Literary Corner Cafe

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Book Review - The Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susannah Clark - A Primer on the World of Faerie


Anyone who read and loved Susanna Clarke’s award winning novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is likely to find himself both enchanted and charmed by the stories contained in The Ladies of Grace Adieu.

To begin with, the actual book itself is gorgeous, but in a whimsical, rather than a pretentious, manner. The hardcover edition is embossed rather than jacketed, in shades of black and grey, and decorated with vivid pink petunias. Inside, the paper is thick and creamy, and interspersed among the pages of the book’s eight stories are twenty-two equally charming and whimsical black and white illustrations by Charles Vess.

Seven of the eight stories contained in The Ladies of Grace Adieu have been previously published and date from 1996 to 2004. The final story in the collection, “John Uskglass and the Charcoal Burner,” is the only new addition. All of the stories were new to me, however, and I found all of them to be thoroughly enchanting.

In keeping with the arch tone of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, the collection opens with a fictitious, though very believable, foreword, ostensibly written by one James Sutherland, the Director of Sidhe (Faerie) Studies at the University of Aberdeen. Whether fictitious or not, Professor Sutherland would appear to be the perfect person to have collected these lovely stories into one volume. His aim, he tells us, was two-fold:

The first is to throw some sort of light on the development of magic in the British Isles at different periods; the second is to introduce the reader to some of the ways in which Faerie can impinge upon our own quotidian world, in other words to create a sort of primer to Faerie and fairies.

And, as promised by Sutherland, all of the eight stories are related in some way to the world of Faerie. All take place in a Britain with more gateways to Faerie than one could have possibly have imagined – or wanted. And all involve the difficulties human beings face when they wittingly or unwittingly encounter the creatures we know, but may not recognize, as fairies.

The fairies in The Ladies of Grace Adieu are the same ones encountered in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, at times, deceptively charming, at other times, downright dangerous and sadistic. And, as Professor Sutherland points out in his foreword, these eight stories demonstrate “the appalling unpreparedness of the average nineteenth-century gentleman when he accidentally stumbled in Faerie.”

The collection is framed by stories featuring characters from the magnificent Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. The opening story, “The Ladies of Grace Adieu,” takes place in Grace Adieu, a little fictional village in Gloucestershire, the parish of Henry Woodhope, the brother of Arabella Strange. And, although Arabella doesn’t make an appearance in this story, her husband, Jonathan Strange, does.

The ladies in question are Mrs. Field and her ward, Miss Cassandra Parbinger, two women who visit, with noticeable regularity, Miss Tobias, the governess at Winter’s Realm. (Winter’s Realm being Grace Adieu’s great house.)

While most of the village assumes Mrs. Field and Miss Parbinger are visiting Winter’s Realm to spend time with the two orphaned children under Miss Tobias’ care, we learn this isn’t exactly the case:

It was said that the great-grandfather of these children had studied magic and that he had left behind him a library. Miss Tobias was often in the library and what she did there no one knew. Of late her two friends, Mrs. Field and Miss Parbinger, had also been at the house a great deal. But it was generally supposed that they were visiting the children. For ladies (as everyone knows) do not study magic. Magicians themselves are another matter – ladies (as everyone knows) are wild to see magicians.

When two gentlemen make a visit to Winter’s Realm, bringing with them a strange and weary young woman, the story takes a very dark and sinister turn and even Jonathan Strange, himself learns something new and surprising about the kind magic that can be wrought by women.

The final story in the book, “John Uskglass and the Cumbrian Charcoal Burner,” the only one written specifically for this volume, features yet another character from Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell – John Uskglass, of course. This, too, is a dark tale, as Uskglass is punished and tormented, however it lacks the sinister quality found in the other seven stories.

The second story, “On Lickerish Hill,” is one most readers are either going to love or heartily dislike. It’s written in a very old, rustic dialect that can be charming and whimsical in small doses, but highly annoying and difficult in larger ones.

