Was your fierce teenage femininity woken up and crystallised by Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights”? Mine certainly was. There’s a feeling within me that will be forever Cathy; or, she is the bookmark for it in “me”. And my Heathcliffe? I spent many rambling years looking for aspects of him too; or, working out exactly what that would look like in a red-blooded male without him giving over to the demon that a world at odds with that quality might provoke…finding it, in the end, in the most unlikely of places, beautifully packaged as the love of my life. When Kate Bush planted the essence of this kind of female~male union into a song, for all she confessed not to have read the book when she wrote it, it became a sort of mantra to preserving this quality until it became the rite of passage, each year, to play that song for at least a few days each Springtime (which I’ve done since it was first released and, without method or forethought, I still tend to do). Yet how long since I last read Emily Brontë’s actual words on paper; when was that exactly? Oh, a very l-o-n-g time ago.
Yesterday, something of this essence in the air, as I came indoors rain battered and wind-swept from a day with my fingers in the Spring soil and a walk so mud-splattered I had to peel myself from my clothes, made me land upon the BBC drama “To Walk Invisible” which, not being a TV watcher, I had been unaware of before. So, as I dried off, I watched it all as a stand-alone “movie” offered by Amazon and it took me back there; to some quality I carry inside me, born of deep-emersion in the Brontës and their world many moons ago as a girl. Like one of the seeds I had just planted, I felt it respond as though to the rain that was still pounding outside; softly yielding, revealing depths of myself I seldom allow to see light of day…not these days.
I know I’ve thought of re-reading “Wuthering Heights” many times over the years; downloading it to Kindle to take on holiday last year or was it the one before. What stopped me, caused hesitation? Did I fear disappointment with what engaged me so as a girl like when you try to visit the most magical books of childhood and they’re just not the same, am I more squeamish of the dark than I used to be, or was it the thought of comparison…with where I am now…that I most dreaded? For, where is my inner Cathy, where are my wild moors; have I sold my life out to the Lintons, made nice and put wild plaything away? Or am I still promising them to myself “tomorrow”?
It seems, these days, my “Heathcliffe” and I speak of little else but wild tomorrows, freer days, running unfettered on a landscape less cluttered and far less demanding, being “who we really are” in every moment, out there in the elements instead of watching though a traffic-smog-smeared pane of glass…and we will, on our three-to-five-year plan to “change everything”. But in the meantime, its time to remember that the Cathy-that-is-me never goes anywhere; she is part of me and I’ve done better at keeping her sustained inside of me than some almost-fifty-year-olds…no hauntings or tapping on my windows required. In other words, not so changed as I could be, half way through life, but there’s still work to be done. So, is there divine timing in my “chance” afternoon spent with the Brontës? Perhaps the 200th anniversary of Emily Brontë’s birth and my 50th, combined, is the perfect time to re-read that novel. There’s a personal and more general message in all this because its time, at so many levels, for the feminine to walk visibly on this earth, displaying all of her depths, her wildness and her great genius and the Brontës would be so very glad to see it.
“I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy, and free… Why am I so changed? I’m sure I should be myself were I once among the heather on those hills.” Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights.
“To Walk Invisible” (BBC, 2016) is perfectly on theme with so many of the topics in this blog and I heartily recommend it for capturing the essence of the Brontës, their hardships, their sheer genius and determination. As background for the challenges they faced as women seeking to be published in a world full of male writers, and within their particular family circumstances, it does exceptionally well…no glossing over or romanticising how they came to be amongst the most respected writers of all time. To quote Emily Brontë in part of the scrip based on the letters of Charlotte Brontë: “”When a man writes something, it’s what he’s written that’s judged. When a woman writes something, it’s her that’s judged.”
An anecdote about Kate Bush is that she had only watched ten minutes of a BBC adaptation of “Wuthering Heights” at the point when she wrote the song and went on to read just a handful of lines from the book before finishing it; which just goes to highlight how we tend to act “off” second-hand interpretations more so than originals in this day-and-age. Yet, the planting of those lyrics in my almost ten year-old head somehow ignited me and certainly fuelled my desire to read the book when I did, maybe two or three years later. There was a flavour of…something distinct; and I recognised it in me. Reading her interviews (see article) on the topic, Bush really felt she had captured an essence of Cathy from the few lines she read and what she had seen on the TV. On later reading the whole novel, she found the particular lyrics she had written almost bizarrely apt “as though” she had already read it on composing them or had been drawn to particular words. It was a particular feeling of wildness and longing that she tuned into and could recognise in herself, which is what I also recognised when I heard the song. We pass these batons between us, one hand to another…which can be powerful.
Yet, because of second-hand assumptions, has Emily Brontë, in particular, been underestimated as a writer; stereotyped as the cult-author of a “gothic-romantic” novel at the expense of depths that go way beyond such a cliché? Radhika Oberoi explores how the trappings of canny marketing ploys and more have obscured what “Wuthering Heights” really has to offer in her tribute article in The Wire, which is well worth reading. Once upon a time, I also used to have an intimate relationship with that much dramatised story “Jane Eyre”, its “supressed feminine” themes weaving in and out of my own life-experiences and helping me to navigate them in some surprisingly informed ways and yet when did I last pick that novel up and hold it between my hands instead of resorting to delivery by screen on a rainy afternoon? The only way to descale something that has become so encrusted with other agendas is to go back to base…and pick up the original article to assess with your own eyes; not the TV or movie adaptation, not the song lyric, the reference or anyone else’s interpretation but the actual words on a page as they were written. To become absorbed in them, like we did the first time; when those words carried us off somewhere and brought us back feeling transformed. Perhaps they wait there holding even more for us now on the revisit…
To Walk Invisible – BBC, 2015 (DVD or video on Amazon)
Rereading Wuthering Heights: A Tribute to Emily Brontë – Radhika Oberoi, The Wire