Some might argue that classic literature has no place in our modern society–the language is archaic, the dialogue drab, the conflicts irrelevant. I have certainly heard these comments from many over the years, ranging from students in the classroom to my friends on vacation when my “beach read” was Jane Austen’s Persuasion.
While non-readers may scoff at the idea, there is certainly still a place in the 21st century for classic literature. One of my favorite classic novels would have to be Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. This gothic romance set in the haunting moors of the English countryside is brimming with lessons that the main characters, Catherine & Heathcliff, have passed along to readers for years.
Given the morbid nature of this book (visits from ghosts of loved ones past, night-time rendezvouses in the graveyard to unearth buried bones) the Heights are a perfect place to visit as we enter into the Halloween season for some good, old-fashioned life lessons. Here are three of the many pointers I have picked up from Bronte’s masterpiece, pointers that are still very much relevant today.
1.The amount of money you have does not equate your level of contentment.
A tale as old as time. To most people, this platitude may be common sense. But for so many in our modern world, the chase for “more” is the driving motivation behind most of their decisions. Heathcliff, the tale’s anti-hero, is first introduced to the reader as an orphan boy living on the streets of London. Even though he was taken in by the affluent Earnshaw family, he was still looked down upon because of his questionable parentage and lack of wealth. Once he grew up, Heathcliff spent years acquiring wealth and land, thinking it could make up for his years of poverty and finally afford him the things he wanted most in his life. However, he found that ultimately no matter how much money or acreage you have, that will not always change the opinion of others, or lead to a life of happiness.
“Tell her what Heathcliff is: an unreclaimed creature, without refinement, without cultivation; an arid wilderness of furze and whinstone.” – Catherine Earnshaw, Wuthering Heights
2.You will never be fully satisfied living up to the expectations of others, especially if that means neglecting the expectations you set for yourself.
No one knows this better in the novel that Catherine Earnshaw, Heathcliff’s closest confidant and love. The two grew up as siblings/best friends after Catherine’s father brought Heathcliff home off the streets, but the friendship grew to love as the pair matured into adulthood. Heathcliff’s wild nature influenced Cathy to take risks & step outside of society’s norms. They were so close that Catherine even said of Heathcliff, “He’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” But, alas, as Catherine grew into a “young woman of society,” she was exposed to the finer things in life and ultimately chose a more suitable husband and life of propriety, which was expected of her, over the reckless abandon, intoxicating love she felt for Heathcliff. While she thought she was content in this life she chose, in the end, she realized she made a grave mistake. Without giving too much of the plot away, suffice it to say Catherine should have looked at her choices and made her own decisions instead of letting others dictate her path.
“I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy and free…Why am I so changed? I’m sure I should be myself were I once more among the heather on those hills.” – Catherine Earnshaw, Wuthering Heights
3.Finally, no matter your position in life, solace can be found in nature.
In Wuthering Heights, the Yorkshire moors almost become a character themselves. Catherine & Heathcliff find comfort playing in the moors as children and even find themselves coming back to one another at various times throughout the novel in natural settings. It is when they are hemmed in by the confines of society & propriety that they lose their way. A lesson that anyone can understand from these moors is that if ever you find yourself feeling under pressure or like you have nowhere to turn, stepping outside, taking a walk, or even opening a window to let the crisp, fall air fill your home brings a unique refreshment to the soul that cannot be found indoors. From the first chapter of this tale to the last harrowing scene, love, understanding, and acceptance are most on display in nature.
“I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.” – Lockwood, Wuthering Heights
If you are looking for a book to read this fall season and you have been curious about picking up a classic, I would encourage you to try Bronte’s Wuthering Heights for the memorable characters, breathtaking description of the English countryside, and the many lessons that are just as applicable today as they were in the 19th century.