“On Lickerish Hill” is narrated by a seventeenth-century Suffolk bride whose husband has invited the antiquarian and writer, John Aubrey to stay at his country home. I found this story enchanting and thought Clarke did an excellent job of imitating Aubrey’s style:

Mr. Meldreth, a sweet, shy gentleman the colour of dust, is for Insects and haz 237 dead ones in a box… Mr. Foxton haz shewne by Irrefutable Arguments that Cornishmen are a kind of Fishe…

Another favorite of mine was “Mr. Simonelli or the Fairy Widower,” no doubt the darkest and creepiest story in the book. In this story, a diary tale written in the tradition of Bram Stoker, Alessandro Simonelli, who thinks he’s Italian but is actually part fairy, seeks to protect the women of his village from the diabolical schemes of his fairy kinsman, John Hollyshoes.

Other stories focus on the Duke of Wellington, Mary, Queen of Scots, a magical bridge built by fairies, and a young woman determined to wrest the soul of the man she loves from a demented fairy woman. Clarke even manages to show us that the simple and genteel act of embroidery can have serious consequences when Faerie intervenes.

Clarke’s writing in these stories is just as wonderful as it is in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, though of course, the shortness of the stories causes it to lose its Dickensian touch. Her arch Austenesque wit, however, is still very much in evidence, especially when she turns her gaze to the domestic scene:

Mr. Hawkins said nothing; the Hawkins’ domestic affairs were arranged upon the principle that Fanny supplied the talk and he the silence.

She also gives, as one reviewer has said, “filigree attention to detail,” such as shown in Fanny Hawkins’ ambiguous directions to Mrs. Mabb’s home:

Beyond the hill there is a little green valley and then an ancient wood. Mrs. Mabb’s house stands betwixt the stones and the wood, but nearer to the wood than the stones.

In the end, people looking for a sequel to Jonathan and Strange and Mr. Norrell won’t find it in The Ladies of Grace Adieu. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was a big, sprawling, multi-layered masterpiece, as rich as a seven course gourmet meal. While the stories in The Ladies of Grace Adieu are written in the same mannered tone, they have a much lighter touch. And this is exactly as it should be. No short story could contain the panorama and energy of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

Readers should approach the short stories contained in The Ladies of Grace Adieu for what they are – short stories, and enjoy them for their own sake, not compare them to Strange and Norrell, for that would be very unfair and it would also be selling the stories short.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu is “must” reading for anyone who loved Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, or for readers in love with the world of Faerie. These are stories that are enchanting, graceful, whimsical, and dark. Stories that are everything we’ve come to expect from a writer as good as Susanna Clarke. Stories that, in the end, reflect the very essence of Faerie, itself.

5/5

Recommended: Definitely, to lovers of fantasy and those interested in the world of Faerie.

Author Interview - Alan Brennert Talks About "Moloka'i" and His Upcoming Novel "Honolulu" - An LCC Exclusive


Literary Corner Café is proud to publish this exclusive interview with writer, Alan Brennert, the author of the best selling novel Moloka’i. His latest novel, Honolulu will be released on March 3, 2009, and it promises to be just as good as Moloka’i.

Alan was born in Englewood, New Jersey, however since 1973 he’s lived and worked in Southern California. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in English from California State University at Long Beach, and did graduate work in screenwriting at UCLA.

Alan’s written short stories, teleplays, screenplays, and even the libretto of a stage musical, Weird Romance, which was produced in 1992 by the WPA Theatre in New York, and has since been licensed for more than a hundred regional, high school, and college productions, both in the United Stated and abroad.

Alan earned an Emmy in 1991 for his work as a writer/producer for the TV series, LA Law. He’s been nominated for an Emmy on two other occasions, a Golden Globe, and three times for the Writers’ Guild of America Award for Outstanding Teleplay of the Year. He received a People’s Choice Award for LA Law, and his short story “Ma Qui” won a Nebula in 1992.

Moloka’i was not only a best selling novel; it was a runaway hit with book clubs and reading groups. Honolulu lends itself equally well to book club discussion.

