The title says it all really. Jennifer Byrne was oh so very wrong and Marieke Hardy was brilliantly right. The end. Okay, I’ll elaborate. Last Thursday I was lucky enough to witness tonight’s episode of ABC’s The Book Club live. One of the highlights for me was the discussion of Wuthering Heights. A text that I have long found problematic yet women seem to love.
For those of you who haven’t read this much praised classic I’ll give a brief summary. The focus of most readers adoration is the relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy. Heathcliff as a kid is taken in by a wealthy family who are awful to him. He suffers an abusive childhood and is viewed poorly by all except Cathy who actually becomes quite sweet on him. Heathcliff is a bit of a controlling a-hole. Yes he’s had an abusive childhood but that doesn’t make it fun to be on the receiving end of his shit. Anyway, Heathcliff goes off to make his fortune, because he doesn’t have one. He returns older and super sexy. Like, super, super, sexy. Your underpants are going to melt visualising him, sexy. Cathy has already shacked up with another dude. She wants social standing and a good marriage will do that, so off she goes. So she marries whatshisname… Edmund, Egbert, Ebenezer… Edgar, that’s the name I’m looking for, Edgar. I knew it was an unfortunate E name, just not which one. Edgar has the cash and respect so is a suitable husband. He’s also pretty docile. Heathcliff of course fucking hates him and feels betrayed that his teen crush has had the audacity to move on with her life. So Heathcliff reacts like any “nice guy” would, copious amounts of whinging, and banging Edgar’s sister. Both figuratively and literally. He marries her and beats her, even when she’s pregnant. And to top it all off he’s an utter arsehole to his own son. What a catch. But apparently we’re all supposed to forgive him for his domestic violence because he’s just sooooo sexy and in love with his darling Cathy. Cathy who is pretty obnoxious herself. She, like Heathcliff, is uber sexy, but is arrogant, obnoxious, spoilt and a social climber.
So essentially Cathy and Heathcliff epitomise the teenage years. Raging hormones, inability to sit down and think clearly, epic tantrums, tight bodies and glowing skin. The idea of if you’re suffering then you must be in love. And that if your crush is hot enough then he can be a controlling, abusive, a-hole… I’m waiting for Lisa Wilkinson to do an epic rant about how this is just domestic violence dressed up as romance and is dangerous for young women. Forget blaming Disney or 50 Shades for unrealistic expectations about love, we’ve got a whole canon of classics that have done that already.
But I digress, let’s get back to The Book Club on ABC and how Marieke Hardy was right and Jennifer Byrne was wrong. When Wuthering Heights was introduced Jennifer Byrne thanked Jeanette Winterson profusely for putting it forth to be discussed because it was her totes-mega-fav of all time. That’s possibly not an exact quote but it’s close enough. Marieke Hardy, bless her leopard print jumpsuit, pulled a suitably disgusted face. And when it was her time to talk she said so much of what has been on my mind for the past twenty years since I first read it that I nearly stood up and cheered. Marieke, my new soul sister, said that although there were some very amusing dog attacks sprinkled throughout the novel, that it wasn’t enough to get her tick of approval. Catherine was whiny, Heathcliff was sadistic. There weren’t enough humorous dog attacks in the world to make these characters palatable. Virginia Gay bravely stood up and proclaimed that she too found Heathcliff a tad abusive. Jennifer Byrne tried to suppress an eye twitch and expressed her feelings of betrayal that Virginia Gay could turn on her thus. No visible tears were shed but you could tell her soul was weeping like a school girl who had just been dumped. Virginia Gay asked the shaken Jennifer Byrne if she could imagine being in a relationship with Heathcliff. And then Jennifer Byrne let her inner teenager out and wildly declared, “no, but can you imagine having sex with him?” Marieke threw up in her mouth a little but her lipstick remained in tact, and might I add, fabulous. An erotic montage of all the actors who have played Heathcliff over the years, appeared above Virginia’s head to the soundtrack of Kate Bush’s famous track. The cameras clouded over with the collective steam coming from the loins of the audience members. A fire alarm went off, a mass evacuation happened, liquid nitrogen was applied to everyone’s genital area, and then we all returned to the studio. Marieke was still sitting in there, stone cold. Filming continued on as if nothing happened. Part of this may have been untrue…
I absolutely loved this exchange and had to physically restrain myself from running onto the stage and embracing Marieke to my flat, yet heaving, bossom, and declaring my undying love for her on the spot. For two decades now I have been poopooing the “love” element and declaring it toxic and not romantic. First when I was 17, then again in university. And it wasn’t pretty in university. I was already out of place being a dyslexic doing a literature degree, add to that my dislike of this classic, which I do admit is beautifully written and the mood intoxicating, and some of the other students were ready to tar and feather me. My decades of conflict over my opinion of Wuthering Heights actually inspire a section in What Happens in Book Club… 3. Full disclosure, it is not at all based on this TV show so if you think you’re getting secret info on Jennifer Byrne’s sexy past and how she met Denton then you will be bitterly disappointed. It has nothing to do with this show and is just chick lit focused around a regular book club, it isn’t Byrne’s night at all… Fuck it, download part 1 here anyway. It’s free. Help an author out and get my downloads increased. Anyway, I’m cutting and pasting part of my fictional book club’s meeting on Wuthering Heights here, it’s the pre edit version, and then you will see exactly why I was so delighted by this exchange.
