Whether or not I would have disliked him as much if I had been able to understand a single word he said is a different matter.
Fun mini game for the day: translate this phrase into comprehensible English!
"Maister, coom hither! Miss Cathy's riven th' back off 'Th' Helmet o' Salvation,' un' Heathcliff's pawsed his fit into t' first part o' 'T' Brooad Way to Destruction!' It's fair flaysome that ye let 'em go on this gait. Ech! th' owd man wad ha' laced 'em properly—but he's goan!"
This passage, and others of its ilk, took me three attempts while I was trying to read the book in the summer - and this is one of the easier bits. Heck, I even found a page on a website that translates them so that the casual reader can keep up with him!
However, for all I can rag on about my distaste for this novel, Joseph is not the only - and probably not the worst - example of a character whose dialogue is written with an accent. It's a common enough tool, though we don't see it so much in mainstream literature nowadays because most characters nowadays speak in the same trans-atlantic metropolitan tone, just like most people do in real life, to varying degrees.
Writing accents is something that writers tend to polarise on in terms of opinion. Some think it's great; it makes the character's speech very recognisable and individual, as well as demonstrating their background and adding depth to their environment via colloquial, occupational or class-related slang. Others reckon it's a waste of time because it slows down the reading speed and disengages the reader by sending them on a ten minute mental detour attempting to work out what the heck the character is saying.
From a personal perspective, I range more toward the former opinion - once I get my eye in on the dialect, and occasionally with the help of a slang guide (as found in the back of the novels of Tamora Pierce and Trudi Canavan) I can usually adapt very quickly and easily to the accent. Furthermore, I do think, especially in historical or historically-influence stories, an accent is a great point of authenticity - even I, oft-named as a vocal derivative of Poshy MacPoshPants III, do not live solely in a world populated by those who speak in perfectly enunciated Queen's English.
That said, when it comes to how to properly integrate an accent . . . Wuthering Heights is not what I would call much of a success. Not in the least because Miss Bronte went more than slightly overboard in slaying every consonant that didn't run away fast enough.
However strong it is, an accent still has to be legible. A few emphatically dropped letters or turns of phrase will be more than sufficient to give the reader the idea. Simplicity does not mean that all accents will sound the same, either; depending which letters you drop, the sounds, even in someone's head, will be different. The type of words a character uses will work in conjunction with this - this includes slang as well as contractions and Shakespeare-esque word-smashing.
"Oh dear! That platypus looks like it's going to eat the mayor!"
"Bloomin' eck! That platypus looks like it's gonna eat the mayor!"
"Och aye! Tha' plat-pus is lookin' fit t' eat the big-wig!"
"Forsooth! Yonder duck-billed monotreme sub-species appears to be weighing up the possibility of masticating that local council official!"
. . . It does work. Honest.
That said, there are a couple of other points to keep in mind as well. If your character is going to have an accent, make sure you know what sort of sound you're going for - just chopping off random letters isn't going to automatically produce a coherent noise. Reading the passages through to yourself a couple of times will sort that out.
Furthermore, don't give your character an accent for no reason - it's the etymological equivalent of giving them purple eyes. Unless the narrative addresses why they have one, it's just going to make them, and you, look a bit silly.
Not all your characters need to have accents either, although I would advise having your character interact at least briefly with one or two others who do, or have an outsider remark upon the accent. Otherwise, it just sits there like a white elephant at a school picnic - you don't know why it's there, but maybe if you don't mention it it'll eventually seem normal.
What about you, commenters? Do you write your characters' voices with accents intact, or do you prefer not to risk making a mess? Do you find it hard to read books where the characters' dialogue is written in dialect? Leave a comment, and let me know!
~ Charley R