Emily Brontë: Selected Writings 
edited by Francis O’Gorman.
Oxford, 496 pp., £95, December 2023, 978 0 19 886816 3
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It takes​ Emily Brontë the best part of three chapters to get to the moment everyone remembers, whether they’ve read Wuthering Heights or not: a man in bed, a dream, the insistent tap-tap of a branch at the window, a broken pane, the man’s fingers closing on an ‘ice-cold hand’, a woman wailing ‘Let me in – let me in!’ Hollywood, however, was in a hurry. In William Wyler’s seminal 1939 adaptation, the storm that will detain Lockwood at Wuthering Heights overnight is already raging when he arrives to introduce himself as the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange. Laurence Olivier’s Heathcliff, back to a blazing fire, brims with disobligingness. Still, he agrees to accommodate the visitor. Lockwood petitions meekly for a cup of tea. Then things start to move quickly. Joseph, the servant, conducts him to an upstairs room, where he’s soon fast asleep, primed for nightmare. We never do find out what happened to the cup of tea. Before long, Heathcliff, shaken out of an uneasy rest by Lockwood’s terror, has attempted to hurl himself through the open window in pursuit of the phantom, before exiting in a more orthodox fashion via the front door. Wyler means this iconic scene to transcend the mere business of narrative in much the same way that the enduring intensity of the passion once stirred between Heathcliff and Cathy will continue to beggar explanation, if not belief. The film’s trailer has after all prepared us to witness the ‘greatest love story of our time – or any time!’ On the poster, a luridly backlit Olivier declares himself ‘torn with Desire … tortured by hate!’

Emily had form, when it came to beggaring explanation, well before she embarked on Wuthering Heights. While Elizabeth Gaskell was researching her Life of Charlotte Brontë (1857), someone lent her a ‘most extraordinary’ packet containing an ‘immense amount of manuscript’ written in a hand impossible to decipher without the aid of a magnifying glass. These writings ‘give one the idea’, she told her publisher George Smith, ‘of creative power carried to the verge of insanity’. The Brontë children’s juvenilia began as a series of plays for performance, but soon developed into rival literary enterprises, each involving a complex apparatus of stories, poems, essays, bulletins and magazine editorials. The near-insanity discerned by Gaskell lay in the intricate mapping of a network of imaginary civilisations. The elder siblings, Charlotte and Branwell, appointed themselves historians of the African empire of Angria; Emily and Anne broke away to chronicle the development of Gondal, a loose confederation of far-flung Pacific territories. Both teams put the stress on sexual and political intrigue: on seduction, betrayal, conspiracy, imprisonment, exile, violent death. Emily’s lengthy collaboration with Anne remained vital to her imaginative life before, during and after composition of the novel that would make her famous.

The stories Emily and Anne wrote about Gondal have not survived. But their poems have. It’s to these we need to look to understand how Emily was able to envisage the kind of dramatic incident which, cut loose from mere storytelling, became the stuff of Hollywood iconography. The great virtue of Francis O’Gorman’s Oxford Authors edition of everything Emily (or Charlotte, acting as literary executor) saw fit to print – based on the texts of the 1846 and 1850 Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell and the 1847 Wuthering Heights – is that it encourages us to read the poems and the novel in the order of their composition. O’Gorman, a strong proponent of the view that Gondal is the ‘key’ to Emily’s imagination, is quick to point to the much anthologised ‘Remembrance’, first published in 1846. Fifteen years after the death of her great love, Julius Brenzaida, Rosina Alcona imagines herself at his lonely moorland grave. It’s the scene that counts. We learn nothing at all from the poem about how and why they fell in love. What matters is that in the fifteen years since he died she has managed to wean her ‘young soul’ from its yearning after his. Or not quite. The poem concludes with Rosina’s admission that she still harbours a taste for ‘memory’s rapturous pain’, even though she knows that any further indulgence in it would exclude her for ever from the ‘empty world’. To many readers, this sounds a lot like Heathcliff’s yearning after the soul of the long-dead Cathy.

