Thinking about the great novels I’m re-reading.
Over the past few months, I have re-read and savored many classic novels—“The Scarlet Letter,” “Pride and Prejudice,” “The Old Man And The Sea”, “1984,” “A Tale of Two Cities,” and others.
One of those others knocked me on my posterior—Emily Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights.” I never read a love story like this—I don’t think there is a love story like it. Because love is good, fictional lovers are generally suffused with goodness—think Romeo and Juliet, Cyrano and Roxane, the real-life Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett (including in Rudolf Besier’s great play “The Barrett’s of Wimpole Street). By contrast, what a dark vision of love, human life, and human nature Bronte presents. Heathcliff is a brute. Catherine Earnshaw is a capricious, narcissistic fool who throws away the deepest, truest love imaginable (on both their parts) for material comforts. And yet, these two love each other deeply and truly, even beyond death. It’s a stunningly dark romantic drama that requires a lot of serious thought to understand. Kudos to the brilliant Emily Bronte for creating such original (if unappealing) characters and story.
Kudos also to the makers of the 1939 film version starring Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon. Hollywood often butchers great novels. Not this time. Their decision to excise the novel’s entire second half and focus exclusively on the love story presented in the first half was brilliant. In eliminating Heathcliff’s revenge on his enemies (real and imagined) they focused fully on the tangled, agonizing relationship between Catherine and him. Well done!
For those with a strong stomach and an iron will, who can tolerate a love story with no sugar, this is a novel (and a film) worth re-visiting.
“The Old Man And The Sea,” is, in my judgment, Hemingway’s finest work. As Santiago, the aging Cuban fisherman, battles the giant marlin and then the sharks, his struggle takes on stark overtones of man’s desperate attempt to wring out survival by pitting his strength and ingenuity against the awesome power of nature. In practical terms, he triumphs over one mighty foe and is defeated by another…although, with minimal weapons, he still inflicts a bloody price on the sharks. Morally, he rises to heroic heights…and wins back the boy whom he treasures. “Man can be destroyed but not defeated.” Indeed, nature will kill us in the end—but never surrendering is a choice entirely our own. – Andy