Please, Sirs, Can I Have Some Moors?

     It would have been interesting to see the onerous struggle between the famous Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw played out in Homer's Iliad, with Heathcliff as a brave soldier fighting against gods and King Edgar to capture the fair Queen Cathy. It would have been intriguing to see Heathcliff and Catherine fight it out in Lewis Carroll's Wonderland, with Tweedledee and Tweedledum as their dimwitted offspring and Humpty Dumpty telling the tale to the rapt Mr. Lockwood. The renowned romance could have been entertainingly set in Baum's Oz, Wilder's frontier prairie, or Dickens's dreary London, as Heathcliff could have shared an orphanage with the mistreated Oliver Twist. None of these settings, however, would have had the emotional power and pessimistic quality that Emily Brontė's English moors had, a fact that director William Wyler should have considered when filming his movie adaptation in 1939.

     The English moors are eerie, mysterious, dreary, intense, and the very physical representation of Heathcliff and Catherine's relationship. Brontė knew in 1847 that this was the perfect setting for Wuthering Heights. It is too bad she did not live long enough to make sure Wyler knew that, too. Wyler's movie was filmed in sunny California, hardly an environment that inspires hopelessness and despair. The terrain was rocky and grassy instead of boggy and infertile. Even the heather on Wyler's "moors" is completely different from the heather found on true English moors. Southern California is a place for frolicking, not brooding. This lovely setting takes away from the dark nature of the destructive passion Heathcliff and Catherine feel for each other in the book. The two, played by Rex Downing/Laurence Olivier and Sarita Wooten/Merle Oberon, are perfectly happy together and content while on their sunny moors, picking their mutant heather.

     Wyler's casual disregard of such an important film element as setting turned what could have been a great film version of Emily Brontė's masterpiece into a boring movie about a dysfunctional Californian couple. Without those boggy moors and small, flowery heather, the film could not begin to reach the emotional depth of the novel. Heathcliff and Catherine might as well have been in that orphanage with Oliver, fighting over whom should be the one to go ask for more gruel. At least that would have been amusing.

Meg Schoenman

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