The Bronte novels

I’ve never understood what the big deal was about Wuthering Heights. I read it when I was a teenager and was unimpressed. Here’s a very simplified summary: two young people, Cathy and Heathcliff, are in love. Both are spoiled until Cathy’s father dies, after which Heathcliff has to work for his keep (admittedly he’s treated harshly by Cathy’s brother, his employer, but he could leave and find other work, and eventually does), and Cathy has to behave like a grown woman of good family instead of running around the moors picking flowers with her boyfriend all day. Cathy’s brother wants her to marry a nice man of equal station, not the unlettered, penniless stableboy, and certainly, she starts to feel differently about Heathcliff after meeting some gentlefolk, though the passion is still there. Pressured to stay apart and angry at being expected to behave like responsible adults, instead of just eloping, Cathy and Heathcliff both marry other people, breaking their hearts. Cathy eventually commits suicide (by deliberately making herself ill) when the frustration of not having the right man becomes too much. Heathcliff devotes the rest of his life to making everyone around him as miserable as possible.

Contrast this with one of my favorite novels, Jane Eyre, written by the sister of the author of Wuthering Heights. Jane is a woman of strict morals and strong religious faith. An orphan reared by uncaring relatives, she has led a sad and lovely life, but holds fast to her principles. At last as a young woman, she accepts a position as a governess and falls in love with her employer. It seems that she will finally get the happiness she deserves, but before the wedding it is revealed that Mr. Rochester is already married; his wife is a violent lunatic he has kept hidden for years. The laws and mores of the time did not allow divorce just because your wife was a lunatic who tried to kill you on several occasions (hmmm…), and Jane herself firmly believed that to marry Mr. Rochester under these circumstances would be adultery, a mortal sin. She flees and stays away, telling no one where she is, until a few years later, she learns that the lunatic wife has died in a fire which she herself set. Mr. Rochester was blinded and lost one hand in the fire, trying to save people from the burning building. Jane and Mr. Rochester marry and live happily ever after.

Now, in this age of easy divorce, it’s easy for even someone like me, who believes that divorce should be hard to get, to find Jane’s principles absurd. Indeed, I think that it was immoral for the church and state to bind Mr. Rochester to that maniac. But the book is powerful because she remains true to her own principles. She could have had the man she wanted, not to mention the comforts his wealth provided, if only she had gone against her own principles – but she didn’t. Aside from the happy ending, the novel is about her moral triumph.

So on the one hand we have a novel about a spoiled brat who ruins the lives of everyone around her when the world doesn’t make it easy for her to marry the illiterate oaf she wanted (Florence King: “Wuthering Heights has ruined more women than the cholera”), and on the other a novel about a woman who upholds the laws and morals of her civilization even though it means her personal unhappiness.

By the way? My first girlfriend, who was evil incarnate, loved Wuthering Heights.

I mention all this because last night I was exploring The Occidental Quarterly. It seems that most of the articles on that site that are not by F. Roger Devlin are of mostly shoddy quality. Their arguments may be correct, in some cases, but they are not very good at supporting them. But there is at least one exception, this essay about Wuthering Heights, written in 1961 by Anthony M. Ludovici. After saying a lot of nonsense about it being the greatest novel ever written, which is absurd, he makes the vital point that the novel is about:

Its lessons are therefore extremely valuable,
and among them the most essential I learnt from it over fifty
years ago were, first and foremost, that, when her reproductive impulses
are engaged and promise to be gratified, woman is always
quite unscrupulous, lawless, and anarchical. In other words, as I
pointed out in my Woman: A Vindication, the purposes of life and its
multiplication become the directing force, and every other consideration
is not merely sacrificed, it is not even thought of. Hence the emphasis
I have laid in all my works about woman on the anarchical
character of the human female, a view which I subsequently found
abundantly supported by James Corin in his Mating, Marriage and the
Status of Women
and Dr. Fritz Wittels’s Die sexuelle Not. Hence, too,the belief I have held, ever since my early twenties, that feminism,
which ultimately means female dominance, would necessarily lead to
an anarchical society—a belief which the last sixty years of English
history, with the steady decline of discipline in every department of
the national life, has proved to be only too well-founded.

The second vital lesson I learnt from Wuthering Heights was that
woman’s major orientation is not and cannot be, as the sentimentalists
of the nineteenth century supposed, to the child or children she bears,
but to the male, to man. It is almost always forgotten, even by scientists
aware of the facts, that in the evolution of the human race the relationship
of the sexes to each other is immensely older than their relationship
to their offspring—a fact to which I first called attention and supported
with scientific evidence in 1927. That this fact is really selfevident
can be shown by simply comparing the duration of the Mammalia
with that of the creatures that preceded them, among which the
parental nexus was largely absent.

Thus, assuming that the Mammalia first appeared at the beginning
of the Jurassic period, some 152 to 167 million years ago, and that the
preceding reptiloid quadrupeds first appeared in the Cambrian and
Ordovician periods, 430 to 510 million years ago, we see immediately
that, for about 300 or more million years, sexual reproduction occurred
without any serious concern about progeny. The egg-laying
female enjoyed an independence and a freedom from bodily handicaps
differentiating her much less from the male than the female
mammal is differentiated. More important still, in respect of the depth
of the impulses concerned, is that her inclination and attachment were
directed solely to the male and had no competing objective. We may
therefore justifiably assume that her orientation to the male must have
deeper roots than her orientation to her offspring—roots owing their
strength to hundreds of millions of years of seniority over those connected
with offspring. Thus, it must be clear that the maternal has
shallower foundations than the venereal instinct.

When, therefore, horror is expressed because some woman has forsaken
her children to abscond with a man not their father, and when
astonishment is felt that such an “unnatural” desertion should be at
all possible, it is well to remember the relative ages and strengths of
the two sets of roots in question—those which for 500 million years
have been concerned only with the male–female, and those which
have been concerned with the male–female plus the parent–child
nexus. Briefly stated, it is well to recall that the impulse to venery is
deeper than that to maternity.

Of course, that is why it is so vital for a civilization to enshrine the importance of parenthood in philosophy, religion and law. But yes, by nature, women are more interested in the fertilization process than in actually raising children.

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