We know you’ll find this interview as enlightening and fascinating as we did.

I know your father was an aviation writer, and you have a degree in English, but when did you realize that you wanted to write for a living? What was the catalyst?

This sounds like canned ham, I know, but I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to write. The closest thing to a catalyst I can recall is receiving a toy typewriter, around age ten, from my parents—which I then used to type up the plot of an animated Oz cartoon I’d seen the night before. But the impulse to write must have been there before, or why else would my parents have given me the typewriter?My father wrote the bulk of his aviation articles in the 1940s, and by the time I came along in ’54, he had stopped writing—I think he’d told all the stories he had to tell, having been a pilot flying out of Teterboro Airport in the 1930s—and was working as a sheet metal operator for the Alcoa Company in Edgewater, New Jersey. So I didn’t grow up, strange to say, with a real awareness of him as a writer. I only discovered his work after I had already started writing, which I guess says something about genetic inheritance. But having been a writer himself, my dad never discouraged me from pursuing it as a vocation, and he and my mom certainly never hesitated to buy me any bizarro comic book I expressed an interest in, including one that would spark another passion of mine: Dennis the Menace in Hawaii, published around the time of Hawaiian statehood in 1959. It took me twenty years to follow in Dennis’s footsteps, but I made it and it’s changed my life in so many ways.

You've written screenplays, teleplays, developed miniseries and pilots, written short stories and novels. You've won an Emmy, a Nebula, and other awards. How did it feel to win such prestigious awards? Did it change your outlook on writing at all?

I can’t pretend it’s not a great feeling, walking onto the stage of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium as the orchestra plays the theme to L.A. Law. But I’d also written scripts for China Beach, which was also nominated for best dramatic series that year, and honestly that series deserved to win as much as we did that season. So I was happy to get the Emmy, but I think I had enough perspective to know that what separated me from my friends Carol Flint and John Wells on China Beach was less talent than luck.

You've written both short stories and novels as well as screenplays, teleplays, and even the libretto of a musical. Do you find one form more difficult than the others, or "just different, requiring different skills?" Al Zuckerman of Writers House once told me that screenwriters very rarely become successful novelists. Of course, this isn't true in your case – you've won awards for your teleplays – you've been very successful, and Moloka'i was a very successful book, very well received by those who read it. Do you agree with Al Zuckerman's statement, do you think a screenwriter has a different mindset, or do you think novel writing skills can be learned if screenwriters simply apply themselves?

Well, I must take some exception to Mr. Zuckerman’s statement. Sue Grafton, Robert Crais, and April Smith all began their careers writing for television and have enjoyed considerable success as novelists. Stephen J. Cannell created TV series like Wiseguy and The Rockford Files and now has a thriving career writing mystery/suspense novels. Going back a generation or two, Frank De Felitta was a television writer/director who became a bestselling novelist with Audrey Rose, and—questions of literary merit aside—Sidney Sheldon was an Oscar-winning screenwriter long before he turned to books.

If there are perhaps more novelists who have become screenwriters than the other way around, I think this is partly attributable to the fact that there’s a greater financial impetus for novelists to become screenwriters than for screenwriters to become novelists. Unless an author hits the bestseller list first time out of the gate, a career in books is often a very slow build (as I can attest, having written novels off-and-on for 25 years before I had my first bestseller in Moloka’i) and unless a screenwriter has, like me, a longstanding desire to also write prose, it’s a hard road to travel, and far less remunerative than scriptwriting. That said, there are different skill sets involved. Screenwriters rely on action, dialog, and cinematic imagery to tell a story; novelists have to engage readers on other levels as well. David E. Kelley, who I worked with on L.A. Law, once told me that he could never write a novel because “I hate writing narrative”—what mattered to him was what the characters said to each other, the drama. And he’s fantastically good at it—that’s his gift, why should he try writing a book? Similarly, novelists often feel constrained by the restrictions of the screenplay form—such as the necessity of keeping scenes 2 to 3 pages, max, when in books they’re accustomed to nearly unlimited space to develop characters and plot. Not everybody can master both forms, and not everybody wants or needs to.

