Hollywood Hair

     A reader must use his or her imagination to envision the physical appearance of the characters. Two ways that the author employs to influence that imaginative vision is narrative description and through development of the character's personality. Often in both novels and films, characters display much of their personality in physical attributes and vice versa--their personality denotes their physical characteristics. An example of this is the characters in Emily Brontė's 1847 novel Wuthering Heights.

     In the novel, there are two sets of characters, the Earnshaws (including Heathcliff) and the Lintons. The Earnshaws can be characterized as passionate, and temperamental. The Lintons at Thrushcross Grange are timid, and genteel. The contrast between the two families is illustrated by the contrast between Edgar Linton and Heathcliff. Heathcliff's sullen features are pointed out to him by Nelly, the housemaid: "Do you mark those two lines between your eyes, and those thick brows, that instead of rising arched, sink in the middle, and that couple of black fiends, so deeply buried, who never open their windows boldly, but lurk glinting under them, like devil spies?" Heathcliff himself understands the significance of his appearance compared to Edgar's: "I wish I had light hair and a fair skin, and was dressed, and behaved as well"; and after Nelly's comments he clarifies: "In other words, I must wish for Edgar Linton's great blue eyes, and even forehead" (67).

     Catherine as well is described as a mischievous wild child, always at Heathcliff's side, adventuring out on the moors by themselves. It is not until Cathy stays with the Lintons that she shows any interest in becoming socially sophisticated, but she never completely lost the explosiveness and passion that was part of her nature.

     I was not completely satisfied with William Wyler's 1939 film adaptation of Wuthering Heights. In Wyler's version, Laurence Olivier's Heathcliff looked good, but I think he was too stiff for the dark, passionate character that Brontė describes. Merle Oberon's Catherine did not fit the picture I had in my mind from the book. My dissatisfaction had mainly to do with her hair. Catherine's hair, as I imagined, was long and free flowing. The movie version was sculpted and tame. Somehow her hair changed her whole image. I did not perceive the internal conflict that Cathy had raging in her heart over Heathcliff and Edgar. On the screen we see Cathy as a selfish brat who wants the glamour of the Grange but who wants to keep Heathcliff as well. In the novel Cathy's honest affection for Edgar is more prominent than in the film. The film portrays Cathy as very greedy without truly showing why she hungers for some of the comfort of the Grange.

     The time period in which the film was shot could probably explain the inconsistencies between the novel's characters and the film's. The time was the "golden age" of movies. Many features of film, including plot and setting, were sacrificed for the sake of glamour. The producer, Samuel Goldwyn, did not like to see ugly, dirty sets, even though the story calls for a grim setting like Wuthering Heights. Goldwyn also did not like any aspect of ugliness in the characters either; notice Cathy's glamorous deathbed scene. This also goes far in explaining Cathy's too-perfect hair and wardrobe. The film industry owes a great debt of gratitude to industrious producers like Samuel Goldwyn; however, for consistency's sake, I am glad that realism has replaced idealism on the screen.

Jenni Sizemore

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