The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Short Novel or An Inflated Novella

Storied Life of AJ FikryA.J. Fikry, the title character of Gabrielle Zevin’s slim novel, is a thirty-nine year-old, lonely bookseller at Island Books. He will only stock books which meet his high standards for literary content. As he explains to Amelia Loman, the new Knightly Press representative:

I do not like postmodernism, postapocalyptic settings, postmortem narrators, or magic realism. I rarely respond to supposedly clever formal devices, multiple fonts, pictures where they shouldn’t be—basically, gimmicks of any kind. I find literary fiction about the Holocaust or any other major world tragedy to be distasteful—nonfiction only, please. I do not like genre mashups à la the literary detective novel or the literary fantasy… I do not like children’s books, especially ones with orphans, and I prefer not to clutter my shelves with young adult. I do not like anything over four hundred pages or under one hundred fifty pages. I am repulsed by ghostwritten novels by reality television stars, celebrity picture books, sports memoirs, movie tie-in editions, novelty items, and—I imagine this goes without saying–vampires. [The list goes on and on]

With A.J.’s taste, it’s hard to believe he finds anything worthy enough to grace the shelves of the store he started with his wife, the more socially-inclined half who died in a car accident. How is his independent bookstore going to survive in the increasingly competitive bookselling world? As Amelia tells him, tearfully on her way out, “[with] this backward way of thinking, there won’t be an Island Books before too long.”

But A.J. isn’t in the right mindset to care. He’s barely hanging onto life after his wife’s death. He’s an eccentric man with a tragic past who happens to have a very big heart underneath his cold exterior.

I loved the first 50% of this book for its quirky, endearing characters and the sweet story, but I wish The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry had stopped there (at the end of the chapter named after Flannery O’Connor’s A Good Man Is Hard to Find). The rest of the novel felt rushed, as it sped through time and tied up loose ends by focusing on too many people and subplots, including one about the stolen copy of Edgar Allen Poe’s Tamerlane and a fraudulent memoir à la James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces.* The extra characters and storylines either needed more development to make them worthwhile, thus resulting in a novel longer than 273 pages, or they needed to be cut entirely, halving the book.**

The second half of the book took me forever to read, partly because my real-life was too distracting last week (with work deadlines and my twins’ camp show, which was lovely), and partly because it just felt superfluous to me (I wouldn’t have minded a few loose ends). Nevertheless, I’m glad I powered through it, and that I read this novel in the first place, which I probably never would’ve picked up had it not been for The Fellowship of the Worms read-along at Words for Worms (thanks, Katie!).***

A.J. Fikry’s “storied life” reminds us that there are many ways to form a family, including through blood, marriage, adoption, and even shared interests, like books. This novel made me think about the last time I set foot in a bookstore, which was a long time ago. In my area, the indie bookstores disappeared a decade or more ago, and the large chains are following suit. I am primarily an e-book reader now.

I love e-books for the freedom that comes with them—i.e., the ability to read a wide selection of books instantaneously and to carry around my entire library wherever I go—but, naturally, A.J. hates them. He believes they’re destroying his business, ruining literary culture, and enabling readers who have “bad taste” to “read crap.” He says:

Everyone thinks they have good taste, but most people do not have good taste. In fact, I’d argue that most people have terrible taste. When left to their own devices—literally their own devices—they read crap and they don’t know the difference.

Well, of course, a snobby (but still lovable) bookseller like A.J. would think readers need him to help them choose books because they can’t trust their own taste.

Personally, I don’t care what a person’s reading, as long as they’re reading something, but maybe A.J. has a point. Independent booksellers who understand the tastes of their community (often unlike the massive chain stores that just stock national bestsellers) can certainly help us separate the wheat from the chaff. Book blogs are important for recommending books–I rely on several of them–but they (we) can’t entirely replace professional booksellers, because most of us don’t have the time, resources, or incentive to tailor recommendations to individuals or to survey all of the new releases across a wide variety of genres. I do this as a hobby; it’s not my profession.

