For the past few years, I’ve always been a big fan of YA novels. After all, what teenager doesn’t want to read about the mysterious boy-vampire who would climb the trees outside your house and woo you with his angst? But as I’m growing up, I decided it was high time I introduced myself to other forms of literature.
When I was trying to come up with an action plan of how to start educating myself in the finer points of reading, I remembered something my English teacher had showed us one day in class. (Miss B, if you’re ever reading this, YOU WERE ALWAYS MY FAVOURITE TEACHER!) The BBC had made a list of 100 books, and claimed that most people will have read only 6 of the 100. In fact, when I Googled it later on, it turns out that BBC actually wasn’t the one that made the list, but someone else on the Internet just used their name to add credibility, but that’s really not the point. I had a list of books I needed to read in order to diversify my mental bookshelf!
I’ve attached the list here for anyone else that might want to challenge themselves.
I had recently gotten a Kobo Touch, so I could download eBooks instead of going to the library. Since author’s copyright usually lasts for 50 years after their lifetime (depending on where the book was published), this meant I could get unlimited access to all the classics. The first book I decided on was Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte.
I loved this book, mostly because I loved Jane herself. Her strict moral nature was absolutely inspiring – my favourite quote was
“The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth—so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane—quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot.”
Jane’s happy finale were a beautiful relief, because despite all the hardships she had had to experience, her ethics were what eventually lead her out of that tangle of darkness. As the reader, you are also extremely conflicted when she chooses what is morally right and leaves Mr. Rochester. But if she had stayed, a dove protected under his mighty wing, there is no way she would have been as happy as she ended up being.
Having happily replenished my hope in life with Jane Eyre, I skipped on to the next book on my list, Wuthering Heights, written by Charlotte’s sister Emily Bronte.
I don’t know why I had automatically assumed that Wuthering Heights would have the same style and themes as Jane Eyre… after all, it is not uncommon for sisters to grow up supremely different. In this case, after reading their respective books, if I had pictured Charlotte Bronte as the idyllic and Quakerlike sister doing needlework in front of a fire, I saw Emily Bronte as her little gothic sister, brooding in a dark corner, picking at her chipped black nail polish. As I read Wuthering Heights, I kept waiting for the positive turn, but there was none – the ending could barely be considered happy, because there are hints of an impending marriage, it was only due to the death of Heathcliff, who I can’t mark a villain. What was his crime? For loving a woman who loved him back too passionately?
Besides being unable to come up with a satisfying theme (this really felt just like an angsty teenage rebellion), my main problem with Wuthering Heights was what I mentioned above: the lack of a discernible villain. I’m so used to authors writing in a villain that I can turn all my anger and feelings of injustice on… but in WH I couldn’t find any. Who was to blame for the disaster that occurred? Heathcliff, who was spurned from love as a child? Edgar, Catherine’s softspoken lover? Cathy, who tried to love everyone around her? Or Mrs. Dean, who meddled with the best intentions? The only one I can bring myself to blame is Catherine herself, but she dies halfway through the book and I was left without a venting system. I finished the book angry, dissatisfied, and hating the world.
Next up on my list is Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott. I watched the movie before, but that was years ago and I can’t really remember the plotline now. Hopefully it restores a bit of the joy I lost from reading Wuthering Heights. Wish me luck.