Saturday, September 13, 2008

Sunday Salon - I am Heathcliff.

I am still on a 19th century novel kick - both as 'research' for my new novel and taking advantage of my academic setting this year by attending lectures on the subject.

I can't remember when I last read Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, but it must have been a long time, because I am finding it as fresh and interesting as if it were the first time. There is so much I could say about it here, but I'll be saving it for the essay I'm going to write. Yes, you read correctly - I have decided to tackle a third year academic essay 18 years after I last studied Victorian literature at university.

Let's just say that for what is arguably the greatest romance ever written in the English language, the lovers are two of the most unlikeable heroes and heroines you are likely to meet, and the love story unconventional to say the least. I remember thinking that the first time I read it, but now my reaction is a bit more complex.

For example, everything we know about Heathcliff and Cathy is not from their point of view, but through the eyes of Nelly Dean, the nurse, and she brings all her morals and standards and prejudices to her view of them. I feel as though I understand them so much better now that an older me is taking the narrative with a grain of salt and reading between the lines.

Cathy is certainly spoiled, and Heathcliff a bit of a thug, but that doesn't stop me from feeling for them when they are kept apart and their love is unrequited, save for some kisses and tears just before Cathy's demise.

I love reading it at the same time as gong to lectures, which are opening my eyes to so many aspects of the novel as I read it. I had always imagined, even after I read it, that WH was so evocative in its descriptions of the wild Yorkshire moors; in the edition I'm reading, it even says as much on the back cover. But the moors are never described directly; all the action takes place either at Wuthering Heights or Thrushcross Grange. Instead, the moors are really brought to life in the descriptions of Heathcliff, when he is compared to the natural landscape. Heathcliff is the moors.

I could go on but I think I'll save it. I am thoroughly excited by the prospect of writing an essay and putting into it everything that I didn't when I was younger and more distracted. I am also excited by how re-immersing myself in the world of the Victorian novel has reinvigorated my own novel and taken it in a new direction, which proves once again that you can't write a novel without reading and appreciating those who have gone before. 

17 comments:

Joanne Ganley said...

Author Alice Hoffman has written a short essay on Wuthering Heights. If you haven't already seen it go to "other writing" on her website www.alicehoffman.com
I started reading it a few weeks back but the library had another reserve on it, unfortunately. I will have to pay a visit to the book shop.

Gondal-girl said...

love it love it love it. WH is one of those books that one can go back to and it still shines. I had an essay as a 21 year old on WH. The question was is the love story redemptive - I argued yes, in its way with examples, but my tutor scrawled NOOOOO basically all over it, with the comment it is a trick question....

Perfect book
lovely post

Rachael King said...

Great, thanks Joanne! Will check it out.

Rachael King said...

Hmmm... is it redemptive? I'd have to think about that. I'm sure you could argue either way quite effectively.

Gondal-girl said...

I think I read somewhere that Alice Hoffman also re-wrote WH in a novel/ updated to Southern USA or something or other....

Rachael King said...

I have another idea to do with WH, but I'm too paranoid to talk about it on the internet!

gautami tripathy said...

Wuthering Heights remains to be one of my favourite reads. Heathcliff was the first anti-hero I read about.

Waking upto SS after a day of serial blasts in Delhi

Mary McCallum said...

Passionate post, Rachael. You've inspired me to re-read Wuthering Heights now! (Um maybe in the holidays)....

Clare Dudman said...

Yes, I re-read it recently for a book group in France. There was an interesting reaction to it - almost everyone (in this female-rich group) had read it as an adolescent and loved it then. But when they re-read half loved it as much and half found it a little overwrought.

I had forgotten the interesting structure, and how innovative that must have been then. I also couldn't chase Kate Bush's voice out of my head! It must be great looking at it again in class. Enjoy your essay!

Rachael King said...

Ha ha, yes I know what you mean about Kate Bush - when Lockwood sees the waif at the window saying "I'm come home..."

Mark Hubbard said...

Can you just sit in on the lectures at Canterbury, or do you have to be enrolled in the relevant course?

Rachael King said...

I'd say you have to be enrolled. I am on staff and have the permission of the lecturer.

Besides, the year 3 classes are pretty small so you couldn't just blend in!

Mark Hubbard said...

Katherine Mansfield Talk.

Just a thought Rachael. The below notice came out in our little (very little) local Diamond Harbour rag two weeks ago. I suspect it hasn't been advertised anywhere else, but the lady (see below) deserves as wide an audience as she can get - I'm trying to clear the night, although it might be the one day this month I've got to go to Geraldine. I don't know if the Art's Department (literature) has a notice board, or such like (possibly an Intranet?), but you, or someone, might want to put this up - it's on Thursday night. In case anyone is wondering, Diamond Harbour is about a forty five minute drive from Christchurch (just over the hill, via Dyers Pass, or through the Lyttelton tunnel, pending which part of town you come from. (Actually the quickest way would be to take the four minute ferry ride across the Harbour from Lyttelton to the Diamond Harbour wharf - it's only a five minute walk from the wharf to the Rugby Rooms. Six minutes walk if you're unfit - all uphill).

Copied straight from the newsletter:


'Margaret Scott, transcriber and editor of Katherine Mansfield Notebooks, will present a paper on her work at 7.30 pm on Thursday, 18 September, in the Rugby Club Rooms, Diamond Harbour.

This paper was prepared for the international conference on Katehrine Mansfield this month, but when it appeared Margaret was unable to go to London to deliver it, a group in Diamond Harbour arranged for her to give the paper in our village. The major work in Margaret's life has been decipering Mansfield's notoriously difficult handwriting and transcribing all the manuscripts for the two volume edition of The Katherine Mansfield Notebooks, and the five volume edition of The Collected Letters of Katherine Mansfield.

She will talk about how the situation arose, and how it progressed, and will then discuss Mansfield's faithful companion Ida Baker. Margaret was lucky enough to get to know her towards the end of her life.

Refreshments will be served.

Gold coin admission.

Rachael King said...

Thanks Mark, I have circulated it amongst the English department.

Colleen said...

19th Century novels are my absolute favorite. I took as many classes as I could about Victorian novels in college.
I love how Wuthering Heights has "the most unlikable" characters too. That's usually why people don't like the novel, but I think it's just one example of Emily Bronte's ability to go extremes.
Have you read anything by George Eliot? She is my favorite Victorian writer.

Rachael King said...

Yes I have read The Mill on the Floss which was great, and have always intended to read Middlemarch - one day!

Donna said...

I agree with Colleen about George Eliot. Middlemarch is brilliantly dense and engaging, as is Daniel Deronda. Modern Victorian novels can be pretty wonderful too.

You've reminded me I've got a dvd I must watch of WH - starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche. Looking forward to seeing Ralph ratchet up the Heathcliff smoulder factor.