The title of the annual lecture at 11am on Saturday was The Originality of Wuthering Heights. It was given by Heather Glen, a frequent visitor to the Parsonage, who is Professor of English in the University of Cambridge. This is a very brief summary which can not do full justice to a lecture which was fresh, accessible and full of new insights for most of the audience, the obvious product of meticulous research:
She began with a focus on the fact that Emily Brontë is sometimes referred to in various terms as a ‘one-off’, a lone genius who lived in a kind of “rustic ignorance”.
“Emily chose Scott as her hero at the age of nine….there is plenty of evidence in the Juvenilia,” we were told. “She was sharply aware of literary tradition."
There are many connections with Scott’s work – for example the fact that he often uses servant narratives - and Lockwood could be said to be in the Scott tradition to some extent, because of all the “polite, young civilised men” in the Waverley Novels who encounter a rude, uncivilised world, from which they eventually learn something. Lockwood, however, learns nothing: “Emily had nothing of Scott’s geniality, his sense of the ultimate triumph of civilised values….she was more racy than Scott….Wuthering Heights ends in ambiguity, not in moral richness…”
In Wuthering Heights, dialogue is used directly, without the intervention of an intervening narrator: “complex emotions and relationships are rendered through dialogue,” a product of Emily’s “precise, imaginative intelligence.”
We were asked to look at the passages printed out for us. The first was from Chapter 9:
I was rocking Hareton on my knee, and humming a song that began:
It was far in the night, and the bairnies grat,
The mither beneath the mools heard that –
When Miss Cathy, who had listened……..etc
This was followed by an extract from ‘The Ghaists Warning’, Appendix to Walter Scott, The Lady of the Lake, which began:
…He’s married a may, and he’s fessen her hame
But she was a grim and laidly dame
When into the castell court drave she,
The seven bairns stood wi’ the tear in their ee.
The bairns they stood wi’ dule and dout;-
She up wi’ her foot, and she kicked them out.
Nor ale nor mead to the Bairnies she gave:
“But hunger and hate frae me ye’s have.”
…’Twas lang I’ the night, and the bairnies grat:
Their mither she under the mools heard that;
This was accompanied (as in the original which Emily would have read), by explanations and glosses, for example:
May maid, fessen fetched, dule sorrow, dout fear, grat wept, mools mould; earth
The story is about threats, revenge and the supernatural. A dead mother returns to her children from her grave because they are crying, a walking corpse which inspires terror and causes the dogs to snarl and howl. One of them is put on her lap and suckled…
“It is about a passion which transcends mortality… think of all the allusions to ballads and ballad motifs……”
With further examples, Heather Glen talked about the ‘leaping and lingering’ techniques which are common to ballads and to Wuthering Heights, where the lingering is on climactic scenes, and there are echoes……think of the first Cathy ‘captured’ until she is well at Thrushcross Grange and the second Cathy held at Wuthering Heights.
The rude, uncivilised world is perceived with the ‘protection’ of glosses, explanations……..and books. What does Lockwood pile against the window when the terrifying child ghost tries to get in?