nonsensical head cannons, dagummit!

And though Catherine is Heathcliff and vice versa, she marries Edgar to live her “happy” wealthy life and Heathcliff disappears.

But guess what-

He’s back, and better than ever! He’s wealthy and ready to get his revenge because if mr. can’t steal yo’ girl, he can steal yo’ sister. Heathcliff marries Edgar’s sister, Isabella and they have a baby named Linton, and Heathcliff is becoming more and more monstrous and Cathy, locked inside the house, is becoming more and more sickly.

As this is a Brontë novel, Reader (if you get this whole Reader thing, I LOVE YOU, you true Brontë fan, you), there’s great tragedy before we get our bittersweet ending. Cathy does perish, but she does so with her true lover at her side.

“‘You and Edgar have broken my heart, Heathcliff! And you both come to bewail the deed to me, as if you were the people to be pitied! I shall not pity you, not I. You have killed me-and thriven on it, I think. How strong you are! How many years do you mean to life after I am gone?'”

Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë pp.157

Yeah, even in death Cathy’s a prideful little son-of-a-gun. And Heathcliff’s much like it. Remember how I told you they share a soul, Reader? Well, it seems they’re going to live on and on in pain and suffering until they’re finally together.

“‘Because misery and degradation and death and nothing that God or Satan could inflict would have parted us, you of your own will, did it. i have not broken you heart- you have broken it and in breaking it, you have broken mine.'”

Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë pp.159

So Cathy passes, leaving behind a Cathy Jr. her widower Edgar has to raise, and there’s this really sad part where Nelly wonders if Heathcliff came by to see Cathy’s body once more and the only way she knows is because Heathcliff took the hair out of Cathy’s locket that was blond (edgar’s) and replaced it with a dark lock of his own (light v dark symbolism can I get an amen from the back?). and UGH, I’m breathless typing this because it is so so very tragic-

The second half of the book is the love story repeating. Heathcliff wants revenge on Edgar so he sets up his sickly son, Linton, to marry Cathy Jr. A whole bunch of shenanigans go down- Edgar passes, Linton passes, Nelly gets moved to different jobs, the Grange is tossed into a manager’s hands, yada yada-

And Cathy Jr. is stuck with Heathcliff in his deadly, scary Wuthering Heights. Remember per Isabella, Heathcliff is no human being on earth without Cathy. And man oh man I wish I could see it.

“‘He has extinguished my love effectually, and so I’m at my ease. I can recollect yet how I loved him; and can dimly image that I could still be loving him if- no, no! Even if he had doted on me, the devilish nature would have revealed its existence somehow. Catherine had an awfully perverted taste to esteem him so dearly, knowing him so well. MONSTER! would that he could be blotted out of creation, and out of my memory!'”

Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë pp. 170

So here’s where theme comes to play. Reader, I hope you are already seeing that revenge makes monsters of men because I am currently convinced Heathcliff is not human. At least not to Isabella (who died also- does anyone get to live in this novel, Emily?!). Revenge, friends, turns us into recluses, turns us into raving lunatics who would do anything just to have their way and make the one’s who’ve even slightly wronged them fall.

Heathcliff turns more and more monstrous as time goes on, relishing in peoples misfortune (schadenfreude for you fellow Germans), but something finally releases when Cathy Jr. learns the lesson her mother never did. She learns that money isn’t everything, and it certainly shouldn’t cloud who you love.

You may recall from earlier I mentioned Hindley (Cathy’s brother’s) had a son that Heathcliff raised to become his protégé and fellow monster. His name is Hareton, and he can’t read or write. In fact, Heathcliff has made a mockery of him by teaching him to speak foul mannerly and to hang out with the dogs (as if he is one of them). Cathy Jr. at first dismisses him as a heathen, calling him a dunce for not being able to read and mocking him for acting poor.

