Wuthering Heights. A Day Late and a Dollar Short.

Up until now, Dave has been leading the way with the written words on here.  I just had the original idea and Dave helped make it happen.

Now, the reason above that I say that I am a day late and a dollar short is that Dave and I decided we would post on Wednesdays.  It is now 9:07 p.m. CST Thursday.  So, the day late.  And to round out the saying, I’m usually a dollar short on something.

Now onto Wuthering Heights!  by Emily Bronte.

I have been looking at Wuthering Heights for years, as I own an old copy of my mother’s.  I love old books, so even though I had not read it yet, I kept it on the shelf.  I kept saying I’d be reading it soon.  So, when Dave & I began this, I figured it was the perfect opportunity.  It meant I had to read it right?  The following authors listed it on their top ten.  Denise Gess, Jim Harrison, Alice Hoffman and Sue Monk Kidd.  I haven’t read Gess or Harrison, but have read both Hoffman and Kidd, and can see why Wuthering Heights would be in their top ten.  You can tell the influence the book had on both of them and their writing.

I don’t know why I’ve avoided Wuthering Heights so long.  I’ve read Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre countless times.  I think I just have heard so much about it all my life that it was sort of like “eh”.  I wanted to write about what I have always been led to believe about Wuthering Heights, and the reality that is Wuthering Heights.  Some spoilers might follow for those of you that have not yet read this book.  I feel like though, since it was published over a hundred years ago, that I won’t be ruining too much.

Belief #1:  Wuthering Heights is the towering love story of Catherine & Heathcliff

Truth #1:  Wuthering Heights is a story about Heathcliff’s revenge on Catherine and those he feels wronged either herself or himself.  Heathcliff is an orphan found by Catherine’s father.  He is brought home and raised with Catherine, her brother Hindley, and the secondary narrator of the story (the primary narrator is a tenant of Heathcliff later whom Ellen tells the story to), Ellen Dean who started as a serving girl and then became housekeeper.  The father dotes on Heathcliff, and Hindley becomes jealous.  Catherine & Heathcliff become “thick as thieves” and are never far apart.  Then Catherine’s father dies.  Hindley becomes master of the house, and right away banishes Heathcliff to a servant’s role and makes Catherine & Heathcliff’s lives hell.  Time passes.  Catherine & Heathcliff spy on their neighbors, Isabella and Edgar Linton.  They are caught and Catherine twists/breaks her ankle and must rehab at the Lintons house.  Hindley sends his wife to make her into a little lady and separate her from Heathcliff.  More time passes.  Edgar begins courting Catherine.  Catherine decides to accept Edgar’s proposal even though her soul tells her no, that she should be with Heathcliff, but he is not a “gentleman” anymore.  She is telling Ellen this, and Heathcliff overhears.  He disappears for three years and mysteriously acquires a fortune.  He returns and Edgar & Catherine are married, and happy.   She dies after blaming him for her death.  He then sets about ruining her brother, her daughter, and Edgar.  He also, to spite the Lintons, marries Edgar’s sister Isabella who leaves him and has a son after doing so.  He ends up using his son in his machinations to further his revenge.

Belief #2:  Catherine & Heathcliff are romantic.  Sooo romantic.

Truth #2:  Catherine is a spoiled little brat.  In today’s world, she’d be that girl that would say to you (usually in a bar)that they say what they think, that they don’t care what people think.  Then they proceed to insult you.  Then when you get upset, they say they warned you that they do that.  That’s Catherine in a very simplified manner.  Heathcliff is a sadist, though he says it’s revenge he wants, he gets a sick enjoyment out of the pain and misery he causes those he is revenging.  In today’s world, he’d be that vision of George W Bush that people like to sustain that he was mad at Saddam because his daddy  didn’t soundly win in 92, so he manafactured stories about weapons of mass destruction and proceeded to annihilate Iraq and eventually Hussein.  That’s Heathcliff.

I did get a couple of surprises from Wuthering Heights:

Surprise 1:  I never had heard that it’s a slightly gothic ghost story.  At the beginning, the narrator (primary) is put up for the night in Catherine’s old room.  He commences reading some of her notes and books from when she was a girl.  He falls asleep and dreams that she is knocking at the window.  It’s actually a really creepy scene, I’ll quote;

“I must stop it, nevertheless!’ I muttered, knocking my knuckles through the glass and stretching an arm out to seize the importunate branch; instead of which, my fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand”.

Creepy!

Then the end of the book (which that part, I won’t spoil as I’ve left the second half of it pretty much alone for those of you that have put off reading it as well) is really quite creepy as well.

Surprise 2:  It is so much more complex than just a story about Heathcliff and Cathy.  As I noted above, it becomes a story about Heathcliff’s revenge.  This effects more than just him and Cathy’s love.  It is so much less about love and so much more about the ripples we can all have on one another’s lives.

Surprise 3:  It is different than most books from that era I have read.  It’s more complex and deeply layered than a lot of others, including but not limited to her own sister’s book, Jane Eyre.

Surprise 4:  I think I’d like to read it again, as some of the beginning can only be truly understood after you have read the entire book.

So that’s Wuthering Heights.  Next time, I promise to be both a day on time and hopefully a dollar taller.

 

 

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The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Devil went down to Moscow…he was looking for a soul to steal. He was in a bind ’cause he was way behind and he was looking to make a deal. Okay, maybe not, but I decided to check out The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov for my first actual review here on Eleven and a Half Years of Books (in case you didn’t pick up on that from the title of the post).