Many writing instructors say that due to its tight focus the short story is the most difficult form of writing, with the exception of lyric poetry. As someone who's written both short stories and novels, and written them successfully, do you agree with this statement?

Not in my experience. I had the opposite problem when I first started writing. Short stories were easier for me because the structure was simpler: a short story doesn’t always have to be complexly plotted, it can be a simple mood piece, or a small window into someone’s soul, or a defining moment in a character’s life. A novel has to be sustained at much greater length and has to keep a reader’s interest for 200+ pages. My first novel, a paperback thriller that shall go nameless, was a typical first novel—lots of youthful energy but precious little structure. My subsequent years in screenwriting gave me a more solid grasp of structure, and I think I’m a better novelist now because of that.

Do you feel more at home with one form of writing than with others? For example, do you feel more at home with short stories than with novels?

After Moloka’i and Honolulu I’ve come to feel more at home writing novels. I’m actually working on a short story now—the first I’ve written in ten years—and it took me a while to get back into the mindset of doing short fiction. At first, all the ideas I kept coming up with turned out to be better suited to novels!

I know you decided to write Moloka'i when the miniseries you wrote for Kevin Costner's production company was not picked up by the network. The miniseries, if I'm not mistaken, was about the founding of the state of Texas, where Moloka'i takes place at a leper colony on the Hawaiian island of the same name. Why did you choose to set your book in Hawaii, a place so different from Texas? What drew you to the story? It seems a big shift in gears and one requiring much research.

The miniseries was based on a fine novel by David Marion Wilkinson called Not Between Brothers; I had no special affinity for Texas myself, my job was to dramatize David’s vision. But I have had, as noted, a long love affair with Hawai’i—I’d been going there at least once a year for twenty years when I began Moloka’i—and so felt comfortable using the islands as a setting for a novel. At first I imagined it would be a contemporary story set on Moloka’i, but the more I learned about Kalaupapa the more I realized that this was the story I should be telling. The fact that I had just done a historical script in Not Between Brothers did give me the confidence to tackle a historical novel, but I soon discovered that Moloka’i required enormously more research than I’d had to do for Brothers. Still, it was a subject I was passionate about, and I enjoyed every minute of the research and writing (and all those brutal research trips to Hawai’i).
In Moloka'i, your protagonists are a native Hawaiian girl/woman and a Japanese man. In Honolulu, your protagonist is a young Korean woman. Is it difficult for you to write about people from other cultures? And, since you're a man, how difficult is it making a point-of-view character a woman? Did you feel a connection with Rachel and Sister Catherine in Moloka'i, and with Jin in Honolulu? Or did you feel more of a connection with the male characters in the books?

You have to feel a connection with your protagonists, regardless of their gender, or you can’t make the reader feel a connection. I’ve always been a very emotional writer, and since women tend to be freer in expressing their emotions, writing from a female point of view is comfortable for me. Writing from a different cultural viewpoint is much harder. Rachel wasn’t too difficult, because she grew up in a fairly Westernized Hawai’i and I knew a good deal about Hawaiian culture going in. But Jin presented me with challenges. In writing about a character’s childhood, for instance, a writer tends to look to one’s own childhood for touchstones. But time and again I would write something, then find myself thinking, “Would kids have done that in Korea?”—and I’d scurry to my research books, where half the time I would find that, no, they wouldn’t have done that in Korea, and I’d have to go back and revise what I’d written. Just locating some of the necessary historical reference—such as how girls were named, or not named, in that era—required days and days of scouring library databases for a book that might yield one or two useful lines of information. But I do like challenges, and even if Honolulu took a little more time to write than I’d anticipated (and ask my editor: it did) it was important to me to get it as right as I could make it.

Is there anything in particular you want to say to your readers with Moloka'i and Honolulu, and do you feel you've accomplished what you set out to do?

