Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Classic Coup Heathcliff and Gatsby/Jenny Mandeville Photographer

Consider Johnny Depp. While he endeared women as Edward Scissorhands, J. M. Barrie, and Gilbert Grape, he made them downright swoon in Chocolat and Blow. And this summer when Johnny D played John Dillinger, like his love interest in Public Enemies, females everywhere found him to die for--literally. Even those of us who hate violence sacrificed a piece of our hearing and all of our hearts to a convicted criminal. We sat through over two hours of machine gun rapid fire solely to see the love story of an outlaw whose weakness was a hat check girl.

The allure goes so much deeper than Depp. It's not just about a pretty face or his being one of the greatest actors of our time. Classic movies, like books, are character-driven. So what’s the appeal of a gypsy drifter, a boy-next-door drug smuggler, and a bravado-slinging bank robber? It’s the edge-thing…A combination of danger, intensity, and confidence (if not swagger). But it’s also the belief women have been clinging to since Beauty and the Beast whether they read the classic or saw the Disney movie--that under the rough exterior is an ultimately good heart. That with the right woman, the diamond-in-the-rough will shine. That when a bad boy finds his soul mate, he’ll be tamed. Or when a tortured soul-- like, say Edward of the Twilight series--meets his match, he'll be humanized and whole.

It’s an old story.
So where did this obsession with bad boys on the screen, in literature, and in real life begin? In Wuthering Heights… with a character so large he’s known by a single name: Heathcliff. The original rebel and prototype for characters later played by Marlon Brando and James Dean, Heathcliff is the smoldering, mysterious outcast-- the strong silent type who is volatile with enemies but undone by the woman he loves. Mistreated as a child, he acts out as an adult. Rebels love and hate hotly. They’d rather burn out than rust out which seems far more exciting. They are passion incarnate. Thus Heathcliff loyally loves the same woman from the time they are four until beyond the grave. Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting, Brad Pitt’s in Legends of the Fall, and Matt Dillon’s in The Outsiders all descended from Heathcliff. Most rebels are laden with baggage and have women waiting to carry it for them. Women who think they will rewrite Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird” but fail. Mostly because they are more Isabella than Catherine. Seemingly it takes a strong woman to handle a strong man. And maybe it's in the story of June and Johnny Cash.

One thing is for sure. Readers of
Wuthering Heights either get Heathcliff or they don’t. They love him or hate him. They deem his actions as righteous anger or base revenge. They see him as a victim or victimizer, an underdog or an overlord. They see Catherine and Heathcliff as peerless lovers or pathetic codependents. How do you view Heathcliff? We want to know. Give us your comments on the book or tell us about your own Bad Boy Binge. And check our our Heathcliff shirt--in honor of my first bad boy crush.

1 comment:

  1. This might be a duplicate - signing in to comment is complicated -
    Anyway, I wrote about Wuthering Heights recently
    but there's a whole bunch of Heathcliff writings not online yet. But you've inspired me to put that on the To-Do list.