I’m a sucker for pretty/ interesting covers, and I bought this book because the cover looked gorgeous. Not a wise decision, obviously, and one that I have come to regret more after reading the stories in the collection. This is a collection of 16 short stories inspired by Wuthering Heights, and brought together in this anthology by Kate Mosse.
The thing is, I LOVE Wuthering Heights. I love the use of language, the power of the emotions conveyed, the imagery, the atmosphere, the dark gothic story and the ever-evolving possible readings of the novel.
I know that no writer will be able to replicate Emily Bronte’s skill with language or the impact of her story, and so for most of my life I have avoided all Wuthering Heights prequels, sequels, retellings and point-of-view shifting narratives. And now, I’ve succumbed to the lure of a pretty cover. Ugh.
Let me start by saying that this collection of short stories is not all bad. There are some good stories and I enjoyed Mosse’s introduction. In fact, I think I would have enjoyed the anthology a lot more if Mosse were the author of the stories – from her introduction, it seemed to me that she really got it – I felt that she understood the novel and the enduring love for the novel that its many fans hold in their hearts.
Many, many of the original novel’s themes and ideas have been completely ignored or erased or deemed insignificant by most of the contributors. Everything great about Wuthering Heights has been lost since its interpretation and branding as only a novel “glorifying” toxic and abusive relationships. Hence, numerous stories in this anthology are about abusive relationships and creepy, highly disturbed men – unpleasant reading material to say the least. Yes, Wuthering Heights is dark but this is contemporary dark – in-your-face dark, not subtle; vomit-inducing, not shiver-inducing.
I also got quite tired of the near-constant references to the “I am Heathcliff’ quote. Yes, I know its the title of the book, but honestly – reading ‘I am you’ in nearly every other story gets extremely tedious extremely fast. And the ‘I am you’ is understood so poorly and so superficially, it is as though the writers haven’t really read or thought about the ‘I am Heathcliff’ scene for any reasonable amount of time.
On the upside, there are some interesting stories, however few. See below for my brief opinion of each:
- Terminus by Louise Doughty: I liked this story – there was a constant undertone of menace and fear which was effectively created, and there was such a weighty sadness to it that made it at least slightly reminiscent of Bronte.
- Anima by Grace McCleen: *shrug*
- A Bird, Half-Eaten by Nikesh Shukla: A good story certainly, but not one that felt inspired by Wuthering Heights. Still worth reading.
- Thicker than Blood by Erin Kelly: Wuthering Heights’ characters and story transplanted into the 21st century and made much more gross than needed. It was disturbing and sickening – what I suppose some people feel might be apt for a story inspired by the original, but that doesn’t resonate with me.
- One Letter Different by Joanna Cannon: *shrug*
- The Howling Girl by Laurie Penny: *shrug*
- Five Sites, Five Stages by Lisa McInerney: Meh
- Kit by Juno Dawson: *shrug*
- My Eye is a Button on Your Dress by Hanan Al-Shaykh: One of the few that I did enjoy. A tale of psychological manipulation and doomed ‘love’. Could easily have been developed into a novel on its own.
- The Cord by Alison Case: Not perfect, but really quite good. Case also gets it. I felt like she understands the themes of isolation, social ostracision and trauma as being integral to the characters and the plot.
- The Heathcliffs I Have Known by Louisa Young: I lost sleep over this one. I am being completely serious. I actually had trouble sleeping because the last page of this story really annoyed me. The writer does not see or appreciate or even understand anything about Wuthering Heights other than “Heathcliff = toxic masculinity”. More on this below.
- Amulet & Feathers by Leila Aboulela: Interesting enough.
- How Things Disappear by Anna James: Bleh
- The Wildflowers by Dorothy Koomson: Meh
- Heathcliff is Not My Name by Michael Stewart: *shrug* Not terrible
- Only Joseph by Sophie Hannah: *shrug* Does not feel Wuthering Heights – inspired at all.
****SPOILERS BELOW FOR ‘HEATHCLIFFS I HAVE KNOWN’******
So here’s a shocker for you: Wuthering Heights is not a tale glamourising toxic masculinity, nor is it some insane teen ‘romance’ portraying a love that should be aspired to – NO.