Both books are about the history of a place I love—a history which mainland readers often aren’t familiar with—so if I can help raise awareness that, for example, Native Hawaiians really had no say in whether their homeland was annexed to the United States, I’m proud to do that. And both books are concerned with the ordinary people behind the history—that’s what I’m primarily interested in exploring, and I hope readers are as well.

You've written so much. Is there a particular theme in your writing, something you really want to explore? In your Nebula winning story, "Ma Qui," which everyone should read, by the way, revolves around a ghost. Ghosts fascinate many of us. What about you? Are you fascinated by their possible existence, or is this theme simply an outgrowth from your work on The Twilight Zone?

Ghosts are always an appealing device for writers since they can serve as metaphors for so many things: memories, pain, loss, the human capacity for evil, or for good... Or they can be treated more literally, as in “Ma Qui,” where my creative impulse was the question, “What if every religion is right? What if each belief system makes its own heaven and hell?” I’m not sure I believe in the existence of ghosts, but I don’t disbelieve, either: I like to think I’m a true agnostic, willing to keep an open mind.

(This exclusive interview with Alan Brennert will be continued.)

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Friday, December 5, 2008

Book Review - The Classics - Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte - “This abyss where I cannot find you! I cannot live without my soul!”


When I read Wuthering Heights the first time, as a teenager, I thought it was the most romantic book I’d ever experienced. I still feel that way, but now, as an adult reader, I’m far better able to appreciate the book’s violence, its extreme use of the natural world, the juxtaposition of primitivism and civilization and the book’s beautiful structural symmetry.

Wuthering Heights opens in 1801 with the narration of Lockwood, a self-styled misanthrope who, despite his aversion to society, has been thwarted in love and is now renting Thrushcross Grange in Yorkshire from its owner, the dark and brooding Heathcliff.

Annoyed by the housework being done at Thrushcross Grange, Lockwood sets out for a walk one wintry day and arrives at Wuthering Heights just as the snow is beginning to fall. He finds the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights very strange people, indeed. Besides Heathcliff, there’s Catherine Heathcliff, a beautiful young woman Lockwood mistakenly believes to be Heathcliff’s wife; there’s Hareton Earnshaw, a semi-literate young man who is the uncle of Catherine; and, there’s Joseph, a religious zealot.

Although Lockwood tries to make his escape back to Thrushcross Grange, the snow and the darkness make it impossible. Zillah, Heathcliff’s cook, takes pity on Lockwood and installs him in a room which, she says, Heathcliff would prefer be left unoccupied. Although Zillah doesn’t know to whom the room belongs, Lockwood notices three names written across the window ledge: Catherine Earnshaw, Catherine Linton, and Catherine Heathcliff. That night, the ghost of Catherine Earnshaw Linton appears to Lockwood, unsettling him further and, the next day, he returns to Thrushcross Grange.

The above comprises the first three chapters of Wuthering Heights and in these first three chapters one can see the importance the natural world is going to play in the unfolding of this novel. Emily Brontë, herself, was a child of the moors, the snowstorms and the heather of Yorkshire. Although bleak, the Yorkshire landscape holds tremendous wildness and unbridled passion and Emily Brontë was deeply attached to that passion…so much so that she rarely spent any time away from home and, even as she was dying, her older sister, Charlotte, ran to pluck the last of the heather for Emily, one more time.

Wuthering Heights is deeply rooted in the beauty and wildness of the moors, something that can be found in the characters of both Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff. Both Catherine and Heathcliff are creatures of nature. Neither can tolerate the indoors for long, and they are happiest when they’re roaming the moors, among the heather, wild and free.

When Lockwood arrives safely back at Thrushcross Grange, he imposes on Nelly (Ellen) Dean to tell him the history of Wuthering Heights and, with Chapter Four, we leave Lockwood’s narrative and enter Nellie’s, which comprises the bulk of the book.

