Monday, December 30, 2013

What am I Listening to?: Nineteenth Century Literature

As I wandered through the downtown Ann Arbor's ample audiobook selection, I was at a loss as to what to look for, so I decided to start at the beginning - A. My eye fell on "Austen, Jane" and the title Sense & Sensibility. I read Persuasion when I was in college for my British Literature II class, and in my last week in California, I sped through Emma. I've seen multiple film versions of all three, and also Pride & Prejudice, so I thought it was probably time I read Sense & Sensibility (or, in this case, listened to a reading of) since the Hollywood film adaptation of this novel had always been my favorite of those I'd seen, probably due to Alan Rickman's irresistible portrayal of Colonel Brandon. 

I think, now that I have familiarized myself (it gets so awkward when one has read some and listened to others) with three novels of Jane Austen's, Persuasion still remains my favorite. I honestly couldn't tell who the heroine Anne would end up with until right before it was concluded for me! That's my favorite kind of story, the unpredictable kind. Though perhaps it was Hollywood's portrayals, and their loathing of subtlety, that guided me in my reading (and listening) of the novels. I also admit feeling disappointed in the match of Marianne and Brandon because, in the book, it seems like Marianne didn't fall in love with him, but yielded to the pressure of her family and friends to marry him, eventually learning to love him. It all worked out, I suppose, but left me feeling disquieted. 

When I finished Sense & Sensibility, I wanted to continue in that vein of novel, but Pride & Prejudice wasn't available at the time, so I settled instead on Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. I'd actually been wanting to read Wuthering Heights since Stephenie Meyer made such a fuss about it in her Twilight novels. What could these two books possibly have in common, I wondered. Quite a bit, as it turns out, in the characters of Catherine Linton and Bella Swan, both selfish, fickle young women who want to keep both of their sweethearts in their lives and live happily ever after with the three of them together. (Like that ever works out.) 

I don't like Catherine. I also don't like Heathcliff. Neither character is in the least bit sympathetic in my mind, both being unspeakably selfish and mean. The character Nelly Dean is absolutely right when she tells the  initial narrator there are no redeeming qualities to Heathcliff. Granted, I am only halfway through, but I was ready to give up before disc one was over, everyone was so miserable and full of spite. Then the frozen specter of Catherine showed up at the narrator's window demanding admittance. 

I've read in a few books about vampires that Catherine is often speculated to be one. I rather doubt this was the intention of the author as it was written in 1845, though pieces like Polidori's The Vampyre were well circulated. It seems clear to me that Catherine's dream of being thrown out of heaven to wander the moors simply came true. (Nelly does go on at some length about dreams being prophecies after all.) Still, I was intrigued enough to keep listening. 

I realize that the flashback is narrated by Nelly and can only reflect her own experiences, but I do wish there had been some explanation, even speculation, of Edgar Linton's draw to Catherine because she is a real bitch! Not only is she the definition of self-absorbed, she is bat-shit insane, and I'm pretty convinced she deserves what is coming to her.

This isn't to say that I think Wuthering Heights is badly written - it's beautifully written and the characters are greatly established! The main lovers are just horrible, horrible people who don't even deserve each other. I am very interested to see what Hollywood has done to this story. I know a number of people who adore the 1939 film with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon. I enjoyed Merle Oberon in The Scarlet Pimpernel, one of my favorite books and musicals, so I would very much like to see this version. 

So that is what I have been listening to this holiday season. The classics!

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