A week ago, I idly picked this 30 year old paperback off one of our bookshelves. I decided to re-read the opening, which I couldn’t remember. And as soon as I started, I couldn’t stop. My on-the-go book was abandoned and all week I’ve been reading Wuthering Heights at bedtime. It has had a strange and effect. Night after night I have fallen asleep with the book in my hands. This is normally something I do. Usually I reach a certain comfortable point of sleepiness and put down my book and my glasses and turn off my light. But I found myself so absorbed by the wild world of Emily Bronte that I failed repeatedly to spot my waking limits.
So every night, finding myself drifting off, book in hand, I would turn out the light, snuggle down on the pillow only then, suddenly, to discover myself absolutely unable to sleep. My head was so full of Heathcliff and Cathy or Catherine and the bloody Nelly Dean, that I’d have to reach for my torch and carry on where I left off.
So I have read Wuthering Heights by night, sometimes waking four or five times compelled to carry on, and struggled to wake in the mornings: my dreams, my thoughts all totally infused with windy moorland, and bright fires and rages, fevers and consumptions, grave yards and hanging pups.
Emily Bronte, as everyone knows, died at the age of 30. What a genius. Charlotte Bronte, her older sister, insisted in the preface to the posthumous 1850 edition that Heathcliff “stands unredeemed” and that Nelly Dean is “a specimen of true benevolence and homely fidelity”. But it is not true. E.B. exposes the cruel hypocrisy of homely fidelity of her unreliable narrator and her Heathcliff dies smiling at the open window at which the ghost of Cathy beats, “his face and throat were washed with rain; the bedclothes dripped, and he was perfectly still.” The perfect consummation.
What a book.