A few months ago now, just after moving, our garage flooded. Our books, unpacked, were stored there at the time, resulting in many casualties. As I sorted through what was destroyed—a process still ongoing—I decided that if I replaced books I would re-read them as I did so. Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights was the first replaced, and therefore re-read, volume. For those who never had the opportunity to attend seminary, I would note that it is the ideal time for reading. One of my professors, Harrell Beck, although he taught Old Testament, encouraged wide reading. The Bible, he suggested, didn’t stop at the last verse of Revelation. It was in seminary that I discovered the Brontë sisters and their remarkable literary achievements.
Wuthering Heights is fine autumnal literature and Heathcliff one of the greatest protagonist villains of literature. An interloper among the privileged classes, Heathcliff finds delight in making others share in his suffering. One of the more memorable characters is Joseph, the Bible-toting, Bible-quoting caretaker who sees nothing good in the younger generation. Even Emily Brontë, the daughter of a clergyman herself, spies the hypocrisy so clear in the lives of literalists. Joseph enjoys scolding as much as reading Scripture, and even the other servants find him tiresome. Born in the year Frankenstein was published, Emily had Gothic sensibilities. With the protracted death scenes and atmosphere of loss and mourning, this classic can be a restorative in an era such as ours. In more than one way.
Since Wuthering Heights is a classic, there’s no need to recount the story of lost love and damaged human beings. What is important is to realize that we continue to support a social structure that repeats the sins of nineteenth-century England. And like that setting, we do it firmly believing we are a “Christian” nation. Joseph would surely nod in agreement. Stripping the safety nets from the vulnerable so that the privileged classes might enjoy more of their ill-gotten gain, we live the hypocrisy of the self-righteous. It the era of the Brontë sisters, women were not encouraged to write. They, like the servants of the wealthy, were believed to exist for the comfort and pleasure of the master. Not paying attention to the classics, we’ve come back to that era, claiming that wealthy white men are the true victims in all of this. The denizens of the swamp will find their place in history next to Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Benito Mussolini. Wuthering Heights, like 1984, will, however, remain a classic that sees through hypocrisy.