Friday, April 25, 2008

Byron Wasn't the Only One

This is hardly news. But I do like the possible Brontë connection. Though I think Emily was strange enough to have got here on her own.

"When I read Dorothy’s accounts of her love for William in the Grasmere Journals I am moved in the same way as I am by Catherine Earnshaw’s description of her love for Heathcliff ... and it is through Wuthering Heights that the peculiarity of [their] relationship can best be understood. Powerful in both cases is the elusive, visionary nature of what each woman is straining to define, her hunger for twinship with the one she loves ... her confusion about where she ends and he begins. "

This comparison makes sense, and it connects with the idea of incest which F. W. Bateson so memorably introduced in 1954 when he suggested that William and Dorothy fell in love in the intimacy of their cold winter in Germany. Bateson, according to Wilson, only pointed out “what was obvious to all”, which is that something odd went on in Goslar. (Wordsworth’s comment that he wrote in Goslar “in self-defence” is intriguing.) The Heathcliff–Catherine relationship has an incestuous element, as they were brought up together as children, and their sexuality is obviously abnormal (though not very unusual in the context of Gothic fiction and Byronic poetry). Emily Brontë could not have read Dorothy’s journals but, Wilson argues, she is more than likely to have read De Quincey’s portraits of the Wordsworths in Tait’s in 1839, which describe her “gipsy tan”, outdoor spirit and impulsive nature. It is intriguing to think that descriptions of the high-minded homely life of Dove Cottage could have prompted the melodramatic tragedy of Wuthering Heights – a shadow story spun from what lay concealed and repressed.