Wuthering Heights. I’ve grown to love it. I did it myself on my English BA at Birmingham back in the 1980s but then hadn’t reread it until my colleague Ben Colbert suggested it went on to the Victorians course a few years ago. When I announced at the end of last week’s session that “…and next week it’s Wuthering Heights…” there was an audible cheer from near the back. I don’t get that reaction often so I found myself ruminating over the week about what it is that makes this novel so loved.
I create a handout which features critical comments on or responses to the novel from its first publication in 1847 to the latter twentieth century. I’m struck anew by the metaphoric power of Charlotte Brontë’s final paragraph in her 1850 edition ‘Preface’ when she images the novel as hewn from the rough granite of the Moors into something both terrible and beautiful. By the early twentieth century the novel has been canonized as about universal human themes of mythic proportions. I offer further quotes that (1) read the novel from a Freudian, familial perspective, (2) deconstruct it and (3) suggest it’s a work about the disappearance of God, to quote J. Hillis Miller’s well-known book. We then get to more ‘located’ readings by Arnold Kettle and Terry Eagleton and end up with Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s reading of it as a parodic re-reading of Paradise Lost in The Madwoman in the Attic (1979).
We end up with enough time to spare at the end of the lecture hour for me to ask ‘Whither Wuthering Heights?’ and I have an excuse to show some favourite Youtube clips. I realise that most of my class weren’t even glimmers on the far horizon of life when Kate Bush released her iconic song in 1979 but I show them the video anyway. Youtube has a red dress version (outside in the woods, presumably on the moors) and the original white faintly see-through dress studio version. I’m sure Kate Bush single-handedly started a revolution in wafty aerobic dancing with those videos. And I’d forgoten the cartwheels in the studio version. Never mind Catherine Earnshaw saying “I am Heathcliff”, I think Kate Bush is Cathy. She is very convincing as a slightly crazed lovesick ghost. We then progress to the National Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain’s version. I love this. Particularly when the sheep join in near the end. We end up with Monty Python’s Semaphore Version of Wuthering Heights which is a parody of the 1939 film with Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon (dir. William Wyler). I hesitate to analyse to myself why this is so funny for fear of destroying it’s Pythonesque nuttiness.
I signal to the class that later they too will be out upon the virtual moors of our latest Victorian Vision Online exercise…