Friday, February 14, 2014

Desperately Seeking Heathcliff (by Nancy Ohlin)




When I was thirteen, I read Wuthering Heights for the first time.  I was mesmerized by the story of Heathcliff, a homeless boy who comes to live with the well-to-do Mr. Earnshaw, his nasty son Hindley, and his spirited young daughter Catherine.

Catherine and Heathcliff become friends, then soulmates.  But they can’t quite find their happy ending.  They marry other people.  Catherine becomes gravely ill.  As she lies dying in her bed, Heathcliff bursts into her room and rages:

“Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad! only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh God! it is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!”

I remember thinking:  Guys talk to girls like this?  Wow!  This falling-in-love business must be really, really great!

I had a similar reaction to Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre, which I read soon after:

“I cannot give up these joys. I have little left in myself—I must have you. The world may laugh—may call me absurd, selfish—but it does not signify. My very soul demands you: it will be satisfied: or it will take deadly vengeance on its frame.”

And Will Ladislaw from Middlemarch:

“Explain!  Tell a man to explain how he dropped into hell!  Explain my preference!  I never had a preference for her, any more than I have a preference for breathing.  No other woman exists by the side of her.  I would rather touch her hand if it were dead, than I would touch any other woman’s living.”

And Oliver Mellors from Lady Chatterley’s Lover:

And as she melted small and wonderful in his arms, she became infinitely desirable to him, all his blood-vessels seemed to scald with intense yet tender desire, for her, for her softness, for the penetrating beauty of her in his arms, passing into his blood. 

Needless to say, I fell in love with these fierce, passionate characters and couldn’t wait to meet their counterparts in real life.

So it was truly a shock to me when I realized that high school boys weren’t like this. They didn’t talk to me about souls and abysses and breathing.  Mostly, they talked to me about sports, Aerosmith, or Ayn Rand.  One guy tried to seduce me by asking me whether he could park his “airplane” in my “hangar.”  (Um, no.)

One could certainly chalk up this not-swoony date behavior to teenage immaturity.  But things didn’t improve much when I became an adult.  My dates and boyfriends then seemed just as unromantic and uninteresting. Some of them were more Hindley than Heathcliff.

Yes, I know.  Fiction is fictional and life is not.  There is no way that real men can live up to the gorgeous, heart-wrenching fantasies of the Bronte sisters, George Eliot, or D. H. Lawrence.  I was probably to blame as well.  To quote (the awesome) Stephen Chbosky:  “We accept the love we think we deserve.”

Still … where were the Heathcliffs of the world?

Fast forward to the year 2000.  I started dating this guy.  He was brilliant, kind, and funny.  He liked all the right TV shows.  He adored my son.

On top of which, he said things to me that Heathcliff (and Mr. Rochester and Will Ladislaw and Oliver Mellors) would have said.  He told me that he didn’t believe in heaven but wished he could because he couldn’t bear to be parted from me someday.  He told me that we were binary stars.  He told me that he had been put on this earth to love me and make me happy. 

What did I do?

Reader, I married him.









18 comments:

  1. Awww. Sigh. Perfect post for Valentine's Day.

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    1. Thank you, Jody! Happy Valentine's Day!

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  2. How lovely! (And I'm totally with you on JANE EYRE.)

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    1. Thank you, Holly! Mr. Rochester forever! :)

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  3. I hope that guy who used the airplane-hangar line retired that line PDQ!
    :-D

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    1. Jenn, I'm normally not an LOL person, but ... LOL!!!

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  4. Nancy, I'm so happy you got your happy ending! (I share your feelings about Mr. Rochester.) I think one of the fun parts about writing YA is that we get teenage boys to say exactly what we want, or wish we had heard when we were that age.

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    1. Jen, I totally agree! YA is the adolescence some of us never had. Because of this, I often find it challenging to create swoon-worthy boys who are also believable and realistic. I tend to err on the side of swoon ...

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    3. Me too! I definitely err on the side of swoon! I've stolen quite a few lines from my husband, though.

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    4. Oh, I'm dying to know which lines! You will have to blog about that sometime.

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  5. Wow, what an amazing love story! Really lovely.

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  6. Heathcliff was my first literary swoon too. And, no, the high school boys certainly didn't measure up!

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    1. He's so complicated and tormented and all in all not the most mentally sound person in the world ... and yet!

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  7. Loved your last line--ah! Jane Eyre! Thanks for the smile!

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    1. It's pretty much the best line ever in literary history. (Hey, I wonder if that is a future blog topic for YAOTL? Our favorite lines in literature?) And you're welcome for the smile! :)

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  8. I'm exactly like you! I'm 16 and read Wuthering Heights & Jane Eyre when I was 13 and fell in love with Heathcliff & Rochester and ever since they have been the most potent romantic figures in my teenage years (especially Heathcliff) and can't imagine loving any other type of man. I obsess over Heathcliff 24/7 and your article gave me hope! You are so lucky you've found your Heathcliff! X

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