What I’d love to have in my neighborhood to complement the expertise at our local library is a co-op bookstore. I’d pay a membership fee to browse selected titles and receive recommendations from people dedicated to books that appeal to my community. I’d love to attend readings and author events in my neighborhood, and I’d love to have the ability to connect with real-life readers in addition to the “virtual” ones that I’m lucky enough to meet through this blog. It’s too late for me to go back to buying primarily paper books—though I do buy them occasionally—but I’d be happy to buy e-books through a local seller. It might be hard to compete with Amazon’s prices, but I’d pay more per e-book to support a business that is part of my community.****
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*The charlatan responsible for the memoir defends herself by saying, “All the things in it are still emotionally true even if they aren’t literally so.” For my thoughts on consumer fraud in fiction (under U.S. law), see J.K. Rowling as “Robert Galbraith”: Is It Consumer Fraud? (I briefly mention A Million Little Pieces in this post, but its focus is on the fake military experience in the biography of Robert Galbraith).

**The advertising material online lists the book as being 273 pages long. I read the e-book, which doesn’t have page numbers.

***Have you read this novel? If so, please check out Katie’s Fellowship of the Worms to join the discussion on The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry.

****Not that I find Amazon particularly troubling. See What’s Troubling About Amazon?and Did Apple Leave Amazon’s Kindle “In The Dust”?

 

Philadelphia: A Perpetual Punching Bag

On my way home to Philadelphia from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the book I was reading has ties to my hometown. Grace Mattioli’s Olive Branches Don’t Grow on Trees features 23-year-old Silvia Greco, a South Jersey native who has lived and worked in Philly. Unfortunately, though, Silvia doesn’t like my city much:

  • “…[T]here was a scanty choice of men in Philadelphia. This lack of selection brought her to her next regret, which was moving to Philadelphia.”
  • “As she got into the downtown, the smell of cheese steaks, that permeated the air in south Philly, changed into a less distinct flavor of urban stench.”
  • “… [it’s effing] filthy. It smells like piss and garbage everywhere. It’s provincial. And has a high crime rate. And well, it’s just gross.”

Philadelphia certainly has its faults–no place is perfect for everyone–but Silvia’s criticism is a bit over the top. Plus, she didn’t even have the decency to call our “downtown” by its proper name: Center City!

This isn’t the first time I’ve read a book in which a fictional character criticizes Philadelphia, which has taken its fair share of punches from many real life individuals and publications. For example, echoing Silvia’s sentiments, Travel and Leisure’s polls almost always place Philadelphia near the bottom for such categories as cleanliness and so-called attractiveness. Meanwhile, in the Travel and Leisure polls, we’re at the top in other categories, such as ones related to our culture and our food (HOAGIES!).

There are many reasons to love this city, where I was born and where I returned to live and work after law school. As I’ve written before:

[Philly] is a manageable large city that has a small town feel. It has a walkable downtown (we call it Center City), many charming neighborhoods, and all the benefits associated with 300 years of history, world-class museums, fabulous restaurants, public transportation, parks, and close proximity to both mountains and beaches (we say we’re “going down the shore”).

I also consider among Philadelphia’s many virtues its ethnic and cultural diversity and the rights residents and workers in Philadelphia receive through such laws as the Fair Practices Ordinance.*

But Silvia doesn’t see Philadelphia’s positive features, and, at least initially, her annoyingly derisive attitude toward my city made it difficult for me to see any reason to continue reading Olive Branches Don’t Grow on Trees.

It may be controversial in literary circles to prefer books with likeable characters, but I have no qualms about it. I know enough unlikeable people in real life; I read fiction to escape them.

So, Silvia’s harsh words about Philadelphia made me dislike her instantly. I only gave her a second chance when I had exhausted my other reading possibilities while stuck on the tarmac in Mobile, AL on my way to  Atlanta, GA, the last stop before home.

Olive Branches ThumbnailAs it turns out, Silvia hates every place she’s ever been. This attitude is a symptom of an underlying problem tied to her turbulent family life and the dismal economy that has left her with few ways of sustaining herself while expressing her artistic talents. As I got to know Silvia better, I started to root for her, hoping she would ultimately succeed in reuniting her family and in finding a place to call home. In the end, Olive Branches Don’t Grow on Trees is a fairly touching portrait of a realistic South Jersey family.

While I am glad I gave this indie novel a second chance, I must admit that there were a few times when the author’s writing either confused me — such as when she described the father as looking like an “aged version of the young Marlon Brando” (why not just an old Marlon Brando?) — or when it felt too heavy on slow-moving narration and too light on faster-paced dialogue and action. Plus, while Silvia feels like a genuine 23 or 24-year-old artist from South Jersey, her toddler niece, Isabella, seems much, much younger than her suggested age considering the description of her verbal and nonverbal cognitive development (assuming she is on a typical development curve).