What is it? A powerful story of the intergenerational impact of trauma and abuse; the impact of social ostracision and racism; the Victorian class system; revenge; a strong (but unhealthy) connection formed between two abused children and the impact of that childhood abuse on their later relationships.
This connection between Catherine and Heathcliff is love, but not traditional or even adaptive/ healthy/ “normal” love. It is not glamourised; it is not implied in the novel that this is something to aspire to; instead we are shown the destructiveness of this ‘love’. This love is a bond born from their shared history which each sees as defining their identity. I’ve written about this too often to go into all the details of psychological readings of this relationship again, but briefly, I’d suggest (for those interested) to take a look at Lacan’s idea of the Anima and the Animus. Catherine is no passive, meek, reluctant ‘victim’ to this relationship. I refer you to a scene in the novel where she eggs on Heathcliff to beat up her husband Edgar Linton.
For me, their relationship is best explained by Arnold Kettle in his Introduction to the English Novel,
“…in their revolt they discover their…need of each other…And it is from his association in rebellion with Catherine that the particular quality of their relationship arises. It is the reason why each feels that a betrayal of what binds them together is in some obscure and mysterious way a betrayal of everything, of all that is most valuable in life and death.”
Below is the excerpt from ‘Heathcliffs I Have Known’ that left me highly irritated, and made me wonder how this story made it into this collection (supposedly celebrating Emily Bronte and her work).
Let’s take this paragraph by paragraph.
Paragraph 1: Yes, Heathcliff does commit acts of violence and brutality in the novel. But these acts are not excused by Bronte, she never gives him a free pass – he does those things not “because he’s in love” but because he’s full of rage and wants revenge – if you fall prey to the misconception that Bronte was condoning these acts by writing them into the story, that’s your own shortcoming, not Emily Bronte’s. He does horrible things and becomes a terrible person, and despite reading the novel over five times, I have yet to have come away with the impression that Emily Bronte considered his acts ‘romantic’ or acceptable. Also, I’m a psychologist, and I absolutely loathe the throwing around of psychiatric terms, especially when the use of the word is incorrect. Yes, Heathcliff is a bully, a controlling drunk, a narcissist – but he’s not psychotic. If you mean he’s psychopathic, that would make way more sense than saying he’s psychotic. You might want to read more about psychosis here.
Paragraph 2: Okay, so you hated Wuthering Heights. Fine. You are entitled to your view, but why did you decide to contribute to an anthology purportedly celebrating the novel and the writer? And again with the psychiatric terms! Borderline Personality? Ha. No. Antisocial and Narcissistic maybe. For goodness’ sake. Did you ever wonder about how people develop personality disorders in the first place, since you so seem to love psychiatric diagnoses? There is almost inevitably a childhood history of trauma, violence, abuse or neglect. Maybe you should have read Kate Mosse’s introduction to the anthology. A history of abuse or neglect is not an excuse for what Heathcliff does or who he becomes, but it is an explanation. In the novel, Heathcliff is an outsider and an outcast from the beginning to the end – he’s obviously not white (being described as ‘gypsy’), imagine what that might have been like in a Victorian society (if you haven’t been able to see that in the novel); he’s the heir to nothing, a nameless orphan in a society that prized position and ownership; he’s taken in by the Earnshaws but is mercilessly brutalised by Hindley and Joseph, constantly insulted and reviled, there were no consistent loving or supportive adult figures in his developmental years… Hmmm, I can’t really understand where his anger issues might come from – with such a history, I’d expect him to become a saint.
Paragraph 3: This is the worst of the worst. I was not so irked by the two former paragraphs as I was by this one. You do not get to insult Emily Bronte simply because you did not find her novel to your taste. Again, how many times do I have to say this, EMILY BRONTE DID NOT INTEND FOR READERS TO VIEW CATHERINE AND HEATHCLIFF’S RELATIONSHIP AS ‘LOVE’- THIS IS NOT A ROMANTIC NOVEL. And clearly you have no idea of the impact Emily Bronte’s novel had on the writing of Victorian women. Her novel was iconoclastic – it shattered conventions of what women were expected to write and what readers ought to read. It shocked, it horrified, it troubled reviewers upon its release because it was so different and non-conformist. And you would rather that Emily were an imitator of Anne, who had her own unique writing style and ideas? If that’s how you feel, goodbye. I sincerely look forward to not reading any of your other work.