When I was writing about Wuthering Heights at the beginning of the week, I kept thinking about another book called Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being by Ted Hughes.
Ted Hughes said writing this book probably brought about his early death from cancer; he should have stuck to writing poetry.
When I first heard or read this (I can’t remember which) I thought it was a bit of dry Yorkshire humour and I chuckled. Surely no-one is that allergic to writing literary criticism, I thought. But then he went on insistently about it and I realised he was serious.
I can remember that when I first started reading Shakespeare and the Goddess of Complete Being, I was shocked. It was a bold thesis and I had read some harsh objections to it in the literary press, but that wasn’t what shocked me; it was the fact that Hughes was giving away all his secrets. He was like a conjuror taking apart his apparatus on the stage to reveal how the trick is done.
Except, of course, it’s not that simple.
Ted Hughes was steeped in mythology. So was Shakespeare. What Hughes did in this book was reveal his interpretation of how Shakespeare was drawing on those myths in order to create literary works that define his own mythic psyche. He is talking a language that is already a step or two beyond most literary critics. But if you enter into this journey with him — and it’s not an easy one because you will have to re-read the complete works of Shakespeare along the way — it offers an unparalleled insight into the subterranean processes of a creative literary mind.
For Hughes, it was a wrench to do that. He was dragging into the light of day things that should have remained subconscious. He thought that’s why he got cancer. Instead of writing about the process he should have used that process to create.
I had something like that in mind when I said that I no longer want to understand or explain Wuthering Heights, I just want to appreciate its power. There is a lot in it that can be analysed and explained; but to take apart the structure, to dissect the imagery, to offer detailed explications of its themes, would be a bit like laying out the pieces of a watch and expecting them to reveal the mysteries of time.
The best book I have read about Emily Brontë and Wuthering Heights is an out of print book that was originally published in 1983. It’s called Emily Brontë: The Artist as a Free Woman.
It has never had great reviews from academics, I think, but, significantly, Stevie Davies went on to become a great novelist after writing it. Whether she became a free woman or not, I don’t know. I suspect she was one all along.