Wuthering Heights: The Rainy Novel and Windy Film

     There was no doubt that the film Wuthering Heights was the least successful adaptation of its literary counterpart. The novel, written by Emily Brontė in 1847, and the film, directed by Willie Wyler in 1939, are versions of an epic love story between Catherine (Merle Oberon) and Heathcliff (Laurence Olivier), and the story is mainly focused on these two characters. Catherine, who is Earnshaw's daughter, falls in love with Heathcliff, the man who is brought into the Earnshaw household as a child.

     It seemed as if nothing could stop the love between Catherine and Heathcliff, which held up very strong throughout their early childhood years and throughout the period of time of their growing up. However, when Catherine later grows up, her love for Heathcliff is not as strong as it once was, and it begins to fall apart because she realizes her desire to marry a man with whom she can share material things, a higher social status and prestige. So, Catherine ends up marrying Edgar Linton (David Niven), and Heathcliff is heartbroken and will do anything to get Catherine back. Eventually, Heathcliff gets to the point of bitter revenge, and he wishes to get back at Catherine by marrying Edgar's sister, Isabella (Geraldine Fitzgerald). Heathcliff subjects her to a life of misery and pain because he does not love her as he truly loved Catherine. Eventually Catherine dies, and everyone is sad at the end.

     As far as the comparison between the book and the film, I would have to say that the book takes all the accolades, simply for the fact that it goes into detail about what happens after Catherine dies. I mean, I had no problem with the movie, and I thought that it accomplished its mission of showing the main story between Catherine and Heathcliff and would have risked losing audience interest if the second part of the book that had been left out had been included. That would have made for an extremely long movie.

     Since seeing the film so long ago in high school, I read the book this semester, and it really gave me a new direction on the whole story. I had the characters already formed in my mind, and the book showed those characters in a new light to me. I found myself rejecting new descriptions and basically, rejecting the whole story, which definitely made it hard to read and enjoy.

     The film made Heathcliff out to be a "good guy" who received a raw deal his entire life. It also depicts Heathcliff as always being acted upon and treated badly, especially during his childhood, as he was played by Rex Downing. However, the book has Brontė going into greater depth in showing how really twisted and evil Heathcliff is.

     One example of how the book and the film differ in depicting Heathcliff, is evident when Heathcliff and Hindley (Douglas Scott) fight over a horse. In the film, Hindley takes Heathcliff's horse away after they fight, and the viewer is supposed to feel pity for the young Heathcliff. In contrast, the book describes a type of Heathcliff whom, after finding out that his horse is lame, makes Hindley give his horse back. I think this example shows how the film made me feel Heathcliff is the victim, and the book made me feel as if Heathcliff uses those around him as his victims.

     In my opinion, though, the Heathcliff from the movie appears justified in his cruelty. His treatment of Hindley upon his return to Wuthering Heights is an act of revenge for the past. However, I did not appreciate reading how Brontė's Heathcliff could be so cruel as he is to the Linton's dog, which he hangs when he elopes with Isabella.

     Honestly, I did not gain much from reading the book. I was satisfied with the opportunity to see the film again, after reading Brontė's classic. Seeing it again reaffirmed the version of Wuthering Heights that I wanted to have a lasting impact on my memory.

Jason Kemp

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