Monday, May 7, 2012

Literary Death Match: Jane Eyre vs. Wuthering Heights

Transcripts of previous bouts can be found here and here.

Welcome once again to Literary Death Match, the ultimate brawl in bookish blood sports. Today, we’re poised to make a little history as we welcome the works of two storied female  authors to battle it out for the crowd. Up for grabs is the title of “Best Book by a Brontë Sister.” It’s Jane Eyre  vs. Wuthering Heights, and things are about to get crazy- they may even get out of control, and thousands of fans at ShelfActualization Arena are also hoping they get just a little bit “catty.” Let’s send you that way now, to Mike Thackery and Tom Galbraith, who will be calling the match for us there.

[Mike] Thanks, Mac.  Yyyyyyyyyyyyyyyou’re looking live from ShelfActualization Arena, where thousands of literature lovers are gathered to witness the grisly demise of a beloved literary classic. Two great books, two inspiring authors, and only one ticket home. <Turns to Tom> Tom Galbraith, there’s no telling how this one will shake out today.

[Tom] Oh, no question about it, Mike. You’ve got two great books, written by sisters who have captured the imaginations of so many. You can argue the literary merits all day long, but it’s really hard to say how the sibling rivalry is going to affect the outcome of this match.

[Mike, looking at notes] Let’s talk a little bit about that. Charlotte Brontë was the oldest of three famous sisters, the author of four novels, including Jane Eyre,  yet she died before she was forty years old.

[Tom] Right.

[Mike] And Emily, two years younger than Charlotte, only lived to the age of thirty- producing just one novel in that period, and that’s Wuthering Heights.

[Tom] Correct. It’s a tragic family history. Older sisters Maria and Elizabeth both die in childhood. Their brother Branwell dies at age thirty-one. And Anne, the youngest, lives only to age twenty-nine.

[Mike] Now, she had some books of her own, if I’m not mistaken.

[Tom] That’s right, Mike. In fact, during the weigh-in last week, there was a “protest weigh-in” being held across town, where Anne’s novel Agnes Grey  held a press availability to protest her exclusion from this match- but none of the networks covered it and frankly, neither did we.

[Mike] Hmm. Let’s move on, then. Why these two books?

[Tom] Well, they’re each the signature achievement of their authors. Virginia Woolf has said that Jane Eyre  is “steeped through and through with the genius, the vehemence, the indignation of Charlotte Brontë.”

[Mike, impressed] High praise.

[Tom] Yeah, and it’s also the book, of course, that inspired Jean Rhys to pen her own subsequent classic, The Wide Sargasso Sea.

[Mike] I see. And Wuthering Heights?

[Tom] Mike, Hemingway listed Wuthering Heights  among the books he would rather read again for the first time than have an assured income of a million dollars a year- whatever that means.

[Mike] Interesting.

[Tom] Yeah, he also obsessively recorded his weight and blood pressure in his own personal copy of Wuthering Heights.  But again, not quite sure what to make of that.

[Mike] I see. Well, speaking of Hemingway, let’s take you ringside now, where the bell is about to toll for one of these fine novels.

[Tom, laughing] That’s right.  And only one of these books will get to hear the final bell today.

[Mike]  They’re spending an awful lot of time sizing one another up down there. Neither one of them seems to know how to get things started.

[Tom] Or maybe they know all too well. Remember, now, these books know each other inside and out. Given the authors’ family ties, they are almost always mentioned in the same breath.

[Mike] A few trial punches now. It’s interesting to see both of them making early use of the weather. Jane Eyre  throwing some miserable, cold, windy weather at Wuthering Heights,  but Wuthering Heights  is answering every shot with gloomy, gray skies of her own. Even an early snowstorm.

[Tom] Yeah, this is typical Yorkshire fare, Mike. Both of them could do this all day, but they’re going to have to differentiate themselves if they want any kind of advantage. Wind and rain and crappy weather aren’t going to do it today.

