Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Withering Heights: wrestling with a classic

In escaping my “reader’s block” I’ve run into the first obstacle. It could have been avoided with adequate preparation and the application of more thought.

Instead of finding an irresistible, can’t put it down, what happens next, guaranteed good read to start me on the way, I picked up “Wuthering Heights”.
And in place of the thrill of anticipation and the desire to turn back to the book at every opportunity, I am begrudging the thought of spending my reading time plodding through its pages.

Its one of those books that has been sitting on my shelves for over twenty years along with many other “classic” Victorian era novels; then after seeing the recent dramatisation of the book on TV I thought I should see how the story REALLY played out. The series seemed to be rushed, trying to cram a lifetime of experience into two episodes and therefore missing so much of the character development that might explain the actions and attitudes of its characters.

I am barely 90 pages into the book and it seems I have more interest in how many pages are left to read than I am in the fate of its protagonists. However, having started, I am hesitant to add another failure to the growing list of books I’ve been unable to finish.

What is it that makes one of these books into a “classic” of literature? Why has this book survived and maintained a following when others of the same era have been forgotten? Is its style merely a trait of its era, common to most books of that time? (I don’t recall the older Jane Austin novels being so hard to read). Or is the style a peculiarity of the Brontes?

I have found myself continually re-reading sentences that on my first attempt have seem badly structured. But again that might be a matter of the linguistic differences between 19th Century Yorkshire and 21st Century Australia.

It’s been a long time since I read anything of its particular era, but I still recall the difficulty I had when I first read Thomas Hardy. I battled through Tess of the D’Urbervilles as if it was a test of endurance yet eventually, on reaching the end, I appreciated why it was considered a classic. I’m still not sure whether that was because I had finally grasped and enjoyed the point of the book, or whether it was merely relief that the ordeal was over

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