If the dull substance of my flesh were thought,
Injurious distance should not stop my way;
For then despite of space I would be brought,
From limits far remote where thou dost stay.
No matter then although my foot did stand
Upon the farthest earth removed from thee;
For nimble thought can jump both sea and land
As soon as think the place where he would be.
But ah! thought kills me that I am not thought,
To leap large lengths of miles when thou art gone,
But that so much of earth and water wrought
I must attend time's leisure with my moan,
Receiving nought by elements so slow
But heavy tears, badges of either's woe.



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Passion Poetic

You know when you read a book and it exceeds all expectations to such a degree that as soon as you have finished reading it you go straight back to the beginning and start again? A book which becomes so much a part of your consciousness that you quote from and and refer to it in every day circumstances. A book you can read time and time again without ever getting bored. In short it's your desert island book. 'Wuthering Heights' is one such book for me. So what makes it so wonderful?

In order to answer that question, a little information about the author and her time might be helpful. Emily Bronte was born in 1818, one of six children, and grew up in a small parsonage in Haworth, a remote part of Yorkshire. Her early life was marred by tragedy when first her mother and then two of her sisters died. Emily's only novel, 'Wuthering Heights', was published under the psuedonym Ellis Bell in 1847. Public reaction was divided with praise for it's skill and admonition over it's violence and preceived immorality. Naturally, the controversy boosted the books popularity. Just two years later Emily died of consumption following a cold caught at her brother's funeral. The society into which Bronte had been born was rigid and often stifling for women in particular, and for some time after it's publication eminent literary figures refused to acknowledge that a work of this nature could have been written by a woman and it is this, as well as a few other conventions, that Bronte attacks in 'Wuthering Heights'. Although now, it is no longer iconoclastic, it's impact is still immense.

The plot is basically a love story, set against the backdrop of the wild Yorkshire moors and revolving around the events of two households: the earthy Wuthering Heights and the 'refined' Thrushcross Grange. Old Mr Earnshaw goes away on a business trip to Liverpool and returns, not with the promised presents for his children Hareton and Cathy, but with a young street urchin named Heathcliff. As the children grow up together Heathcliff becomes the catalyst for division and hatred, while he and Cathy become closer. Can forbidden love survive society? and what will it's effect be on those around them as well as on future generations?

Sounds a tad conventional doesn't it? In the hands of a lesser author it could well have been no more than a straight-forward romance: but Emily Bronte turned convention up-side-down and produced a novel with an involving, complex and multi-faceted narration. Unusually the narrator, whoever that may be ~ whether it's a character or an omniscient story-teller, knows more than the reader; here all of the narrators are unreliable, each having a stake in the action, and their own agendas to pursue. Far from providing us with narrators that are unbelievable and alienating us from the story, this disparity of opinions enable the reader to draw his/her own conclusions thus engaging us to a far greater degree than would otherwise have been possible.

The novel opens in 1801 when Lockwood arrives at Thrushcross Grange as Heathcliff's tenant. An outsider, who inevitably has difficulty understanding the intense emotions surrounding him in much the same way that th reader will/may experience problems, Lockwood represents us, expressing the opinions that we ourselves would form had there been an omniscient narrator. Within a few chapters Nelly Dean takes over the narration and the action is plunged back some 25 years. Having spent her entire life with these characters she is necessarily more emotionally involved and as a result her perspective on characters is the absolute opposite of Lockwoods. The other three narrators appear in this capacity for a much shorter period of time. The first we meet is Cathy herself, speaking through her diaries, which allow our initial insight into her relationship with Heathcliff and it is he who continues her story of what marks the pivotal moment in their relationship from the point at which the diaries finish. Later Isabella's letter conveys yet another extreme opinion of Heathcliff when she becomes convinced he is a "devil", illustrating the complexity of characters in 'Wuthering Heights'.

