Wuthering Heights is a gothic romance that stirs controversy as intense as Cathy and Heathcliff’s passion. Or so I spent almost thirty years believing. Then I sat down and actually read the damn thing.
‘It’s not really a romance!’ isn’t a fresh take, but it’s still shocking to see how utterly the pop culture narrative around the text has been distorted. The book might be a capital R Romantic novel but it isn’t a romance. Unlike the self-possessed Jane and moping Rochester from sister Charlotte’s magnum opus, Cathy and Heathcliff are fucking assholes and the only reason you want Cathy and Heathcliff together is so they’ll stop inflicting themselves on everyone around them. And then Cathy dies like halfway through the book and Heathcliff spends the next twenty years emotionally and physically abusing everyone around him including his wife, assorted children, and a puppy just for the hell of it. And he does it, not out of Rochester’s weakness and hypocrisy, but out of a clear-eyed determination to be an absolute fuckhead.
The Hark, A Vagrant strips aren’t comedic exaggeration, they’re just literally what happens in the book.
There’s a lot of good analysis out there about how people have confused romantic and Romantic, and about how something that would have been deemed ‘gothic horror’ when written by a man gets turned into a ‘love story’ when written by a woman, and how distilled and Hollywoodized movies have compounded the misconception. But some people have presumably actually read the book – hell, it’s required English lit in many schools – and I can’t FATHOM how anyone with a few braincells to rub together could read it and be like ‘awww, rootin’ for those kids! #relationshipgoals’
Jane Austen was certainly no fluffy bunny, but lumping this in the same category as her smart, charming, and equitable romances is like calling Cormac McCarthy family-friendly. The dead babies beg to differ.