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H: The Story of Heathcliff’s Journey Back to Wuthering Heights

by Lin Haire-Sargeant

I recently started watching a delightful BBC series (not new), “Dickensian.” The conceit in this series is that all the Dickens’ characters are tossed in the same pot – the Little Curiosity Shop is just down the street from Scrooge & Marley’s; Fagin’s orphans are plying the same streets that Miss Havisham is walking; Bob Cratchit is acquainted with the Bumbles. It’s a delicious stew.

In Haire-Sargeant’s book, the notion is: what if Heathcliff and Cathy were real people, and Charlotte Bronte learned about them from a letter, rather than sharing their story with Emily, who then makes them up out of an imagination born on the moorlands and nurtured on childhood stories?

Taking a break from the horrid and the political (or, is that just saying the same thing twice?), this month’s book is a romantic novel that jumbles together the characters of at least two Bronte novels: in this telling, Heathcliff is the protege of a Mr. Are, though he doesn’t learn this right away. Nelly Dean has stolen a letter from Heathcliff to Cathy, keeping it from her on the eve of her wedding to Edgar Linton.

In the original book, “Wuthering Heights,” the two main things we don’t know are: whose child is Heathcliff, and, where did he go and what did he do to become a rich “gentleman” while he was away?

I suppose most readers of the book ponder the same questions, though only in passing. Here, they are the key element of the writer’s intriguing “what if” tale.

The tale is told in Heathcliff’s voice. I won’t say that I was completely sold: writing “period” speech is difficult at best, and doubly so when the writer has set herself the task of not only writing in another style, but trying to do justice to an original writer (Bronte) of such power. However, she wisely inhabits the mind of Heathcliff, the character about whose inner thoughts we know the least. In “Wuthering Heights,” we see Heathcliff’s actions, and hear some of his words, but the chief alteration he undergoes happens “offstage,” so to speak.

As Heathcliff flees from The Heights after hearing Cathy’s horrible “it would degrade me to marry Heathcliff,” and missing her “I am Heathcliff” statement just moments later, he is a young man in torment and fury. When we see him next, he has wealth, manners, and if not exactly refinement, then the imitation of it.

The novel follows Heathcliff – and his propitious meeting with Mr. Are, who sees something in his surly, dark face that he recognizes. Much more amiable than his counterpart in “Jane Eyre,” Mr. Are becomes a teacher and benefactor to Heathcliff, and even brings Heathcliff and Linton together for cards and a reckoning.

I won’t give away the entire story (though you may have guessed it anyway). Is it a great book? No. But a solidly good one, and a fine one for lakeside or late summer evening reading.

Nancy Roberts
Writer, voice over artist, information achitect, very curious person.