The atmosphere of the novel is defined by it's narration. With the majority of the story being told by one 'insider' and one 'outsider' the effect is one of claustrophobia, couple this with the geographically small metaphorical triangle of Wuthering Heights, Thrushcross Grange and Gimmerton, within which all the action takes place, and the intense emotions appear even more heightened. The emotional highs and lows of the novel are very carefully mapped out within the claustrophobic structure. Starting us on a very superficial level, Emily Bronte skilfully manoeuvres us down to the psychological depths of the action before bringing us back up for air, so to speak. If you read the book with the same frame of mind as you would read, say, a Jane Austen then you may well encounter difficulties. This is a novel to which you must give yourself completely, trust Bronte and follow her where ever she takes you, otherwise when you plunge into the psychologically dark moments not only will they not ring true but they may well appear melodramatic, over the top and occasionally slightly ludicrous.

Along with many of the world's greatest novelists, Bronte concentrated heavily on the central themes of love and redemption. The all encompassing love explored in the first half of the book gives way to the blossoming young love in the second, allowing the reader to decide as to the nature of 'true' love within the novel. The redemptive aspect is likewise open to interpretation. While there is no doubt that the ending, no I won't give it away, ties up some loose ends, the final paragraphs allow the reader to decide upon the fate of the central characters in much the same way that we have drawn our own conclusions throughout the rest of the novel. Once again illustrating the nature of 'Wuthering Heights' as being an active book: the more the reader participates the greater the enjoyment that can be derived.

A very symmetrical novel, 'Wuthering Heights' is built on a series of conflicts. Beginning in 1801 and ending exactly one year later with Lockwood both opening and closing the narration, the action broadly concerns the clash between Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, which symbolise the conflict between nature and culture. The wild moors juxtapose the order of the Grange; the passionate Heathcliff is set against the calm Edgar Linton. What Bronte does so skilfully is to turn convention on it's head by making us question which is in fact the most civilised: Is the mannered, socially acceptable Grange really less violent or more Christian than the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights? Of course there are many, many more themes and contrasts within the book but to go into them would place this op in danger of becoming an academic essay, so I'll stop there.

The novel's impact on other forms of entertainment has not been inconsiderable. Of the many film adaptations perhaps the most famous is the 1939 version starring the superlative Lawrence Olivier as Heathcliff and Merle Oberon portraying the role of Cathy and is always enjoyable to watch. However, a word of warning, the movie fails to appreciate the depth of the novel partly because of how difficult it is to take the audience into the psychological ravines necessary in order to make it comprehensible, and partly due to the fact that it, necessarily, only deals with the first generation. Not that this in any way diminishes the film as a story in it's own right, it's just that had the second half of the book been included then the film would have been interminable. In ord er to get round this problem several Television adaptations have also been made. With the greater length of time available to a part work a more detailed approach has been adopted. Unfortunately even Ralph Feinnes has not been able to save these ill-fated attempts and none have managed to achieve the emotional impact of the book. Although I have never seen a stage production there have been many that are frequently performed in regional theatre, but perhaps the most memorable stage event connected to 'Wuthering Heights' is Sir Cliff Richards' foray into musical theatre. With Sir Cliff taking the title role of 'Heathcliff', the show had a respectable run before being filmed for vhs release, and although I have seen a lot worse than that the music and passion did not live up to the levels of Emily Bronte's original.

Although there are many ways in which it is possible to become acquainted with the basic story, there is no substitute for reading the book itself. A dramatic, clever plot; vivid, strong characters and a beautiful prose style all combine to create this timeless classic. No opinion on it can ever capture the magic and artistry of Bronte's novel, all I can hope to have done is to have given you a taster of a few of the facets of this great work of British Literature. It has achieved a place in my heart that few other works of art have managed. It's a book that contains so much it's possible to return to it again and again and always find something new, If I were to offer any advice to readers unused to the Bronte's or 19th Century Literature, it would be to just hold tight over those first few chapters, let the beautiful latinate sentences wash over you and allow Emily Bronte to take you on her journey. It's one you'll never forget.

'Wuthering Heights' by Emily Bronte is widely available at bookshops, second hand shops and online stores all the time. And best of all it only cost a pou nd or two.

Jill Murphy asked me to write about one of my favourite things to help her celebrate her fourth anniversary of cancer-free living and to remind ourselves of all the nice things in the world. It takes more muscles to make a frown than a smile you know.

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