Some of these imperfections, though, actually added to the authentic feel of the book. For example, Silvia’s repetitive, jumbled thoughts are appropriate for an aimless young adult in her circumstances, even if there were times I wished Silvia (and the narration) would just cut to the chase a little faster. No story is perfect, and at $1.99, I got more than what I paid for in terms of thoughtful entertainment. The only unforgivable flaw in this novel is Silvia’s unrepentant hostility toward my city! 😉

Check Out These Other Reviews of Olive Branches Don’t Grow On Trees:

Jersey Girl Book Reviews (plus an interview with the author)

IndieReader 

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*In many places in this country, residents and workers don’t have as many legal rights as they would have in Philly (such as pregnant workers’ rights to reasonable accommodations in the workplace and domestic partnership rights).

Down the “Rosy” Rabbit Hole: A Practically Pornographic Photo (For 1878)

Portion of 1878 photograph from Edmund Morris BookIn describing Theodore Roosevelt’s first picture with his future wife, Alice Hathaway Lee, biographer Edmund Morris writes in the award-winning first volume of his trilogy on the 26th U.S. President, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (1979):

Alice, seated lower, leans toward him, almost touching his right thigh. Her skirts droop sexily over his shoe.

Nothing in the surviving picture seems particularly “sexy” by today’s standards (see image above), but I can imagine that the contact between the outermost layer of Lee’s skirt and Roosevelt’s shoe might have been suggestive for 1878. I’m particularly amused by the fact that the picture is not of two people, but of three, the chaperone being Rose Saltonstall, whom historian Stacy A. Cordery calls “the ubiquitous Rose” in Alice: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, from White House Princess to Washington Power Broker (2008)

I’m in the middle of both Morris’ and Cordery’s Roosevelt books right now.

The Rosy Rabbit HoleI fell into this Roosevelt “rabbit hole” — where one book leads to another — when I read Rebecca BehrensWhen Audrey Met Alice, a middle grade novel published last month. It features a thirteen-year-old girl named Audrey, whose mother is President of the United States (three cheers for a female president!). Audrey struggles with the same challenges many thirteen-year-olds face, from uncomfortable social situations to seemingly unrequited crushes, with the added difficulty of dealing with it all under the watch of the public and the secret service. An only child, Audrey finds a kindred spirit in the headstrong Alice Roosevelt, a former “first daughter,” when she stumbles upon Alice’s old diary in the White House.

Audrey manages to keep this discovery secret, despite living in a “fishbowl,” having concluded that if she “showed [the diary] to [her] parents, they’d probably find a way to ruin it too.” She blames her parents for upending her comfortable life in Minnesota by moving into the White House. The choice was theirs, not hers. Alice’s experience with a similar transition shows Audrey just how much the two “first daughters” have in common despite a century of time between them.  Alice’s stories encourage Audrey to push her boundaries, initially resulting in a series of missteps that ultimately teach Audrey how to make the best of her situation.

While the novel’s 9 to 12-year-old reading level is a little advanced for my 6-year-old early readers, I’m always on the lookout for novels to add to their library in the future. There are some examples of Audrey’s rule-breaking that might concern some parents, such as when Audrey sneaks onto the roof with a pack of cigarettes or when she sneaks a boy into the White House, but Behrens doesn’t glorify these behaviors. Nor will discouraging a child from reading this book prevent that child from engaging in similar behaviors. In my opinion, it’s better to use Audrey’s behavior as a conversation-starter with my kids than it is to pretend that teenagers are nothing but angels 100% of the time.

Overall, what I like most about this novel is that it introduces young readers to an interesting female historical figure from a time period when women couldn’t even vote. After reading this novel, I decided to learn more about Alice Roosevelt by picking up Cordery’s Alice, which I have enjoyed so far but have decided to put on hold until I finish Morris’ biography of Theodore. I think I will appreciate Alice even more after I better acquaint myself with her family.

*Top Image: A portion of the 1878 picture that appears in Morris’ The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, originally from the Alice Sturm Collection.

Unearthing Historical Truths: Richard III in Fiction and in the Flesh (Well, Bones)

Remember when scientists unearthed the remains of Richard III, the notorious English ruler who died at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485?

Now, a year after the discovery of those remains, researchers at the University of Leicester have announced plans to sequence Richard III’s entire genome. The goal is to learn more about the last Plantagenet King’s health and ancestry.