Gondal provided Brontë with a great deal of practice in profiling varieties of extreme behaviour. This is a world in which people routinely conduct themselves with Byronic abandon, regardless of gender. But there’s also evidence to suggest that even as she immersed herself ever more deeply in that world she was already imagining alternatives to it. In September 1838, at the age of twenty, she got her first (and only) full-time paid job, as a teacher at Law Hill, a girls’ school at Southowram, near Halifax. It was hard, isolating work, from six in the morning until eleven at night, with a single half-hour break. The speaker of a poem titled ‘4 December 1838’ in the 1850 edition attempts to relieve her ‘harassed heart’ by allowing herself a choice of ‘places’ to visit in her mind. First up is the garden at the Haworth parsonage:

The mute bird sitting on the stone,
The dank moss dripping from the wall,
The garden-walk with weeds o’ergrown
I love them – how I love them all!

These lines prospect methodically, inching forward through parallelism and internal rhyme until they have identified the exact shape and size of the feeling that originally gave rise to them. Scenting bathos in the weeds, perhaps, the speaker then seeks out ‘Another clime, another sky’: one which, while not altogether incompatible with the moors around Haworth, clearly owes the ‘dreamlike charm’ of its wandering deer and rim of blue mountains to Gondal (always as much Scotland as Yorkshire). But something has changed in the method of description. The attention paid to bird, moss and garden-walk coaxes feeling into form. The blue mountains, by contrast, are a token of scenic grandeur cashed in for off-the-shelf solace. One passage is a rehearsal for a novel, the other a resort to fantasy.

Lockwood’s dream shouldn’t have been allowed to count as the most interesting thing that happens to him during his first two visits to the Heights. Brontë needed someone whose independent status would allow him to be astonished, but not put off, by the opaque dourness enveloping the place. She found a handy prototype in the narrators of Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels: honourable if rather dozy young Englishmen such as Rob Roy’s Frank Osbaldistone who undertake perilous expeditions into the wild regions north of the border. These young men turn out to possess a combative streak perfectly calibrated to rub the locals up the wrong way. So we shouldn’t be surprised that what most appeals to Lockwood about Heathcliff is the startling lack of warmth in his invitation to ‘walk in’ and take a glass of wine. ‘Even the gate over which he leant manifested no sympathising movement to the words; and I think that circumstance determined me to accept the invitation.’ The ‘circumstance’ that greets Lockwood is, as the familiar sense of the term would suggest, the condition or state of affairs constituted by his host’s deeply felt reluctance to invite anyone at all into his house. But Brontë has brought a further sense of the term into play, one already fading from widespread use as she wrote: circumstance as physical environment, the totality of immediately surrounding things. The gate resists the intruder as obstinately as the man. Wuthering Heights is a novel about what happens when the imposition of a state of affairs – a large-scale perversity – fundamentally alters, for better or worse, the repetitive, small-scale relationships that people have built up over time with the place they happen to inhabit: their sense of belonging.

For the gate is the least of Lockwood’s problems. After some further awkward preliminaries, he makes the mistake of attempting to stroke the dog. ‘My caress provoked a long, guttural gnarl.’ A ‘gnarl’ is clearly not the sort of sound you want to hear uttered a few inches from your nose. But the interest of the remark doesn’t lie in what it might tell us about his state of mind. The novel’s first proper Brontë sentence, it strikes at an altogether different angle, right down into the totality of immediately surrounding things. ‘Gnarl’ is more common as a verb meaning to contort or twist. In a Gondal poem Emily wrote at Law Hill on 17 October 1838, Julius Brenzaida, repudiating his lover Geraldine S., bids sad farewell at the same time to a wintry northern landscape featuring a ‘gnarled and ancient tree’. The term’s metaphorical applications had not gone unnoticed in literature. You speak to me like a boy who ‘thinks the auld gnarled oak can be twisted as easily as the young sapling’, Rob Roy complains to Osbaldistone.

