Friday, February 12, 2016

the monsters within

SB's sister, A, is taking a Gothic literature class at her university. Being 13 hours ahead of her in time and therefore unconscious, I did not catch the first parts of the family WhatsApp chat regarding her course but she was bemoaning having to suffer through Wuthering Heights, A Picture of Dorian Gray, and Dracula. When I was her age, I also was aggrieved at being forced to read these stories. I now believe that I was just unlearned...and I partially blame my literature professor for that.

A's professor is doing a better job. I wonder if society has evolved in the decade and a half since I took a similar course or if A is just more fortunate than I was. Her professor has led discussions about the use of monsters in Gothic novels. A thinks that Heathcliff and Catherine are monsters. On one hand her discussion of how awful they were reminded me of her youth, but on the other hand she is so much brighter than I was at her age. It's a monstrous realization to have when I often think that I was never so young as A.

When I was her age, I read Wuthering Heights as a love story. But that's how our professor directed the studies. I thought Heathcliff was a jerk but with so many of my female classmates mooning over his gothicy-ness and brooding countenance, I wondered if I missed something. Years later I read Wuthering Heights again and confirmed to myself that indeed, Heathcliff and Catherine were a pair of selfish trolls, and Emily Bronte was a nincompoop for leading generations of women into worshiping their hideous, obsessive, vindictive love.

It was only a few years ago when a film adaptation of Wuthering Heights was released that I had a change to reread the story. A conversation in my local pub led to a rather splendid woman telling me that I was reading it all wrong, that Wuthering Heights was not a love story at all, but a feminist masterpiece. Being a card carrying feminist, I immediately downloaded the book onto my Kindle when I returned home and spent the night reacquainting myself with those horrid people. What an eye opener it was.

A is correct that Heathcliff and Catherine are monsters, but in fact, the real monsters are the bonds of society that created them. Wuthering Heights is a feminist masterpiece. It is a tale of confinement and powerlessness. Emily Bronte was brilliant but sadly, generations of hegemonic, mental imprisonment led her idiotic readers, myself included, to misunderstand her message and worship at the feet of one of the worst heroes in literature.

I had to stifle my urge to share this with A because I think that she is on the way to figuring this out. Right now Heathcliff and Catherine are the villains, but she is already discussing how she is not sure who the real monster of Frankenstein is. Oh, if only I hadn't been so dumb at her age. She even had an aside about Jane Austin's Northanger Abbey parodying the Gothics and informing us that monsters are only imagined. Oh, but they are real. I will have to bite my tongue and see where her train of thought is leading in the next few weeks.


ulaca said...

Interesting stuff, but I'm not sure how you can bring yourself to put Dracula in the same company as Wuthering Heights and The Picture of Dorian Gray.

architart said...

Not all monsters can aspire to be multi-dimensional. Single mindedness can be a lofty aspiration for some.