This scientific exploration won’t answer the real-life historical mystery at the heart of Josephine Tey’s novel, The Daughter of Time — whether Richard III was responsible for the deaths of his two nephews, the Princes in the Tower — but it’s still very exciting news.

For those interested in finding out more about Tey’s 1951 novel, check out my review of it from last year, Unearthing Historical Truths: Richard III in Fiction and in the Flesh (Well, Bones).

The Misfortune Of Knowing

Apparently, a woman’s intuition in a parking lot in Leicester, England — a strange feeling she was standing on top of King Richard III’s grave (after historical research suggested she was in the correct area) — was right. Mitochondrial DNA tests have confirmed that the remains found at that spot are those of Richard III, the last Plantagenet King. He had been buried unceremoniously after defeat at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

This discovery piqued my interest in Richard III. My knowledge of British history is limited to two courses I took in college, both focused on time periods after Richard’s reign (my professor’s lectures for a later version of one of the courses I took — “Early Modern England” — are available here). My view of Richard III comes mostly from Shakespeare, who portrays him as a villain. In particular, history remembers Richard as the man…

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An Unexpected Reaction to Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights Image for Final Thoughts

Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847) is a passionate (though unromantic) book that often evokes strong reactions from its readers. Some people love it; others hate it. I’m leaving Wuthering Heights unsure of where I belong on the spectrum between these two extremes.

To recap, as I explained earlier this month in Trying to Keep an Open Mind About Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, I read this novel a long time ago and disliked it for reasons I can no longer remember. In fact, I recalled very little about the characters and plot of the novel, even though I could clearly picture the cover design of the edition I used to own.

I believe that Brontë’s only novel will stay with me longer this time, partly because I’m writing about it on this blog, and partly because, much to my surprise, I actually ended up liking it, and not just for the historical context.

There are many reasons to dislike this mid-19th Century English novel. Emily Brontë’s antiquated writing style takes some getting used to, Heathcliff’s “otherness” has racist overtones, the portrayal of abuse and neglect is difficult to endure, the main characters are unsympathetic, and the novel leaves many unanswered questions: Where did Heathcliff come from (hell being too obvious an answer)? What did Heathcliff do during his three-year absence from Wuthering Heights? What illnesses caused the many deaths in this novel?

It’s a brutal story about hateful people, but somewhat like Hareton Earnshaw clutching his tormentor’s corpse, I felt sorry to finish the last sentence, which, by the way, is one of my favorite lines in the book.*

Oddly enough, with each death, the novel became less painful to read, and I slowly found myself identifying with the survivors. Death is a merciful force that liberates its “victims” from their tortured lives.

So, with so much to dislike about this novel, what is it that has made Wuthering Heights a classic?

I doubt its endurance is simply due to Emily’s status as Charlotte and Anne’s sister. While the three Brontës, initially known in the literary world as Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, are an intriguing group of siblings, Wuthering Heights has enough literary merit to stand on its own.

Additionally, while the novel seems to make some readers swoon, I don’t think that Wuthering Heights’ appeal has anything to do with romance. The characters are manipulative and abusive even to those whom they claim to love. At best, the novel portrays an obsessive infatuation between Heathcliff and Catherine that destroys them both. Interestingly, they reunite under scandalous and creepy circumstances that, counter-intuitively, provided me with the only laugh I experienced while reading this story.

However, I do believe that the secret to this novel’s success lies in that reunion. Catherine and Heathcliff’s tumultuous relationship has the appeal of a soap opera that makes us temporarily forget our own problems. It also touches on supernatural themes that resonate with a wide audience.

One of the many unresolved questions in Wuthering Heights is whether the suspected apparitions are the product of a delirious, desperate mind (in one case) or the imagination of a child (in another). Who knows, but the mystery is one that likely appeals to readers who can understand the desire to maintain a connection with the departed, whether they believe it’s actually possible or not.

*So as not to spoil the last line for those who would want to read it in its natural setting, here’s a link to it (scroll to the bottom).

** I read Wuthering Heights as part of Maggie’s read-along.

Other Thoughts on Wuthering Heights (on Chapters 18-26; having been behind in the schedule, I decided to skip a post on those chapters and instead focus on the whole novel):

  • Maggie at An American in France: “I have completely forgotten how this novel ends, but right now I’m earnestly hoping that Cathy gets some type of happy ending. I think it’ll be the only thing that can redeem this novel for me.”
  • Cleopatra at Classical Carousel: “Everyone, from the first character to the last, all seem pawns in Heathcliff’s lust for vengeance and what is most annoying is that everyone conveniently seems to play into his hands.  He drains the life from anyone he comes into contact with, yet with receiving life, only seems to move further from it.  I can’t imagine how this is going to end ……. well, I can imagine it, but I don’t want to think about it.”

