Friday, July 8, 2016

For the Love of Old Books (Part 3): Wuthering Heights (updated September 16, 2016)

Title page of Wuthering Heights, (1847) by Emily Brontë - 1943 American Edition with woodcuts by Fritz Eichenberg. (All images can be clicked on to enlarge.)

Wuthering Heights

"At noon, Emily was worse; she could only whisper in gasps. With her last audible words she said to Charlotte, "If you will send for a doctor, I will see him now" but it was too late. She died that same day at about two in the afternoon while sitting on the sofa at Haworth Parsonage. It was less than three months since Branwell's death, which led a housemaid to declare that "Miss Emily died of a broken heart for love of her brother". Emily had grown so thin that her coffin measured only 16 inches wide. The carpenter said he had never made a narrower one for an adult. She was interred in the Church of St Michael and All Angels family capsule, Haworth, West Yorkshire, England. Emily Brontë never knew the extent of fame she achieved with her one and only novel, Wuthering Heights, as she died a year after its publication, aged 30."

- Quote found in the Wiki entry for Emily Brontë, (July 31, 1818 - December 19, 1848).  

"The first reviewers were mystified and puzzled by the strangeness and savagery of Wuthering Heights, although nearly all recognized the seductive power of the novel and the original vision of its author...  However, the critic who perhaps most perceptively synthesized the poetic and fictional halves of Emily's creative aptitude wrote at the end of the nineteenth century. A fellow poet, Algernon Swinburne, referred to Wuthering Heights in a 16 June 1883 article as "essentially and definitely a poem in the fullest and most positive sense of the term."

- From the Poetry Foundation's Emily Brontë page.

"An overwhelming sense of the presence of a larger reality moved Rudolph Otto to call Wutheirng Heights a supreme example of "the daemonic" in literature. Otto was concerned with identifying the non-rational mystery behind all religion and all religious experiences; he called this basic element or mystery the numinous. The numinous grips or stirs the mind so powerfully that one of the responses it produces is numinous dread, which consists of awe or awe-fullness. Numinous dread implies three qualities of the numinous: its absolute unapproachability, its power, and. its urgency or energy.

... It has been suggested that Gothic fiction originated primarily as a quest for numinous dread, which Otto also calls the mysterium tremendum."

- Excerpt from a CUNY (City University of New York) article about Wuthering Heights.
(Note: Mysterium tremendum et fascinans is a metaphysical mystery which is regarded with both fear and fascination.)

"The love which devours life itself, which devastates the present and desolates the future with unquenchable and raging fire, has nothing less pure in it than flame or sunlight... As was the author's life, so is her book in all things; troubled and taintless, with little of rest in it, and nothing of reproach. It may be true that not many will ever take it to their hearts; it is certain that those who do like it will like nothing very much better in the whole world of poetry or prose."

- Algernon Charles Swinburne in reference to Wuthering Heights, from his essay "Emily Brontë" (1883). A link to Swinburne's poetry.

"Emily Brontë died in 1848, aged 30, leaving only one published book and some poems. That book, of course, is "Wuthering Heights" (recently issued in new editions, by Penguin and HarperCollins), a novel so strange and powerful that it sinks into the reader's DNA."

- Quote from Richard Raynor, found here.


For my last "interlude" post (featuring bits of my book collection), I couldn't resist posting an edition of one of my favorite novels of all time: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. I think the first time I read it was around the age of 13, an age when the mind is most open to new experiences, and when experience itself has its most indelible impact. I've forgotten a lot of novels I've read in the intervening years, but the effect of Wuthering Heights stayed with me, and as Swineburne so wisely predicted: I never once met its match.

He was wrong about one thing though; it seems that a very great many people took it to their hearts and continue to do so. If you google it, or Emily Brontë, you'll find masses of people still have something to say about the young woman's singular novel written over 150 years ago. As recently as 2007, in a British (UKTV Drama) poll, it was voted the number 1 love story of all time. Imagine that. Or, maybe this article: Copy of Wuthering Heights sells for six figures.

So, just exactly what is it about the novel that moves men and women to such a degree? To this very day, critics and academics still discuss it as if it only recently hit the best seller list. You would think that somewhere along the line someone would've finally solved the mystery of the novel's tremendous popularity, its symbolism, and its peculiar author's life. Happily, for Emily Brontë at least, the particulars of her private life will never be revealed. She left no diaries or records... and what little survives of her memory amounts to no more than the second-hand recollections of those who professed to know her, up to and including those accounts offered by her older sister Charlotte...