Yet more Wuthering on the Heights

The class have recently engaged in exactly the same online exercise concerning Wuthering Heights as did last year’s cohort: namely, alongside the opening chapter from Terry Eagleton’s Heathcliff and the Great Hunger and Charlotte Bronte’s 1850 Preface to the novel, they consider whether the novel could be considered xenophobic.  The question is deliberately provocative, in one sense, but the Heathcliff-as-Irish link that Eagleton makes raises the question of him as a kind of racial other.  Once again I note how this novel always gets students going.  They never seem short of things to say about it and the debate and discussion in the ‘Heathcliff, It’s Me!’ forum is always animated.

High Withens, Haworth Moor

High Withens, Haworth Moor

As I’ve not been teaching the class in the classroom this year they have been spared my gratuitous youtube clips of Kate Bush’s 1979 video and the Monty Python semaphore version.  I’ll still give them the links though.

Here’s the link to the post I made this time last year about this session, including an enthusiastic comment from one of the students in the class.

A lot of Wuthering on the Heights

This week’s Victorian Vision Online session has followed on from our brief survey of changing attitudes to the novel from its inception to the later twentieth century in class last week.  The class went away with the first chapter of Terry Eagleton’s Heathcliff and the Great Hunger (Verso, 1995) to read and reflect on, which very clearly designates Heathcliff as Irish.  I’m incredibly impressed with the level of debate and discussion of the novel going on in the Forum this week.  Stormy arguments rage about the extent of Emily Bronte’s conscious awareness of the class and racial issues the students perceive the novel as exploring.   Again I find myself pondering just how involved and passionate students can get over this novel.  It’s as though the passion in the novel spills over into their responses to it.

I discover a monitoring tool within our VLE that means I can see how many times any given student has looked at posts in any given Forum.  I never knew it existed previously and I find myself wondering slightly whether this might in any way influence my marking when I come to do that.  As a  general rule it would probably be true to say that students who show the most engagement with VVO do best, although obviously bald statistics say nothing at all about the quality of students’ posts.  One student has looked at posts in the ‘Heathcliff, It’s Me’ Forum more than 160 times this week.  Wow.  Wow.  Another was posting at 2.30am and 4am this morning.  Dear me.  I don’t want to be held responsible for damaging their social life or sleep patterns…

Heathcliff, it’s me…

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.  Kate-BushYoutube 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…