Heathcliff: A Man or a Devil? (Part II of the Wuthering Heights Read-Along)

Man or Devil Quote

I’m still slogging through Emily Brontë’s only novel, Wuthering Heights, published in 1847 and now a classic.* I finished chapters 1 through 9 last week, at which point I said, “There has to be a reason [this novel] has persisted for a century and a half, whether or not I agree that it should persist much longer.” Now that I’ve finished Chapter 17, I can say that the novel has become more interesting but even less enjoyable.

Before I share my thoughts on Chapters 10 through 17, I should say that this post contains spoilers and addresses domestic violence.

In these chapters, after a three-year absence Heathcliff has returned with wealth and a genteel exterior, Catherine is married to Edgar Linton, and, much to Catherine’s dismay, Isabella Linton believes she has fallen in love with Heathcliff.

When Catherine discloses Isabella’s crush, Heathcliff looks at Isabella “as one might do at a strange repulsive animal,” and fantasizes about “turning [her] blue eyes black, every day or two” because “they detestably resemble Linton’s.” To retaliate against Edgar and to aggravate Catherine, Heathcliff elopes with Isabella, who says, “my heart returned to Thrushcross Grange in twenty-four hours after I left it.” She writes to Ellen Dean, the housekeeper, and asks, “Is Mr. Heathcliff a man? If so, is he mad? And if not, is he a devil?”

Heathcliff’s brutality towards Isabella during the early months of their marriage is severe — he even “hang[s] up her little dog” — but, at least in the beginning, he is careful to keep within certain limits. He says, “I keep strictly within the limits of the law. I have avoided, up to this point, giving her the slightest right to claim a separation.”

It’s moments like these when I feel relieved to live in the 21st Century and not in the mid-19th Century, when Brontë wrote Wuthering Heights, or the late 18th Century, when Isabella and Heathcliff were married in the novel. While current societal responses to domestic violence are not ideal, at least today, a woman like Isabella could obtain a divorce and seek other protective measures in the civil and criminal courts.

Interestingly, in Wuthering Heights, the victim of domestic violence is a woman of the gentry, thus countering a stereotype about domestic violence that many people still hold 167 years after this novel’s publication. Today, many people misperceive domestic violence as affecting only women in lower socioeconomic classes when the reality is that it is also affects middle class and wealthy individuals, like Isabella Heathcliff.

At the same time, though, Brontë’s portrayal of Heathcliff — whom the novel takes great pains to depict as an ‘other’ — as the batterer also reinforces the perception of abuse as being perpetrated by individuals of certain backgrounds that no amount of property or education can erase. Heathcliff may have returned from his three-year absence as a socially acceptable “gentleman” on the surface, but he remains a foreigner, one whose adoptive father had described as “dark almost as if it came from the devil.”

Overall, by the end of Chapter 17, Wuthering Heights has become a worthwhile read for its historical and legal context, but not for its romance. Heathcliff has no love for Isabella, and uses her as an instrument for revenge on the woman he claims to love, Catherine, and her husband. I still don’t see what is romantic about this novel (unless we’re going by Houghton Miffling Harcourt’s warped definition of romance).

Other thoughts on Chapters 10-17 of Wuthering Heights:

  • Maggie from An American in France: “[T]his section isn’t all bad. Heathcliff speaks some of those heart-wrenching romantic lines I enjoy for some reason, like when he discloses to Nelly that he would never have harmed Edgar or “touched a single hair of his head” (136) because it would cause Catherine to suffer. Although Heathcliff would have killed Edgar the moment Catherine stopped caring for him, the fact is that Edgar physically assaulted Heathcliff, and not the other way around. Maybe this is supposed to convince us that Heathcliff genuinely and selflessly loves Catherine? I’m not going to agree with that until I finish this novel–nothing is for certain at this point except that Heathcliff is still seeking revenge!”
  • Cleopatra at Classical Carousel: “Where is this book going?  We have finished slightly more than half of it and Catherine is dead, so I have to question whether the main theme of the novel is enduring love, which you often hear people speak of when referring to Wuthering Heights.  To be honest, I’m finding Heathcliff quite repellent; I cannot find one glimpse of a redeeming feature or even something to draw from him that is a teachable moment.  Hmmm ……”

* I am reading Wuthering Heights as part of Maggie’s read-along. Unfortunately, I’m a little over a week behind!

