Saturday, 9 April 2011

Oh just give her a slap and get over it

I'm writing notes on Wuthering Heights at the moment, for a certain well-known broadcaster's well-known revision website. I had them partly written and then someone broke into my house and stole my computer, so I had to get to work reconstructing them.

There's only one problem. I hate Wuthering Heights. With a passion. Probably a passion only matched by Heathcliff and Cathy's self-obsessed, self-regarding, entirely selfish and completely destructive passion for each other. And if writing about it the first time was hard enough, the second time it's purgatory.

At the same time I am drawn into a kind of grudging admiration for the book. Because in the past knee-jerk hatred has made me throw it across the room in a Becky-Sharpe-in-Vanity-Fair-throwing-the-dictionary-out-of-the-coach-window kind of way (Speech and Drama exam Grade 4) and that is not conducive to examining its finer points and therefore understanding the book or the characters any better. But teaching it last year and writing notes this year has forced me to re-read the wretched thing and - horrors - to think about it. So for the first time I'm realising that the fact that Hareton regards Heathcliff as his father makes more meaningful and precisely parallel the fact that his marriage to Catherine is the happy ending that was denied to the first Catherine and Heathcliff himself. I still don't see how anyone could love either Catherine and Heathcliff, who are both badly behaved and selfish people - especially Catherine - but I do see the careful crafting of the novel, and its thoughtful exploration of the Romantic ideal. (I still prefer the rather more sedate exploration in Austen's Sense and Sensibility, but I can bear to be in the same room as Wuthering Heights now).

There are two lessons to be taken from this. One is that even if you hate a book, author or character, there's no reason to reject it outright and not find something good about it. Even if you hate it, figure out why, and look at why the author has done that thing, because presumably they weren't aiming for their work to end up in your compost heap/ recycling bin. Especially because one day you might be able to make some money from tutoring someone about it or writing notes on it for a certain well-known broadcaster. And the second is that if there's one thing writing notes on GCSE texts makes me do, it's blog.

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