Wuthering Heights is the only book I’ve read so often that it fell apart. I’ve also listened to it, read beautifully by Patricia Routledge. I’ve read books and essays about it and discussed it with various Brontë experts, and still it remains a mystery.
It was a mystery, too, to the critics of the time, who puzzled over the ugly rural setting, the coarse language and the rough, malevolent characters.
It was even a mystery to Charlotte, Emily’s sister, who wrote:
“Whether it is right or advisable to create beings like Heathcliff, I do not know: I scarcely think it is. But this I know: the writer who possesses the creative gift owns something of which he is not always master – something that, at times, strangely wills and works for itself.”
I have given up trying to understand or explain Wuthering Heights; nowadays I prefer simply to experience its power. I don’t know where the confidence and creativity came from that produced this unintelligible masterpiece but it inspires me more than I can say.
I find it staggering that Emily ignored her family’s rebukes and defied the shallow fault-finding of “the empty world” in order to create such a strange novel. In one sense it is strange. But when you look at Emily’s poems and learn something of her life, perhaps it is not so strange. It is in fact the truest expression of her deepest passions; it is her soul.
Emily knew, above all, how to be true to herself.
Often rebuked, yet always back returning
To those first feelings that were born with me,
And leaving busy chase of wealth and learning
For idle dreams of things which cannot be:
To-day, I will seek not the shadowy region;
Its unsustaining vastness waxes drear;
And visions rising, legion after legion,
Bring the unreal world too strangely near.
I’ll walk, but not in old heroic traces,
And not in paths of high morality,
And not among the half-distinguished faces,
The clouded forms of long-past history.
I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading:
It vexes me to choose another guide:
Where the gray flocks in ferny glens are feeding;
Where the wild wind blows on the mountain side
What have those lonely mountains worth revealing?
More glory and more grief than I can tell:
The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling
Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.
Tomorrow I’m going to Haworth to have a look at where that wild wind blows. I can’t believe I’ve never been before. I wonder if I’ll come back changed.