Wuthering Heights, Nelly tells Lockwood, is home to the turbulent past of two families, the Earnshaws of the Heights, and the Lintons of the Grange. Nelly sets the beginning of her story in the year 1760, when the master of Wuthering Heights returned from a trip to Liverpool with a "...dirty, ragged, black-haired" child he called Heathcliff. Although Mrs. Earnshaw and her son, Hindley, take an instant dislike to Heathcliff, Catherine sees in him a kindred spirit and truly, from the moment of their meeting, Heathcliff and Catherine, though their lives will not always follow the same path, will never be parted in spirit.

As the years go by, Heathcliff and Catherine grow close and, as Hindley put it:

It was one of their chief amusements to run away to the moors in the morning and remain there all day, and after punishment grew a mere thing to laugh at.

Life, for Heathcliff and Catherine, changes one day when they come upon Thrushcross Grange and decide to spy on the Linton family. While admiring the Linton’s refined manners and fine clothes and furniture, Catherine is bitten by a dog and taken in to the Grange to recover while Heathcliff is sent back to the Heights. When Catherine does return home to the Heights, in many respects, she is not the same Catherine who Heathcliff left at Thrushcross Grange. This plot point marks the end of the almost idyllic happiness that Heathcliff and Catherine shared, just as it marks the beginning of Catherine’s desire to inhabit both the refined world of Edgar Linton, as represented by Thrushcross Grange and the stormy world of Heathcliff’s unbridled passion, as represented by Wuthering Heights.

Catherine’s brother, Hindley’s wife, Frances, dies soon after giving birth to Hareton, and Hindley finds himself lost in a downward spiral, morally, emotionally and spiritually. As Nelly Dean puts it he:

…had room in his heart for only two idols, his wife and himself, he doted on both and adored one.

Catherine, who is not aware that Heathcliff is listening, tells Nelly Dean that she wants to marry Edgar Linton, but her reasons, it would seem, are not the best:

…he will be rich, and I shall like to be the greatest woman in the neighborhood, and I shall be proud of such a husband.

Yet, Catherine knows that a marriage to Edgar Linton would, most probably result in tragedy, for she goes on to say:

I have no more business to marry Edgar Linton than I have to be in heaven; and if the wicked man in there had not brought Heathcliff so low, I shouldn’t have thought of it. It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff, now, so he shall never know how I love him, and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same, and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightening, or frost from fire….Every Linton on the face of the earth might melt into nothing, before I could consent to forsake Heathcliff….I am Heathcliff, he’s always, always in my mind, not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being.

These statements of Catherine’s are the key to her relationship with Heathcliff. I think it’s important to note that Catherine and Heathcliff never consummate their love, yet they love each other far, far more, and in a far deeper, more spiritual and enduring manner than do many people who consummate their love every day of the year. Heathcliff and Catherine have a connection that is deeper than love; more meaningful than love’s physical expression could ever be.

Despite their deep connection, both Heathcliff and Catherine marry others, and both marry for all the wrong reasons: Catherine for social standing and Heathcliff in an act of revenge. And predictably, these marriages lead to tragedy, the first being the death of Catherine Earnshaw Linton shortly after the birth of her daughter and Edgar’s, also named Cathy. There is a passionate scene between Catherine and Heathcliff that occurs shortly before her death during which Catherine asks for Heathcliff’s forgiveness. He answers:

It is hard to forgive, and to look at those eyes, and feel those wasted hands….I love my murderer, but yours! How can I?

And, the reunion between the still pregnant Catherine and the stormy Heathcliff is nothing if not violent. The two can’t get enough of each other, and their need for each other is so great that they find themselves tearing out each other’s hair and leaving bruises on each other as physical manifestations of their love.

The reunion of Catherine and Heathcliff, and Catherine’s death only a few hours later, mark the emotional climax of Wuthering Heights. In fact, if you’ve only seen a film version of this passionately romantic novel, this may be all of the story you know. But, there is much, much more, and it is in the second part of the book that Brontë displays the remarkable symmetry and structural balance of her novel, for the intertwining stories of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange have not concluded. There is a second generation of Earnshaws and Lintons and Heathcliffs who must have their say.

