Rating: 3 & ½ Stars
Romance is dead. I don’t mean in real life; here it manages to be as robust as ever. It can be evidenced in the scampering of squirrels as they chase each other in a dizzying roundel of playful courtship, and little old octogenarians who still hold hands. As far as the literary genre goes however, it pretty much died out more than a hundred years ago. Nowadays when a Romance isn’t self-consciously and verbosely ‘literate’, it’s running the gamut from forgettable to abysmal. It has diversified to accommodate the different tastes of an overwhelmingly female audience, and one might infer that readers’ preferences range from barons and buccaneers to firemen and Amish farmers. Of late, the list has come to include vampires, werewolves, and whatnot, to cater to those whose fond notion of eternal love is to snuggle with the undead. Even the classics have not been spared a revisionist take in this regard. Hence, we have ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ and ‘Wuthering Bites’.
‘Pride and Prejudice’ at least can be safely absolved of the current obsession for books featuring the heart-aches of pasty-faced ghouls. Let’s lay the blame for that where it belongs – ‘Wuthering Heights’ with its tempestuous wild-child heroine, Catherine Earnshaw, a woman who must have her cake and eat it too. Catherine’s soul-mate is Heathcliff, the original bad boy of romance fiction. The unholy pair wreaks havoc in each other’s lives and the lives of all around them in their demented pursuit of a love that will know no satisfaction. That is Emily Bronte’s great contribution to Literature – the demon-lover, the woman who haunts him relentlessly, and a relationship that scorns every social convention.
Do I sense anyone rolling their eyes? If you’ve read the book and either merely raised your eyebrows, or even succumbed to rapturous sighs, then the credit goes to Bronte, who pulls off a nifty feat in making an improbable relationship seem plausible. Partly, it is in her characterization: we each love in accordance with our nature, and the author leaves us in no doubt that our protagonists are two very uncommon individuals. The psyches of the main characters and the others are left open to interpretation, with the author sprinkling subtle hints to guide our inference. This, along with Bronte's canny use of Gothic elements, and the wild moors of 18th. Century Yorkshire as the background impart a weirdly compelling quality to the narrative -
"I perceive that people in these regions...live more in earnest, more in themselves and less in surface change, and frivolous external things. I could fancy a love for life here almost possible; and I was a fixed unbeliever in any love of a year's standing..."
Perhaps the time has passed for Romance in Literature, and it has simply gone the way of the Epistolary or Picaresque novel, no longer relevant or viable in the twenty-first century. The common factor for all the great Romance novels of the past were one or more of the following – nobility, restraint, or, anguish at an irreplaceable loss. But the times, they’re a-changin’. Our age of instant gratification, disposable relationships, expedited divorce and laissez-faire values seduces us with the idea that there are plenty of other fish in the sea.
Romance, on the other hand, is based on the ideal that we have one fragile chance at happiness. Like Cathy and Heathcliff find out too late, if we let that slip through our fingers, we live but a shadow of the life that we could have had. Those of us who have a distaste for hyperbole, or wildly irrational exhibitions of passion, or behavior that defies common sense should probably steer clear of this book. Those of us who believe that love is truly a magnificent obsession will find it an irresistible treat.