Alice Hoffman Redeems a Classic

I think I might have posted on Wuthering Heights forever ago when I started this blog,  probably in my short guide to how to start reading the classics.  For anyone who has not memorized all of these posts, I recommended not to start with Wuthering Heights.

I don’t remember all the details of that post, but I do remember picking the book up in my second year of the foray into classical literature.  When I came back to reading but in full force, picking up the books that culture referenced over and over again.  I almost didn’t make it through the first 25-50 pages of this book because it was so depressing, and then it got less depressing, and then the characters were terribly abusive when I thought this was supposed to be some sort of love story and then I was disgusted, wondering why this was some sort of paragon of love.

Now I don’t think that it is held up as a great love story, but it is lots of drama and scandal written in a time that those things were secretly craved by readers (as opposed to openly craved now).

Regardless, I was like, “what the frig is this?” especially after having my first foray into the Brontes being Jane Eyre by Charlotte, which was also depressing and the love story is off and a little disturbing, but not to this degree.  As of this writing my favorite sister might be Anne.  But I haven’t read the rest of Charlotte’s stuff, which is a goal of mine.  Anyway.

An Oprah’s Book Club pick:

 

here on earth.jpg

Here on Earth, Alice Hoffman

I am assuming that BookRiot added an Oprah’s book club pick because she picks intense and eye opening novels, which BookRiot also challenges you to do.   Books that push you into other perspectives and hopefully a better understanding of them.  I have actually read a decent amount of her picks because my mother was into them for awhile, because she liked the hottest new read.

The fact that Here on Earth is a retelling of Wuthering Heights made me more likely to read it, not less.  I love Alice Hoffman.  I would love to be able to pull off her magical realism, her historical fiction, her characters, her productivity as a writer (although I know I couldn’t write like she does as well as have my job).

I wanted to know how Hoffman was going to pull of Heathcliff, in this book Hollis, a one name character while everyone else had two names anchored with family.  I wanted her to make him better but then I didn’t. I didn’t want her to write a character in a way to justify his crappy attitude and treatment of others.  She made his attachment issues and subsequent abusive thought processes crystal clear without asking the reader for sympathy.  You could understand his abuser’s mind from his long history of being the underdog, but you aren’t asked to forgive him.  Like everyone, we are all responsible for how we act when the past is over and we are in a position to make our own future.  Hollis/Heathcliff are deeply damaged and only try to help themselves by controlling more and more of the outside world, which does nothing to heal the broken and unloved little boys inside them.  At least how Hoffman writes Hollis, he loses any charming vulnerability he once had as a child, the vulnerability that March saw and fell in love with at one time.  A boy who disappeared long before March returned and who March thought was still there when she got sucked back into his orbit.

I also thought the Coopers (Lintons) were well done.  The benevolent and naive family that gets pulled into the dysfunction of Hollis and March, who deserve so much better than them and who love and wait for them and allow themselves to be abused and killed off by the dysfunctional force that is Hollis and March.

I had to go back for a wikipedia refresher to remember the role of Nelly Dean.  I remembered that she narrated the story to the traveler in the original, and in this one the housekeeper’s death is what pulls March back to the area, so she continues to be somewhat of the focus even though she is dead.  Nelly Dean has been credited by some as the unreliable narrator, whereas Judith Dean in this book is also disappointed by love similarly to March.  She’s one of the centers who doesn’t even get to tell her own story, but is part of everyone else’s.

The one thing I wasn’t as sure of was how March was created.  Catherine Earnshaw in the original is wild and needs a decent amount of civilizing, which pulls her away from Heathcliff, which is why he gets himself more civilized in the first place, to be able to marry her.  March was in love with Hollis from a young age, which is so impressionable, but I think the original Cathy was more of a wild child.  March just goes through the motions of her comfortable and safe marriage and then when she submits to Hollis, she  enters a dream state and dissolves.  The love chemicals in her brain that are back from when she was a teenager puts her in a trancelike state and disconnects her from her awareness of consequences.  For awhile, she is completely consumed and in a dream.

I think this one sucked me in because it was so psychologically juicy.  I think it helps me understand the appeal of the original Wuthering Heights.  Hoffman’s characters maybe aren’t so savage, have more relateability than the original.  And I have had time to digest it and I must have liked the original somewhat because I wanted to read someone else’s spin.

It has started a tide of my wanting to get to work on my stash of re-tellings, so if you like them too, stay tuned for next week.  I am working on a new one right now.

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2 thoughts on “Alice Hoffman Redeems a Classic

  1. Interesting post. I enjoyed Jane Eyre and don’t remember ever reading wuthering heights. My all time favorite classic however is tess of the D’ubervilles which is depressing and a tragedy, but it never apologizes for it.

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