In detailing the story of the second generation, Brontë moves from the passionate, wind-swept world of violence and death back to the world of childhood. Is this a second chance? No, not really, for second chances don’t really exist, and especially not after death.

Although Cathy Linton is a strong and beautiful young woman, and in personality, if not in looks, resembles her mother, her cousin, Linton Heathcliff, the son of Heathcliff and Isabella Linton, is nothing like his father. Sick and peevish, Linton wants nothing more than to be indulged. And, it should be noted, that Cathy meets Linton in the same way her mother, Catherine, met Edgar…through trespassing on his father’s land. This is but one of the instances of symmetry with which Brontë has peppered her book.

Yet, even in this story of the “second generation,” the passionate love of Heathcliff and Catherine has not been forgotten. One night, eighteen years after Catherine’s death, Heathcliff, feeling close to death, himself, bribes the church sexton to exhume Catherine’s body just "to have her in his arms once again." And, he makes arrangements to have his own body buried with Catherine’s, so that when both return to dust and ashes, no one will be able to part them, indeed, no one will be able to tell "which is which."

The novel ends with a beautiful structural symmetry that shouldn’t really surprise any astute reader. Catherine Earnshaw, of the earlier generation becomes Catherine Linton. Catherine Linton, of the second generation, becomes Catherine Earnshaw. Life moves from the wildly violent Wuthering Heights to the placid and “civilized” Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff, after his death, is almost non-existent. Nothing of him is left behind and no one mourns his passing. But in Brontë’s world, that’s as it should be, since Heathcliff was not of this world; his world was Catherine, only Catherine:

The more ordinary faces of men, and women, my own features mock me with a resemblance. The entire world is a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her!

When Lockwood comes upon the graves of Catherine Earnshaw Linton, Edgar Linton and Heathcliff, he:

…wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for sleepers in that quiet earth.

Brontë made the necessary distinctions in class and education when writing each character’s dialogue. Each one of the personalities that people Wuthering Heights has a very distinctive voice. Sometimes the dialect is a bit difficult to read, but I think most readers will get used to it after a few pages. It’s certainly not enough to cause real trouble.

Most people see Wuthering Heights as the most romantic love story ever written. or perhaps the most passionate. Yet, as I mentioned previously, Heathcliff and Catherine, the book’s most passionate characters never consummate their love. Brontë never tells us exactly why, for the two certainly had several chances to do so. Perhaps it’s because they were raised as siblings. More likely it’s because Brontë knew that unconsummated love is often stronger than love that is consummated. It’s human nature to desire that which is out of reach and Catherine only becomes more out of reach, as far as Heathcliff is concerned, as the book progresses.

Wuthering Heights is a book that pushes the idea, and the ideal, of “union” to the extreme, especially in Heathcliff’s final wish to buried, not beside Catherine, but actually with her. It is also interesting to note that while Heathcliff has a tremendous propensity toward violence, we, as readers, never doubt his passion and love for Catherine. She is everything to him; she is his soul, perhaps even more than he was hers. And Heathcliff is definitely a Byronic character, filled with brooding darkness, stormy poeticism, and unbridled romanticism.

Another thing to consider when reading this book is that Brontë gave the most passionate and lasting emotions to, perhaps, her most flawed characters…Catherine and Heathcliff. In comparison, the love that Cathy and Hareton share is quite mild, and except for the two involved, quite forgettable. Another thing that is very important for me, is the fact that Bronte often ascribes seemingly “male” characteristics to females, e.g., the high spirits and stubbornness of both Catherines and seemingly “female” characteristics to males, e.g., the desire of Linton to be indulged.

Wuthering Heights is, of course, a story of excess, but it is a glorious story of excess. And I think part of its timeless appeal lies in the fact that most passionate women, if given the chance, would actually choose to be loved with the all-consuming love Heathcliff showed Catherine. Intense and poetic, Wuthering Heights richly deserves its reputation as English literature’s most passionate love story.

5/5

Recommended: Absolutely, not to be ignored.