John Farrell, 'Forgiving Emily Brontë'
Fri, September 4, 2009 • 3:00 PM • Tom Lea Rooms, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center 3.206
Ever since Emily Brontë published Wuthering Heights in 1847, many readers and critics have attempted to improve or correct what they perceive as its rough-hewn and carelessly executed narrative. The novel simply leaves too many crucial gaps in its story. Who is Heathcliff? How did he become polished and rich? How did Catherine Earnshaw's ghost end up in a complete stranger's dream? How can Nelly Dean recall in word for word detail the conversations of so many characters over so many years?
Beginning with Charlotte Brontë's alarmed reaction, responses to Emily's novel have celebrated its powers while patronizing its many flaws. There is a long tradition of forgiving Emily Brontë for not getting her story straight, either narratively or politically. After all was the book not published the year before The Communist Manifesto? How could it begin with raging revolt and end with a radiant portrait of bourgeois bliss? There's much here, or so it seems, to forgive.
John P. Farrell, Professor of English, has taught Victorian literature in the UT English Department for thirty-one years. He has published many essays on the major Victorian authors including four on the Brontës. His current project is entitled 'From Wuthering Heights to Wessex Heights in Washington Heights'.