Trying To Keep An Open Mind About Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights

Emily Bronte Wuthering Heights

I read Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847) almost two decades ago. I can barely remember the circumstances surrounding my decision to pick it up, much less its content. What I do remember is my general reaction to Brontë’s only novel: I disliked it.

However, some books are better the second time around, after maturity and life experience give us the perspective to appreciate the heavy themes and historical context in many classical works.

So, when Maggie at An American in France announced a Wuthering Heights read-along, I jumped at the chance to participate. Unfortunately, though, the same maturity and life experiences that render classics more enjoyable to read have also left me with very little time for reading. Thanks to work and life obligations, I am about a week behind in this read-along (sorry, Maggie!).

Briefly, these are my thoughts on chapters 1 through 9:

The novel begins in 1801, when Mr. Lockwood visits his solitary neighbor and landlord, Mr. Heathcliff, and meets the rest of the eccentric and rude inhabitants of Wuthering Heights. It took me a long time to get used to Brontë’s writing style, and I found the early scenes, with the ferocious dogs, rude characters, and ominous winter weather, unenjoyable to read and hard to follow. The book became more interesting when Ellen “Nelly” Dean, a housekeeper and the primary narrator of the novel, begins to explain the history of the families at the heart of the novel — the Earnshaws, Lintons, and Heathcliffs — but the early scenes set the tone of the book: It’s an unpleasant story.

Dean describes the ancient Earnshaw family, explaining how the father, Mr. Earnshaw, went to Liverpool one day promising his children, Hindley and Catherine, a fiddle and a horse whip, respectively. Three days later, he returns with a crushed fiddle and no whip, carrying instead a “dirty, ragged, black-haired child.” Mr. Earnshaw had found this child, whom he described “as dark almost as if it came from the devil,” abandoned on the streets.

This child is Heathcliff, whose presence at Wuthering Heights unleashes the disorder in the Earnshaw household that lays the foundation for the brutal plot. Brontë’s portrayal of Heathcliff, the root of the disaster, as a dark, foreigner adds to the discomfort I feel while reading this book. Heathcliff’s origin is ambiguous; Brontë describes him as a “dark-skinned gipsy in aspect” and “a Lascar.” In England, in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, Hindley Earnshaw and Edgar Linton view Heathcliff as an “other,” Heathcliff wishes he “had light hair and fair skin,” and Catherine Earnshaw is in love with Heathcliff but is unable to marry him due to their different social statuses.

This portrayal seems like a reasonable depiction of how Brontë’s insular society would have perceived an orphan with a dark complexion; however, the novel contributes to those stereotypes by making Heathcliff a “savage” who is truly a villain, even if, at times, slightly more sympathetic than some of the other characters. Wuthering Heights is a product of its times, and I don’t blame it for that, but I am a product of my times, and so the pervasive racial stereotypes have certainly reduced my enjoyment of this novel — which, with its violent themes, is pretty unpleasant to read anyway.

That said, I am still planning to finish it, and I am glad that this read-along has given me an opportunity to develop my thoughts on Wuthering Heights. It’s a classic work of English literature that deserves a careful read. There has to be a reason it has persisted for a century and a half, whether or not I agree that it should persist much longer.

Let’s see if the remaining chapters redeem the first nine.

Other Thoughts on Chapters 1 through 9 of Wuthering Heights:

  • Maggie at An American in France: “Between the hostile dogs and the eerie ghost dreams [in Chapter 1], I found myself wanting to flee Wuthering Heights nearly as much as Mr. Lockwood did.  I was much more into the next several chapters, when Ellen ‘Nelly’ Dean begins her narration of Heathcliff’s upbringing. This is the part that helps me sympathize with Heathcliff. It helps me reconcile the harsh and unfeeling land lord with the abused and ridiculed orphan boy who needs a hug at one moment and a slap the next.”
  • Cleopatra at Classical Carousel: “What connects the reader to the two main characters of the novel?  So far neither have engaged my admiration but I think we can all feel a silent sympathy for their plight.  Their sheltered lives, amongst people who failed to nurture even a sentiment of human feeling in either character, evoke a tentative compassion, as their choices seem to have already been made for them, instead of being products of stable, empathetic temperaments.”