(Note, for those following along in The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books, this one was 2nd for Kathryn Harrison, 5th for David Mitchell, and 5th for Annie Proulx.)

This one is an interestingly layered story. Seemingly at the core is a story of Jesus and Pontius Pilate. Supposedly, the story is written by a man who calls himself the Master (see the title) and is intensely loved by a woman named Margarita (also see the title). However, his literary efforts were lambasted by the literary establishment and he was even hounded by the Moscow police. All that is in the past though, as the Devil descends upon an unprepared Moscow that has rejected religion.

Of course, Bulgakov’s Jesus isn’t exactly the Jesus you might be thinking of. Consider this portion from the interrogation of Yeshua Ha-Notsri by Pontius Pilate:

            “Well, all right. If you wish to keep it secret, you may do so. It has no direct beating on the case. So you maintain that you did not incite them to tear down…or burn, or in any other manner destroy the temple?”

            “I repeat, Hegemon, I did not incite them to any such actions. Do I look like an imbecile?”

            “Oh, no, you do not look like an imbecile,” replied the procurator softly, breaking out in a fearsome smile. “So swear that you did nothing of the kind.”

            “What would you have me swear by?” asked the unbound prisoner excitedly.

            “Well, by your life,” answered the procurator. “It is most timely that you swear by your life since it is hanging by a thread, understand that.”

Though this reminds me a little of Jesus’s trial before Pilot, it is certainly not how I remember the story.

Also, Bulgakov’s Devil, named Woland, is nothing like any Devil I’ve ever seen before. His antics in Moscow may have a serious edge for a few unlucky people, but he seems more interested in making the arrogant and money-grubbing residents of Moscow look foolish than in endangering their souls or taking their lives:

            “Do I note a touch of surprise, my dearest Stepan Bogdanovich?” Woland inquired of Styopa whose teeth were chattering, “But there is nothing to be surprised about. This is my retinue.”

            At this point the cat drank down the vodka, and Styopa’s hand began to slip down the door frame.

            “Any my retinue needs space,” Woland continued, “which means that one of us in this apartment is superfluous. And I think that someone is—you!”

*****

            And then the bedroom began to spin around Styopa, he hit his head on the door frame, and as he was losing consciousness, he thought, “I’m dying…”

            But he did not die. He opened his eyes slightly and saw that he was sitting on something made of stone. A sound could be heard nearby. When he opened his eyes properly, he realized that it was the sound of the sea and that a wave was, in fact, breaking at his very feet, that, to be brief, he was sitting at the end of a jetty, and that a blue sky was sparkling above him, and behind him was a white city nestled in the hills.

*****

            Then Styopa resorted to the following maneuver: he dropped on his knees in front of the unknown smoker and said, “Please tell me, what city is this?”

            “Are you kidding?!” said the heartless smoker.

            “I’m not drunk,” Styopa replied hoarsely, “Something’s happened to me…I’m sick…Where am I’ What city is this?”

            “Well, Yalta…”

            Styopa sighed softly, fell over on his side and struck his head against the warm stone of the jetty.

Regardless of Jesus or the Devil, or the Master or Margarita (who don’t really seem to be in a lot of danger for being in a novel with the Devil), Bulgakov has to be the strangest Russian writer of his time. I mean, he was only a generation after Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Turgenev. This book is set in Moscow in the thirties, if you can believe it from the small chunks I’ve shared. Yet, if I didn’t know better, I’d really think he was writing just a few years ago. There is just something remarkably similar to contemporary prose in the way that Bulgakov wrote. It really makes the book interesting, considering its actual age.

And, all in all, the whole novel is a great deal of fun. Bulgakov may have been an anomaly in his own time, but today I found him delightful. The book is definitely weird, don’t get me wrong on that, but it was a good kind of weird. The Master and Margarita is a strange thing, living and breathing in its own little world.

– David S. Atkinson

Starting in on eleven and a half years of books…

My friend Kim was talking to me the other day. She had picked up The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books edited by J. Peder Zane and she had an idea.

Apparently, The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books compiles lists of what a ton of various authors (Barry Hannah, Francine Prose, Ben Marcus, Emma Donoghue, Jonathan Franzen, Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King, and many others) consider to be the ten best books of all time. They even compile various lists out of the lists. Books and books and books.

So, Kim came up with the idea that it would be fun to start a book blog (this) and go through book by book, reviewing each as we went. I was game, so that’s what we are doing.

Now, The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books lists a total of 544 total books. The intro claims that if you read one a week it would take you eleven and a half years to finish. Seeing as that was about the rate we were planning (trading off), we suddenly had a clever name for the blog.

I should mention, we may not do each and every book. We might not keep this up for eleven and a half years, and may not stick to our planned schedule exactly. Some of the books on the lists aren’t even books (such as references to the entire work of an author or an entire form of their work). As it is right now, I’ve already read about 167 of these (not counting partials for the vague references mentioned a second ago) and may not want to always revisit. I also currently refuse to read any more Henry James.

We also might wander around a bit. We might talk about some of the authors who gave their opinions and how their work has influenced us as opposed to the books they talk about. We might even talk about totally different books. Really, we might do just about anything we want. However, it will likely all be (or mostly be) book related.

As such, feel free to follow along. Our opinions are just our opinions, but we have some great books to talk about.