Unsympathetic

As a college undergrad, I wrote a story about a little girl who lived in a house by the sea. She was beautiful (bright eyes, ringlet hair) but petulant (she bit the therapist her parents called in to help her). My professor said the writing was beautiful, but the little girl was totally unsympathetic.

“To have a successful story, you have to have a sympathetic main character,” he told me.

Apparently nobody told Emily Bronte that.

I’m reading Wuthering Heights. And there is not a single redeemable character in the entire book, other than the maid, Nelly. I find myself so completely disgusted with every one of the characters, that I’m resisting the urge to throw my Nook at a wall. And still, every thing that happens, builds on the tension of the story, and makes me more exasperated, which means that there’s some part of me invested in seeing how things turn out. Half-way through, I am only hoping that every single character in the book dies horribly, and since so many are dead already, I’m feeling confident about a Hamlet ending.

I keep marvelling at my good fortune that I never had to read this for a class, and pitying the poor liberal arts students who do, and berating myself for ever thinking this was worth my time.

And yet, in that scene when Cathy and Heathcliff secretly meet before she dies, even though the two of them are thoroughly awful during the episode, worse than they ever were before, you would have to have a heart of stone not to feel sorry for them.

So I suppose it was worthwhile after all because to make a reader feel sympathy for the devil and his mistress takes some really, REALLY good writing.

Wuthering Heights is a study in how to create a tight and engaging plot. The ante is upped at every turn. Characters find themselves in mortal or moral peril at diferent points in the story. And all despite utterly unsympathetic main characters.

A total classic.

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4 thoughts on “Unsympathetic

  1. amanda says:

    I would have to say that even Nelly isn’t a sympathetic character, and she definitely can’t be trusted. I did not love this book, but there was a wildness to it that was appealing.

  2. Tracey says:

    Marcy, I think the argument for symapthetic characters is that the audience feels for them, so they’re invested in the character’s journey. Characters can often do awful things, and yet remain sympathetic because we understand them, as is the case for Marie in your book. At least, as I understand it.

    However, I find nearly every person in Wuthering Heights irredeemable.

    Amanda, I hear you on Nelly. I only gave her a pass because she’s a servant and finds herself between a rock and a hard place at times. Though I wish she would just quit. God, I would. Then again, I’m only 1/2 way through the book, so by the end I might not like her much either.

  3. Tracey says:

    You know, I forgot to thank you guys for stopping by the blog and commenting. Where are my manners? Maybe in the same deep dark hole as my kids’ manners today…

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