Earlier this spring I made some observations about Emily Brontë and encouraged us to toss out youth as a barrier to the pursuit of any endeavor.
I have now read Wuthering Heights and want to make just two simple observations.
1. Emily’s writing is beautiful. I am sure this was partly a product of the times in which she lived. The way they spoke and wrote is very different from the way we speak and write. Even though most of you speak English as your primary language, her English is different. Let me offer an example, even though I know I could have found a better sample with a bit more time. This excerpt is from Chapter VI. The narrator is the servant Nelly:
Heathcliff bore his degradation pretty well at first, because Cathy taught him what she learnt, and worked or played with him in the fields. They both promised fair to grow up as rude as savages; the young master being entirely negligent how they behaved, and what they did, so they kept clear of him. He would not even have seen after their going to church on Sundays, only Joseph and the curate reprimanded his carelessness when they absented themselves; and that reminded him to order Heathcliff a flogging, and Catherine a fast from dinner or supper. But it was one of their chief amusements to run away to the moors in the morning and remain there all day, and the after punishment grew a mere thing to laugh at. The curate might set as many chapters as he pleased for Catherine to get by heart, and Joseph might thrash Heathcliff till his arm ached; they forgot everything the minute they were together again: at least the minute they had contrived some naughty plan of revenge; and many a time I’ve cried to myself to watch them growing more reckless daily, and I not daring to speak a syllable, for fear of losing the small power I still retained over the unfriended creatures.
I do not write or speak like that. The impact of the language on me is to transport me into that older world. The language itself helps with the setting of the book in northern England in the early 1800s. It also gives me a great appreciation for the beauty of our language.
2. Reading old books is healthy. I tend to read a wide variety of books from the latest business works to the English classics. I find myself wondering how modern readers, especially younger readers weaned on a diet of text messages and hastags, will be able to read and understand. I will admit that this could just be a concern from an older person, but I suspect that the wisdom of the ages may become virtually inaccessible to all but specialists who may devote their lives to such writings. It is a language and reading comprehension concern I have. I take it as a challenge to read some of these great books to see how well I can read and understand and to find out what all the fuss is about. I usually finish the old book completely understanding what all the fuss is about. I just wonder if we are losing our ability to do this. Where will we be in fifty years’ time in our ability to read and understand the classics?
Before I read Jane Eyre by Emily’s sister Charlotte, I just wanted to make these observations. It is a good thing to stretch ourselves with both the older language and with the themes explored by these classics of English literature. I am sure all of these same points apply to the classics of each language, and I find many of these same benefits when I read English translations of great books that were originally written in other languages.
Feel free to use the comments to make an observations of your own. What classics have made an impact on you?