However, it’s after Linton dies that she notices him fully. She notices how prideful it was of her to judge him because of who he was. It turns out, many of us can’t help the privilege we were born into when it comes to wealth, and Hareton is a perfect example. Well, Reader, they become the healthy version of Cathy and Heathcliff. Cathy Jr. teaches Hareton to read and eventually they marry.

And as if he can’t ignore it, Heathcliff begins to die because the cycle is finished! A lesson is learned. What he and Cathy could not accomplished is solved by fate in the happenings of the children, revenge is undone, and Heathcliff passes. There’s this ghostly part (because Brontë novels always have some type of ghost in them) where people say they think they see Heathcliff and Cathy’s ghosts walking the moors, and there’s also the part with the windows at the beginning, when Heathcliff busts open a window thinking Cathy’s ghost has come to see him at last (he asked Cathy to haunt him, and Reader, I’m so superstitious that sounds like a nightmare!). It lead to one banging song from the 70s of the same name- “Heathcliff, it’s me! It’s Cathy I’ve come home!” In short- it’s the whole deal with their souls wandering until they find each other.

A banger. Catch me in my Juke blaring this song.

I think my most favorite theme, however was that involving Heathcliff. I found myself consistently asking the question: how often do we become exactly what people tell us we are? Heathcliff grows up hearing people call him heathen, monster, and many other terrible things, and he grows into the monster they all believe him to be. And I mean Heathcliff is a total monster. He brings his “stepbrother” to ruin, he raises his “stepbrother’s” son, Hareton just as he was raised to get back at the man who wronged him. Yet, he harms the one who was never given a chance.

I think often we submit to what people call us without giving ourselves a chance. Someone calls me stupid, well I must be a dunce. Someone says I’m monstrous, well I always knew I was a monster. God tells us things like this are futile. Why waste time on the words of men when we know our Father in Heaven, Creator of the Universe loves us so much he gave his only son for us to live forever with him in Paradise? For whatever reason, this theme stuck, and Reader, I don’t know if you can tell but I love it!

Ultimately, it’s been a wild and fun ride. I’m not sure anymore if Jane Eyre is my favorite Brontë novel or if Wuthering Heights has it dethroned. I’ll have to ponder it. One thing’s for sure, it got me hooked and I’ve been reading them nonstop.

Amonst other classics I’ve read have been Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” I’ve also skimmed F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, selected Sylvia Plath poetry, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter, selected Langston Hughes poetry, Ernest J. Gaines’s A Lesson Before Dying, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. All good in their own little ways let me tell you!

It reminds me of my times in literature class, reading, yet still wondering with my classmates why the heck we were reading these old books and stories. Reader, I think it boils down to the lessons and truths we learn from other people’s stories. Haven’t we been reading them since we were little? (some of us before we were born, as I learned from my pregnant family member a few months ago she used to read to her bump before the little one made it into the world late last year)

Literature makes us feel things just like stories from real life people do. We learn things about ourselves, about our society. I think this is why I love to write. Goodness, I love to make people feel. I love to put my pain and love and my everything to paper just so someone can feel an ounce of my feeling!

There’s also analyzing. From an education point of view, analyzing lit is the last step stool to many of the stages of development. Thinking abstractly is so needed in today’s world. Just going down the list of all my friend’s majors: engineering, totally. Nursing, totally. Education (you think it’s easy to problem solve for kids who don’t learn the same way?), totally. Reader, the possibilites are endless.

The moment in my sophomore lit class when we started thinking abstractly and began to pull themes from The Scarlet Letter, I will never forget the glow that descended upon Ms. Goldstein’s face. Reader, it was priceless, and it’s that same happy feeling that spreads across my chest when I see something I’ve taught and explained finally click in a scholarly pupil’s face.

We read to feel, to learn, to expand those synapse connections in our brain. Reader, I hope you’ll enjoy a book or two this summer and take time to let the story make you feel something. What book has touched you the most? Have you got a favorite classic? I hope you have a fantabulous weekend, dear, and remember whose you are!

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