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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Wuthering Heights - the TV version

Emily Brote's WUTHERING HEIGHTS was one of those high school reading assignments that most people complain about. But even in high school I LOVED this book. I don't remember much about my first reading of it but I do remember one thing, specifically one vocabulary word we studied. I clearly recall learning this word, thinking that it was creepy and awful ... and I have never forgotten the definition.
Vivisection – noun
  1. the action of cutting into or dissection a living body
  2. the practice of subjecting living animals to cutting operations, esp. in order to advance physiological and pathological knowledge
The place in the novel where this appears is late in the book when Heathcliff is contemplating Linton and Catherine: "Had I been born where laws are less strict and tastes less dainty, I should treat myself to a slow vivisection of those two, as an evening's amusement." [Don't you just love Project Gutenburg? I used it to search the text for exactly the line I needed!]

*shiver* That one word embodies for me much of who Heathcliff is. That word, and "obsession".

Why is that relevant to the tv version, you ask? Well, because I think the Masterpiece Classic version of Wuthering Heights sort of missed that part of Heathcliff.

Don't get me wrong - I did enjoy the movie. I watched it over two nights and couldn't pry my eyes away from the tv. But there were somethings that I didn't like about it.

First, what I did like:
  • the actors/actresses were perfect for the roles they were in
  • the "love scene" with Heathcliff and his wife - he was so gentle with her when they made love for the first time, then after a minute or so he tells her not to look at him - it is so obvious that he is making love to Cathy in his mind - I felt so bad for his wife, but the scene was incredibly well done
Now what I didn't like:
  • It has been many years since I've last read Wuthering Heights, but if memory serves, Heathcliff had sort of a bad streak right from the start. Hindley's treatment of him didn't help, but that "badness" was there all along. Does that seem correct to you? That's how I remember it - let me know if I'm wrong. Anyway, the movie doesn't show that. Heathcliff's "badness" seems to come only because of the death of his protector, Mr. Earnshaw, and his treatment by Hindley (and the neighborhood) throughout his life. Heathcliff's actions almost seem justified in the movie; I seem to recall he was less likable in the book, more disturbed.
  • The movie starts with Catherine and Linton just before Heathcliff kidnaps her and forces them to marry. I was REALLY confused at first, thinking I was watching part 2 instead of part 1, but then it goes back in time to the start of the story. I'll admit that it allowed the movie to move more quickly but I didn't like it all.
Here's a clip of the version I watched. All in all, I thought it was a very good movie and I'd definitely watch it again, but it wasn't perfect. Have you seen this one? What did you think of it?

A while back I read Suey's review of Wuthering Heights (the book) and I commented that the way she summarized it made me think of John Stienbeck's EAST OF EDEN, what with the second generation getting all screwed up because of the sins of the first generation, the twisted characters, the revenge, etc. Have you ever thought about it that way?

Of course, watching the movie and writing this post have me dying to pick up the book and read it again. I think I'll have to do that sooner rather than later.


Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog said...

Try as I might (and believe me, I've tried), I can never seem to get into this book...but I'll give it another shot sometime soon.

The vocabulary word I most remember from English class is "ignominy" from The Scarlet Letter. Mr. Hawthorne sure did love that word.

Ruth @ Bookish Ruth said...

The start of Part 1 threw me as well. It's been five years since I read Wuthering Heights, and I kept thinking to myself, "Wait, I don't think the book started out like this." If PBS ran commercials, I would have run upstairs to grab my copy of the book and check.

I enjoyed this adaptation, but also felt that a few things were "off". The sympathy for Heathcliff that you mentioned (He was pretty wretched in the book), the fact that Part 2 was shorter, making it feel rushed (especially when it came to Catherine and Hareton); the lack of the narrator's storyline. Just little things, really. I thought it was a great production. Perfectly cast. Very atmospheric, and something I would gladly watch again.

Heather J. said...

Rebecca - Don't you love how certain words really stick with you over the years? As for not liking this book, I think it is one of those you either love or hate - if you didn't like the first time, I doubt you'll get into it the 2nd time around (but I can hope!).

Ruth - I'm glad to know that someone agrees with me on this. It WAS a great movie for sure, just not a great adaptation.

Suey said...

I did end up watching this latest version and I too really liked it. I didn't mind it starting where it did, then getting back to the right order.

I thought Cathy was perfect, but I wanted Heathcliff to be better looking. Hmmmm....

My opinion about Heathcliff's "badness" is that it DOES only show up when people are bad to him. And that really, he could be good. But maybe that's just wishful thinking on my part.

I thought the ending of this version was quite shocking and unexpected. And very sad.

Serena said...

I was disappointed by this movie for a minor and major reason.

The minor reason was the absence of the book's narrator, Lockwood.

The major reason was the movie did not stay true to the characters of Heathcliff or Cathy. These two characters were mean and wild. Heathcliff is too dainty in this movie version. He was mean from the beginning and continued to worsen throughout the novel, but in spite of this Cathy loved him...and she more or less married Edgar to spite Heathcliff for running off and leaving her. I had a hard time watching this movie and thinking it was the same book.

Heather J. said...

Suey - I'm pretty sure that Heathcliff was "bad to the bone" in the book, but you're right that is doesn't show up in the movie so much. He was almost likeable in the movie. But like I said, I DID like the movie despite its differences from the book.

Serena – I think you hit the nail on the head there. Although I DID really enjoy this movie, it was NOT a good adaptation of the book. I think we both agree that Heathcliff is not the same character in the movie as in the book. And I had forgotten about Cathy’s spitefulness until you mentioned it (it’s been too long since I’ve read the book) but I’m pretty sure you’re right about that as well. I think you have to watch this movie on its own, and just forget that it is supposed to be based on the book.

Serena said...

Heather: I agree that it should be watched on its own. I am posting my review of this movie later today. I did enjoy it even though it had so many differences.

tanabata said...

I really enjoyed Wuthering Heights when I finally read it last year. Like Serena said, both Heathcliff and Cathy are pretty mean and selfish throughout the story. I haven't seen any adaptations (can you believe it?) but really should. Do you have a favourite?

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