Sunday, 6 September 2009

It's Meee, Your Catheee, I've come Home...

Long time, no literature-based rant! So I thought I'd break the habit of my extremely lazy summer and actually write something. About a week ago, there was a new adaptation of Wuthering Heights on TV here in the UK, so I tuned in (after finding out, too late, i'd mssed the first part) on catch-up TV. It wasn't a bad version, to my surprise - I caught a few early publicity shots of Cathy wearing suspiciously twenty-first century eyeliner and thought it was going to be awful.

To my surprise, this version was actually okay - as compared to the awful 1992 Ralph Fiennes version, where Juliette Binoche struggles with her French accent all the way through...

Or (if you feel like a laugh at the films of the 1940s, the Laurence Olivier version. Heathcliff's acting is more hammy than a pig roast).

I wasn't too sure initially about the casting of Tom Hardy, who's starred in a lot of 'diamond geezer' London gangster dramas set in the 1970s, but he made a genuinely decent Heathcliff - one of the best I've seen so far. Although out of the Bronte sisters' novels, I'd have to rank Wuthering Heights as my least favourite. Both Charlotte and Anne have their villains and dastardly cads, true - but generally their main characters and heroes are likeable. Human, yes - I'm not talking about 'saintly' borderline Mary-Sues (The Victorians are guilty of more than a few Mary-Sues, if you narrowly scrutinise Dickens a few times) Jane Eyre has her faults, as do Shirley and Caroline Helstone. But most of their characters are people you might like to have a conversation and a cup of tea with. Can anyone really see themselves having a chat with Cathy or Heathcliff?

Emily Bronte effectively writes them as sociopaths - Heathcliff due to his largely abusive and neglected childhood, Cathy due to her utter spoilt bratness (well, anyone's guess here, but you might get the feeling I'm not largely sympathetic to Cathy. Bingo!) and lack of self-knowledge. Despite the truncated story that came out in the 2009 version that gets rid of a good deal of the violence that makes Wuthering Heights so remarkable, their Cathy comes across as confused and filled with regret. But the Cathy of the novel is spoilt, passionate, often teetering on the edge of insanity (and often falling over right into it) and in the end wrecks both Heathcliff and Edgar's lives by choosing both of them. If this was in a modern novel, it could very well be condemned for having utterly unsympathetic protagonists - and minor characters. Lockwood's arrogance and self-complacency makes him a little repulsive as a narrator, and Nelly's prejudices often taint the narrative. Catherine, Hareton and Linton have just as many petty faults as their predecessors.

So - it is okay to have characters everybody hates? Even if they're in love? Are completely unattractive characters are as bad as perfect ones?

Well, no. What makes Cathy and Heathcliff so realistically, humanly fallible is that we're shown their capacity for good - what they might have been. If they were totally and utterly evil, who'd want to read about them? Just as the old Mary-Sue rule goes for authors of fanfiction - who wants to read about perfect people having perfect adventures? It's boring as hell, and unimaginative.

What also made me do some thinking about Wuthering Heights was a comment my littler sister made as she peeked over my shoulder while I was watching the Tv series. 'Oh... it's that Edward and Bella book.'
Now, personally, I don't think it's quite fair to pre-judge something just because it's mentioned in Twilight. Intertextuality rocks (probably why Tu Salus Fidelium is full of cross-references), and if it get people reading more classic literature, should we really mind? Then again, I don't know whether Emily Bronte would really have liked the excited little red sticker saying 'Bella and Edward's Favourite Book!!!!' on the front of a clearly 'Twilight spin-off' teen romance cover. But I don't think she'd mind a wider readership - whatever the cause of the surge in interest.

1 comment:

Mercury Gray said...

Yay! Something for me to read while wasting time waiting to leave for the airport! Your comments about intertext are interesting, especially the Twilight comment. I think the fact that Wuthering Heights got into Smeyer's teen love fest at all is actually a deterrent to me ever reading it. But I think Mary Sue's problem, and Catherine's, is not that they are evil but TOO good. No one ever loves as deeply as Bella and Catherine do; thier love hyperboles make them ridiculous, as you've mentioned.

And, as an aside, what on earth is a 'diamond geezer' gangster drama?