“He’s just so passionate,” Catherine says. Bloody Catherine would love Catherine and Heathcliff. “So passionate and tragic. It’s like Heathcliff doesn’t know how to love properly because he never got it as a child, and so he tries so desperately to love his Cathy but he doesn’t truly know how.”
I stare at Catherine. She looks so perfect. Flawless skin, full rose petal lips, a fringe that you could use as a set square and hair so glossy that varnish companies are no doubt hounding her for its secrets, yet somehow she’s just so darn annoying.
“Oh I know,” Sharon oozes. “And he’s just so sexy. That dark skin, that powerful frame. He reminds me so much of my husband.”
“Isn’t your husband a bit on the short and pale side,” Kylie asks, screwing up her nose a little.
“I meant because of the intense sexual energy they both emit.”
”Heathcliff is the perfect Byronic hero,” Catherine quickly interjects bringing the discussion back on topic and blessedly far away from Sharon’s portly husband and a spray of horror an vomit erupting forth from my mouth.
It’s like Catherine has to let everyone know how academic she is. That her opinion is more valuable because she can use the technical terms. Anyone can read the crib notes, Catherine, it doesn’t make you smart. I’d prefer to hear your opinion than the blog post you swallowed.
“So dark, so intense, so passionate and willing to do anything for his love,” Catherine continues. “He’s the perfect man.”
“Good to see we’re glorifying domestic violence,” I flatten the conversation just in time to avoid ovaries exploding all over the place.
Mac hides a grin behind her hand. She loves it when the discussion picks up. I got to book club a few minutes late so haven’t asked her about her new job yet. Will have to find time to ask her. I haven’t been keeping up with our chats but she looks really happy, and I’m pretty sure she’s wearing genuine Jimmy Choo’s so she must be doing well. Selene, on the other hand, shoots me a look that could kill. She squints her eyes at me and it almost seems like she is trying to will me to shut up.
Something is up with her tonight. She has rushed the conversation a few times tonight. It is as if she wants to get the meeting over and done with quickly. Perhaps if I had kept in touch better I’d know what. But I’ve just been so depressed with this whole work thing that I haven’t been able to do much at all. Maureen drags me to the gym every other day but that’s about it.
“Domestic violence!” Catherine snorts. I always love it when she does that. I live to catch her slipping up from her image of perfection. “That’s a bit unfair.”
“Yeah, totes,” I mock, ignoring Selene deepening her frown at me. If she frowns any harder her forehead is going to drip over her chin. “Let’s see. He marries Isabella just to piss off Edgar. She loves him so much, yet he’s cruel and violent to her.”
“But that’s because of his childhood,” Catherine defends Heathcliff. “And he doesn’t love her, he loves Catherine.”
“Oh, of course,” I put every bit of contempt I can into my voice. “That makes it all okay. He doesn’t love her so he can beat her. He was beaten so he can beat others. Nobody has to take responsibility for their actions and change. And not only do they not have to change but they’re considered just so dreamy and passionate because of the lengths that they’ll go to. Sounds an awful lot like defending domestic violence to me.”
“But… but…” Catherine looks entirely sad and deflated, “He loves her…”
Silence falls and everybody looks down at their drinks. I’ve killed book club. If only Maureen was here tonight. She’d have the perfect funny thing to say that would defuse this horrible mess I’ve made.
“I didn’t finish the book,” Sharon’s confession rings out across the silence.
“Me neither,” Kylie starts to laugh. “I got fifty pages in and then watched the movie.”
“Ralph Fiennes is just so sexy,” Sharon looks a little embarrassed and apologetic, “I just love him in anything.”
“He is pretty hot,” I concede and give a smile to smooth things over. “I probably got a little intense.”
“A bit?” Selene raises an eyebrow, “How about a lot, don’t take your personal issues out on the rest of it.”
“Hey, I got the rapey vibe from Wuthering Heights too,” Sophie defends me.
“What personal issues?” Kylie is looking at me with her concerned mum face on.
“Nothing,” I mutter.
I wish Maureen was here. She even borrowed my copy of Wuthering Heights. She should be here… (There’s more to chapter 4 but we move away from Wuthering Heights at this point so I’ll stop here.)
So let me just wrap up this entry with a great big thank you to Marieke Hardy. You are my spirit animal and I adore yo