Classics — whether they are novels, plays, or epics — offer us great characters, interesting plots, and lots of things for discussion … but sometimes they can be a little tough to tackle. Sometimes we adore them, but sometimes we can’t get past page 3, let alone the requisite 50. That doesn’t mean that we should give up what they have to offer, though, does it? Many of today’s authors try to use these classic works as a starting-off point to write a more modern version. If done well, these contemporary versions can have a huge impact and impart the same wisdom that made the earlier story gain its classic status. Jessica Miller and I decided to find and examine some great pairs of classics and their contemporary rewrites to see if they are successful … or maybe not.
The Classic: Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!
Whether in the voice of Laurence Olivier, Tom Hardy, or someone in-between, you’ve likely heard this soundbyte before. It is an exclamation made part way into Wuthering Heights by the passionate Heathcliff. Taken into the Earnshaw family at a very young age, Heathcliff, misunderstood and angry at the world, can’t help loving his adopted sister Catherine. But if there’s one thing Wuthering Heights tells us, it’s that love doesn’t make everything okay. There’s no fun in this huge, dysfunctional family affair. Much like one of those reality TV shows, Wuthering Heights is impossible to turn away from, just so you can find out what any of these hateful, miserable people across two generations might do to make their lives and the lives of those around them even worse. But it doesn’t all end in tragedy, which is perhaps what doesn’t leave you completely despairing of the potential for humankind.
I’m not sure if that’s what Emily Bronte wanted me to get out of it, what with Catherine and Heathcliff’s passionate, immortal love; but I couldn’t find any redemption in this novel without reading it with Heathcliff as less anti-hero and more villain.