Nelly, I am Heathcliff!
I wouldn’t be you!
Whoa! Emily Brontë, where did that come from?! As I was perusing this novel, I was just as intrigued by the person who wrote the story as by the novel itself. Who was this Emily Brontë who dared imagine and put into words this bold, brash, intense, in-your-face story? How courageous; how risky; how different; how honest. I like her.
What is it about a good novel that gives us a connection with its author, even when the author is long gone and experienced a far different world from our own? I could read a recently published novel and would be indifferent about the contemporary author if he or she didn’t move me. But reading Brontë’s novel, I wished that I knew her, that I were alive when she was alive, so I could hear her innermost thoughts.
And I couldn’t help liking the novel either. Brontë didn’t like to beat around the bush, or so it seems. I think she wanted to expose us, herself included, in the starkness of our ugly souls. I almost hesitate to call it a love story, because it’s as if that part of the plot was but a tool to showcase some of the worst consequences of a most passionate love. And yet I am envious, envious of Catherine and Heathcliff. I covet the connection that enables two people to understand each other so completely and unmistakably thay they feel like one.
I cannot express it; but surely you and everybody have a notion that there is or should be an existence of yours beyond you. What were the use of my creation, if I were entirely contained here?
And yet the novel ends so that we see more than the ugliness. Ugliness begets ugliness, unless we find in ourselves a way out. The same emotional bond that destroys can save us. At this point in the story, Brontë threw me for a loop: After what has been a tumultuous plot comes in stark contrast the scene where Cathy is teaching Hareton how to read, and my heart leapt. Is the love between Catherine and Hareton less passionate than that between Catherine and Heathcliff? I do not think so. More sappy, perhaps, but maybe not less passionate; and one knew (or imagined) that they would love each other at least to the grave.
I thought that the narration of the story was unique. There were actually two narrators: Nelly Dean, the servant who was witness to most events, and Mr. Lockwood, Heathcliff’s new tenant at Thrushcross Grange, and who seemed to be socially inept, especially with the ladies. What makes it remarkable is that Brontë switched between these two narrators at some points in the story, and I hardly noticed. For a story that was savage at some points and chock-full with intense emotions throughout, the narration was low-key, and I can imagine myself peacefully rereading this novel in the near future on some rainy nights.
From Catherine Earnshaw to Catherine Linton; from Catherine Linton to Catherine Heathcliff to would-be Catherine Earnshaw; from Hareton Earnshaw to Hindley Earnshaw to Hareton Earnshaw, not to mention Heathcliff, just Heathcliff; from Edgar and Isabella Linton to Linton Heathcliff. Emily Brontë, oh how your imagination plays with us, and I love you.
Finally, here is another of Emily Brontë’s poems. I include it because, since we are on the subject of deep and abiding love, well, it seems to fit. And because I like it.
Remembrance Cold in the earth--and the deep snow piled above thee, Far, far, removed, cold in the dreary grave! Have I forgot, my only Love, to love thee, Severed at last by Time's all-severing wave? Now, when alone, do my thoughts no longer hover Over the mountains, on that northern shore, Resting their wings where heath and fern-leaves cover Thy noble heart for ever, ever more? Cold in the earth--and fifteen wild Decembers, From those brown hills, have melted into spring: Faithful, indeed, is the spirit that remembers After such years of change and suffering! Sweet Love of youth, forgive, if I forget thee, While the world's tide is bearing me along; Other desires and other hopes beset me, Hopes which obscure, but cannot do thee wrong! No later light has lightened up my heaven, No second morn has ever shone for me; All my life's bliss from thy dear life was given, All my life's bliss is in the grave with thee. But, when the days of golden dreams had perished, And even Despair was powerless to destroy; Then did I learn how existence could be cherished, Strengthened, and fed without the aid of joy. Then did I check the tears of useless passion-- Weaned my young soul from yearning after thine; Sternly denied its burning wish to hasten Down to that tomb already more than mine. And, even yet, I dare not let it languish, Dare not indulge in memory's rapturous pain; Once drinking deep of that divinest anguish, How could I seek the empty world again?
(Blogger’s note: I’m glad I have read this novel. I remember my Mom comically aping a scene from an old movie adaptation—where Catherine was shouting “Heathcliiiiiff!”—whenever Wuthering Heights was mentioned. She must have liked the movie. :))
Often a second-hand book would wave to me from a bookshop shelf without my meaning to look for it, like a dog in a kennel looking to be adopted. Which is why I frequently browse my favorite used-books store. This is what waved to me the other day: The Complete Poems of Emily Jane Brontë, edited by Janet Gezari (Penguin Books, 1992). (Note that the illustration on the cover is a pencil drawing of a fir-tree by Emily Brontë.)
This collection contains 182 of Emily Brontë’s extant poems, 21 of which were published in the 1846 book of poems written by Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë—Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell—the names referring to their respective pseudonyms (this 1846 collection of poems is available from Project Gutenberg). The editor, Gezari, seems to have performed more than satisfactory and painstaking scholarship in putting together this collection. In the introduction, Gezari presents a brief historical survey of Emily Brontë’s poems, and details the choices and decisions which she made regarding the copy-text she used for the poems in this collection, the ordering, the amalgamation of fragments, titles, spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. The book also includes extensive notes at the back. Because relevant dates for most of the poems are included, it is possible to study how Brontë’s poetry changed with age.
Emily Brontë died in 1848 at a young age of 30; Anne died in 1849 at the age of 29. Charlotte was the last of the siblings to die, in 1855 at the age of 38. In the notes section, it is said that Charlotte only discovered Emily’s poems ‘one day, in the autumn of 1845,’ which implies that Emily kept her poems a secret, at least from Charlotte. It was also interesting to learn that Charlotte edited seventeen of Emily’s poems to accompany a new edition of Wuthering Heights in 1850. Indeed, when I compared the version of ‘No coward soul is mine’ printed in my copy of the 1943 Oxford Book of English Verse (another book that waved to me) to that in this new collection, which includes both Emily’s and Charlotte’s versions, I found that Charlotte’s changes persisted.
Now, although I am not indifferent to poetry—I have actually tried to educate myself on the subject—I am hardly qualified to pass literary judgement on a poem. However, I do not demand much, and it is enough that a poem gets to me and makes me feel and makes me think and sings to me and stays. If I have to rely on professional literary criticism for this judgement, then I am hopeless. I therefore proclaim, after perusing this collection, that Emily Brontë is a genius.
Brontë’s poems were written in definite measures and rhyme schemes, as is to be expected of poems from that period. They are ‘melodious’ and I find that I thoroughly enjoy reading them. As a sample, I reproduce, verbatim, one of the poems in the collection, written by Brontë in November 1837, when she was 19 years of age. Note that ‘Gondal’ is the name of an imaginary island invented by Emily and Anne and which was to have figured in their ‘Gondal Chronicles.’
Now trust a heart that trusts in you And firmly say the word Adieu Be sure wherever I may roam My heart is with your heart at home Unless there be no truth on earth And vows meant true are nothing worth And mortal man have no control Over his own unhappy soul Unless I change in every thought And memory will restore me nought And all I have of virtue die Beneath far Gondal's Foreign sky The mountain peasant loves the heath Better than richest plains beneath He would not give one moorland wild For all the fields that ever smiled And whiter brows than yours may be And rosier cheeks my eyes may see And lightning looks from orbs divine About my pathway burn and shine But that pure light changeless and strong Cherished and watched and nursed so long That love that first its glory gave Shall be my pole star to the grave