[Mike] Wow! And right on cue, there’s our first clean shot of the match. It seems Wuthering Heights  is taking your advice, Tom, surprising a few folks with an unexpectedly humorous opening on Mr. Lockwood’s first visit to the Heights. How’s that for differentiation?

[Tom] Well, it’s a great use of the narrator, especially since Jane Eyre  is opening with your typical sad-sack orphan story. It’s been done to death by Dickens and plenty of others, and Wuthering Heights  appears to have shaken Jane Eyre  up just a little bit.

[Mike] Shaken up or not, Jane Eyre  is coming back fast and hard now.

[Tom] And this will be interesting to watch. She is so good at spotting her opponent’s weakness. Jane Eyre  took a hard blow there, but she realizes that Wuthering Heights  has just made a crucial mistake.

[Mike] How so, Tom?

[Tom] Oh, well, she went for the old Victorian “frame story” device. The bulk of Wuthering Heights  is going to be related to the reader third-hand. The spectating housekeeper, Mrs. Dean, is basically relaying the story to the narrator, Mr. Lockwood, who then gives it to us the readers.

[Mike] And that’ll be a problem?

[Tom] Sure, I mean, look. There are going to be details, conversations between the main characters, that Mrs. Dean couldn’t possibly be privy to, and it’s even less believable that they would be delivered with any precision to Mr. Lockwood, let alone to us. It’s a mess when you consider what Jane Eyre  is doing...

[Mike] -I don’t mean to interrupt you, Tom, but speaking of things Jane Eyre  is doing, she’s managed to get Wuthering Heights  in one heckuva headlock right now.

[Tom] Yeah, this is exactly what I mean. Jane Eyre  is telling her tale in the first person. There’s a clarity and a directness that Wuthering Heights  just can’t match. And Wuthering Heights  is gonna have a hard time getting out of...

[Mike] -Ooooh! Are you kidding me?

[Tom] I spoke too soon- wow!

[Mike] Heathcliff is a gypsy foundling? Are you kidding me?

[Tom] I spoke way too soon there. Wuthering Heights  giving us some of Heathcliff’s backstory, showing great presence of mind there by grabbing the legs of Jane Eyre  and lunging into a kind of backwards body-slam to break the hold.

[Mike] Incredible. But look out! Jane Eyre  produces a gypsy character of her own!

[Tom, a little uncomfortable] I think they prefer the term Romani, Mike, but you’re absolutely right. A mysterious fortune-teller gives her a nice turnabout there.

[Mike] No! It’s not a gypsy at all! It’s Mr. Rochester in disguise! Wuthering Heights  can’t keep up. She’s spinning out there, and this crowd is on their feet.

[Tom] I gotta be honest, Mike, I didn’t see that coming at all- but it’s a little hard to swallow in retrospect. How could Jane and the other young ladies not have picked up on that?

[Mike] I don’t know, but the crowd is eating it up. Wuthering Heights  needs to do something big here is she wants to hang around long.

[Tom] And that’s exactly what she’s doing, Mike. Look at her go straight for Jane Eyre’s  eyes while she turns up the heat on Heathcliff’s and Catherine’s romance.

[Mike] And this is what they came for, folks. Wuthering Heights  has kind of tip-toed around this love story, with Heathcliff and Catherine marrying other people, but look at the furious clawing and scratching going on out there now. She’s making it clear: this isn’t Edgar’s and Catherine’s story, and it’s not Heathcliffe’s and Isabella’s story. This is Heathcliffe’s and Catherine’s story. And there’s no question the stakes have been raised.

[Tom] Maybe a little too high, at that, Mike. You’ve got Catherine incapacitated with a “brain fever” for months at a time.

[Mike] Brain fever!? What on earth is that?

[Tom] Couldn’t tell you, Mike. But it’s taken her life, and this is sounding just a little bit crazy to me.

[Mike] Call it what you want, but I’ll be darned if Wuthering Heights  isn’t half-crazy out there right now. She’s pulling hair, scratching eyes, biting and kicking. This is really getting ugly.

[Tom] Well, the crowd likes it. And Jane Eyre  is actually parrying all of this pretty well. She...

