VOL III
Spring 2002

ISSN 1473-219X

 

 

 

 




Christopher Heywood (ed.): Wuthering Heights, Toronto: Broadview Press, ISBN 1-55111-247-7, 520pp, $14.99.

Heywood approaches the text of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights from a traditional mimetic realist point of view. He provides a well-researched body of background information and scholarly analysis that facilitates an informed appreciation of the novelist and the novel within the time/space context of Victorian England, especially that of Yorkshire. The Introduction and Appendices take about a third of the book, and there are footnotes on particular pages. Heywood’s argument about the African origins/aspects of Heathcliff, a key character in the novel, advances a new interpretation of the character and the impact of slavery and slave trade on the society in northern England in the nineteenth century.

Heywood highlights Heathcliff’s African origins in several ways. He describes him as ‘a child of Africa from the world’s largest slave port [Liverpool].’ (42) Heywood, thus, offers an argument different from that of Eagleton, who suggests that the model for Heathcliff is ‘one of the good many impoverished Irish immigrants hanging around Liverpool.’

The portrait entitled Othello, the Moor of Venice of the actor Ira Aldridge by James Northcote (Manchester City Art Gallery, Manchester) is reproduced on the cover of this edition. This is a significant visual statement as Aldridge pursued a successful acting career despite racial hostility and Othello could have provided the material for the creation of Heathcliff.

Heywood bases his argument on the parallels (and reverses) that one finds between Shakespeare’s Othello and Bronte’s Heathcliff in terms of their social situation and individual predicament in relation to a world whose contours are etched by race and power in specific time/space configurations. Fanon’s theoretical formulations in Black Skin, White Masks are used to examine the common, generic situation that affects the two characters. As Heywood specifically argues: ‘Suggestions for aspects of Heathcliff’s character probably came from the performance in the title role of Othello at Bradford in 1841, by Ira Aldridge, a celebrated American actor. Heathcliff follows the example of Othello, a stereotype identified by Fanon as a black man with an appetite for the blond female; he marries without love into the slaveholding class... the psychological burden kills him... [He is] a modern Hamlet, he dies a martyr and hero of social change'. (68)

The Broadview edition of Wuthering Heights locates the novel in the literary tradition of Empire in English Literature, outlined, for example, in the case of poetry in The White Man’s Burdens and in a growing interest in studying how the Empire travelled from the periphery to the centre. With Heywood’s interpretation of Heathcliff and the foregrounding of the colonial layer of the richly textured literary text of Emily Bronte, yet another author in the ‘traditional’ canon of English literature is subjected to a postcolonial reading as Said did with Jane Austen.

However, Heywood’s contribution to Bronte scholarship is not limited to ‘exploring new literary ground’ (Preface) with reference to Heathcliff. He also explores the close relationship between the text and the landscape, between fictional Wuthering Heights and real Ingleborough. By establishing such a link he is able to unmask the dissimulations that were used by Charlotte Bronte in this regard. He also analyses the structure of the story and argues that it reflects the ‘skills of Emily Bronte as a poet, painter, musician and her interest in geometry.’ (Preface) Basing his judgement on a short but sharp commentary on the language used in the text he concludes that Emily Bronte’s prose ‘approaches the mimetic, thought-patterned prose of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf’. (84)

Heywood's reading of Heathcliff could have far-reaching implications for the way the novel could be read in the classrooms in particular and in 'rethinking the [British] national story', an idea articulated in the Parekh Report on 'The Future of Multi-ethnic Britain' By exploring un/ underarticulated dimensions of social history to discuss a popular literary classic, Heywood has advanced debates in both history and literary studies.

Finally, what distinguishes this edition of the novel is the way the social and historical context is painstakingly worked into a new reading of the text, its author, and the ethos of what Young calls the ‘Nineteenth-Century Anti-Colonialism in Britain’ The story of Wuthering Heights can now be (re)read by those in the academia and beyond in a new and refreshing way. The experience could be enriched further if an index can be provided for quick reference.

 

References:

Eagleton, Terry (1995) Heathcliff and the Great Hunger: studies in Irish culture, Verso: London.
Brooks, C & Faulkner J (ed.) (1996) The White Man’s Burdens: an anthology of British poetry of the Empire, University of Exeter Press: Exeter.
Fanon, Franz (1967) Black Skin, White Masks, Grove Press: New York (first published as Peau noire, masques blancs, 1952).
Fryer, Peter (1984) Staying Power: The history of black people in Britain, Pluto: London.
The Parekh Report (2000) The Future of Multi-ethnic Britain, The Runnymede Trust, Profile Books: London.
Said, E (1989) ‘Jane Austen and Empire’ in Eagleton, Terry (ed.) Raymond Williams: Critical Perspectives, Northwestern University Press: Boston, 150-164.
Visram, Rozina (1986) Ayahs, Lascars and Princes Indians in Britain 1700-1947, Pluto: London.
Young, R (2001) Post-colonialism: an historical introduction, Blackwell: Oxford.

Balasubramanyam Chandramohan,
University of Luton


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