[Mike] -Ohh-ho My!

[Tom] What a hit!

[Mike] Wah-how! Calling that a hit is a bit of an understatement. Jane Eyre  just drilled Wuthering Heights  square in the face, and down she went, like a sack ‘o cement, Tom.

[Tom] That’s right. It’s almost as if Jane Eyre  got a little fed up with the craziness and said, “You like crazy? You want crazy? How about a murderous lunatic locked in the attic of Thornfield Hall?” And that’s exactly what she delivered.

[Mike] Amazing.

[Tom] She handled this very smartly, though. It’s not Jane or Mr. Rochester that’s out of their minds- it’s a secondary character. The crowd still likes her main characters. I don’t know that you can still say the same for Wuthering Heights.

[Mike] Hard to see how Wuthering Heights  can get back on her feet after that one.

[Tom] Well, she’s gonna try, Mike. Look at her out there. The character of Catherine is dead, Isabella’s gone, and Emily Brontë is going to try to reboot this story in the next generation. She’s essentially doubling down on her strategy.

[Mike] Doubling down in crazy town! What an unbelievable match so far. Let’s check in ringside. Do we have Kelly Wallace ready to go down there?

[Kelly, propped against the ring in a rigid full-body cast, an assistant holding her microphone for her] We do, Mike. It’s great to be back with you.

[Mike] Glad to have you back, Kelly. What can you tell us from your vantage point?

[Kelly] Well, like you mentioned, Mike, Wuthering Heights  is trying to stir up some Death Match magic in part two of her book, but it’s hard to say whether Cathy and Linton can capture the imagination like Heathcliffe and Catherine did.

[Mike] Kelly, tell us where Jane Eyre  goes from here.

[Kelly] Mike, Jane Eyre  has answered drama with drama out here. She’s controlling this match and is just now launching into a “part two” of her own. Jane leaves Thornfield, we meet new characters, get new questions to answer, and this crowd is on their feet in anticipation as she rains blow after blow on Wuthering Heights.

[Mike] Jane Eyre  appears to have her on the ropes, Kelly Wallace, how do you see the rest of this match playing out?

[Kelly, craning her head backward for a moment, then turning back to the camera] Good question. These fights can end so suddenly, especially with a little outside meddling, but so far we haven’t seen any blunt, heavy objects reach the ring...

<The crowd roars with excitement as Jane Eyre makes her way towards Kelly Wallace>

[Mike] Kelly!

[Kelly, shouting over the din of the crowd] But we never know what will happen when push comes to shove...

[Mike] -Kelly? <then to Tom> They need to move her away from the ring!

[Kelly] Can’t hear you, Mike. The crowd is rea... Aaaak!

<Kelly’s rigid form is lifted over the ropes and into the ring>

[Mike, grimly] Oh boy.

<Kelly Wallace’s screams continue to be heard in the background>

[Tom] Yep. It looks like Jane Eyre  has found a blunt heavy object after all, Mike.

[Mike] You’re right, Tom. Ladies and gentlemen, lifting our own Kelly Wallace into the ring and over her head, Jane Eyre  looks like she’s about to end this match in dramatic fashion.

[Tom] And a lot of people questioned Kelly’s decision to come back from her injuries so early, but you’re almost glad to see her in a body cast at this point. It might just prote...

[Mike] Here she goes!

<The crowd goes ballistic>

[Tom] Oh! Oh, that’s just awful!

[Mike] I’m speechless, folks. Arena staff hurriedly trying to pull Kelly Wallace out of the ring, where she’s landed face down. And Tom, Wuthering Heights  is out cold.

[Tom] Yep. This thing is over.

[Mike] Or is it? Jane Eyre  now reaching down and...

[Tom] -Oh, they need to ring the bell!

[Mike] … And I don’t believe it! She’s actually tearing Wuthering Heights  in half.

[Tom] Oh this is... I’m gonna be sick, Mike.

[Mike] And there’s the bell, finally  bringing this one to a close. We knew it might get ugly, but I don’t think anyone knew things would end up this bad. On the other hand, I’ve never seen a crowd so loud before. Let’s send this thing back to the studio. Over to you, Mac.

[MacEvoy] Thanks, Mike Thackery and Tom Galbraith. And thanks also to Kelly Wallace, once again, for taking one for the team. <turning to Tucker and Orlando> Gentlemen? Was this how you thought things would go down today?

<awkward silence>

[MacEvoy] Orlando, let’s start with you.

[Orlando] I, uh… I didn’t… exactly read the books.

[MacEvoy] Jeez. Okay. Tucker?

[Tucker] Me neither.

[MacEvoy] Oh, come on!

[Tucker] It’s chick-lit, isn’t it? This just isn’t my cup of tea.

[MacEvoy] Good grief. Alright, you boneheads, look. I read both books, and here’s how I see it: With all due respect to Mr. Hemingway, this one worked out about how I expected it to. We had a truly great book in Jane Eyre, going up against a perennially popular  book in Wuthering Heights.

But let’s be honest here. Wuthering Heights  was basically reality television, before television existed. It’s as if someone said ‘Let’s take a handful of anti-social miscreants, isolate them in a couple houses in the moors of Yorkshire and see what kind of craziness ensues.” And I gotta tell you, I’ve never cared less for a mangy lot of petulant misfits in my entire life. It was like taking the worst two seasons of the Bachelorette and letting them play out over a couple of generations. At the end of the book, I was begging for one character, any  character that I could actually cheer for.

On the other hand, in Jane Eyre  you’ve got a great rags-to-riches story, fantastic, well-drawn characters, unexpected twists and turns, and if you’re looking for spice, you’ve even got a lunatic arsonist locked in the attic. And yeah, maybe Jane and Mr. Rochester are ugly people, but you know what? Ugly people need love stories, too. I’d rather read about ugly people any day of the week, than read about people with such ugly souls again. Wuthering Heights, my ass. <he shutters unconsciously as he turns to another camera>

Alright, that’ll do it for us tonight. Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre,  the undisputed “Best Book by a Brontë Sister,” absolutely destroying Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.  Join us next time, when we crown “The Best Play by a Lost Generation Novelist.” It’s bound to be our most dramatic Death Match yet.

[Orlando, crumpling paper to throw at MacEvoy] Oh, that’s just bad.

[Tucker, laughing through megaphone hands] Booo! Booo!

[MacEvoy, through sportscaster chuckles] Until then, a big thank you from all of us here at ShelfActualization Studios. Have a great day.

<credits roll over silent banter and more paper throwing>

Do you disagree? Let us know in the comments.


  1. Literal LOL at "I think they prefer the term Romani." Bravo.

  2. Someone needs to green-light this shit and get it on tv. Can you imagine this series in full "claymation" glory?

  3. You nailed it. Again. Best blog series ever.

  4. Sibling rivalry at its best!

  5. Best blog post ever. Hands down. Jane Eyre and I are going to go celebrate... see you at the bar, boys!

  6. Thanks to all for the kind words.

    Jennifer, Tom Galbraith is a great color commentator, and we're lucky to have him.

    Joel, if you know how to make that happen, we're all for it.

    Michelle, thanks as always.

    Anonymous, glad you enjoyed it.

    Jillian, I knew you'd like the outcome more than anyone. Jane Eyre is every bit as good as you said it was.

    1. I was rooting for her the entire time. I was never a fan of Wuthering Heights, though to be fair, I was in sixth grade at the time, so maybe I should give it another go. So glad to hear that you enjoyed Jane Eyre! I love when others experience Jane Eyre for the first time. I am sure it won't be your last.

  7. They are both amazing novels in very different ways. However, I am partial to Wuthering Heights, as I read it first at a very young age and have a sort of sentimental attachment to it. Not to mention I tend to enjoy the more 'anti-hero' and imperfect characters in novels. I did at times get very defensive of my precious Wuthering Heights during this battle, but in the end I will say they are both excellent stories. Literature and arts comes down to interpretation and opinion, doesn't it?