Chapter One introduces us to the novel’s most notable specimen of auld gnarled oak: scrawny, battered, squinting Joseph, the ancient retainer with a ‘crackly laugh’ and an unquenchable dialect habit. Such figures were by no means unknown in the fiction of the period. In Middlemarch, the hapless Mr Brooke’s attempt to canvass a tenant farmer called Mr Dagley is met with a violent political diatribe in a dialect so impenetrable that he has to make his excuses and leave. George Eliot waxes ironic at the expense of the local educators and improvers (rector, curate, landlord) who might have been expected to relieve a ‘hereditary farmer’ of Mr Dagley’s ‘grade’ of his ‘midnight darkness’, but is ultimately on their side. Brontë not so much – although the Linton family seat, Thrushcross Grange, down in the fertile, sheltered valley, could just about be seen, from the right angle, as an outpost of enlightenment. Rob Roy provides a model for Joseph in Andrew Fairservice, whom Osbaldistone hires as a guide. Fairservice is a bit of a rogue. Scott, genial as ever, can’t help warming to him. Joseph, by contrast, is less a character than an epitome of circumstance in its most literal sense. By now we’re wondering how the establishment at the Heights ever came to be in such a rare old state of gnarl. Lockwood’s dream is still a chapter and a half away.

When Brontë​ resumed work on the novel, after a short hiatus during the summer of 1845, one of the first things she did was to introduce a new narrator, Nelly Dean, Lockwood’s talkative and extraordinarily well-informed housekeeper, whom we first encounter in Chapter Four. Lockwood will hereafter take a back seat. Wuthering Heights had originally been planned as one volume in a three-volume set that would also include Anne’s Agnes Grey and Charlotte’s Professor. When Charlotte’s offering was rejected by the publisher, Emily expanded hers into two volumes to fill the gap. Agnes Grey has a narrator who is also the main protagonist; as, of course, would Jane Eyre. The role of governess admirably equips both for 19th-century fiction’s master-narrative: a hard-won moral and sentimental education culminating in marriage. Nelly Dean is cut from a different cloth. She remains throughout what she has been during her long career as a servant and nurse: the person whose job it is to look after people, to clean up their messes, to make things work. She is a witness rather than a protagonist.

The sentences Brontë attributes to Nelly – many of which occupy a whole paragraph – have been designed to deliver information in appropriate amounts at carefully timed intervals. Their favoured release mechanism is the semi-colon, which pauses more weightily than a comma, but without calling an abrupt halt in the manner of a colon or a period. We soon realise that the metering conducted by Nelly’s semi-colons is also a rhythm, a musical measure. Brontë, after all, was a talented pianist. She wouldn’t have been the first to think musically about punctuation. The eminent 18th-century grammarian Robert Lowth had compared punctuation marks to rests in music. Period, colon, semi-colon and comma are ‘in the same proportion to one another’, Lowth noted, as semi-breve, minim, crotchet and quaver.

The signature of Nelly’s performance as a narrator is the triad. This is her initial recollection, for Lockwood’s benefit, of the young Catherine Earnshaw:

A wild, wick slip she was – but, she had the bonniest eye, and sweetest smile, and lightest foot in the parish; and, after all, I believe she meant no harm; for when once she made you cry in good earnest, it seldom happened that she would not keep you company; and oblige you to be quiet that you might comfort her.

A confident new female voice lets rip with that ‘wild, wick slip’, its musical phrasing intent as much on pleasure as on description as it drifts in and out of dialect usage. Brontë has improved on Scott. Andrew Fairservice describes Diana Vernon, Rob Roy’s feisty heroine, as a ‘wild slip’. ‘Wick’ means lively, with a hint at wicked. This inaugural descant at once yields, by way of self-correction, to compliments paid to the trio of eye, smile and foot. Lockwood, after all, has already shown himself amply susceptible to such manifestations. At which point the sentence begins in earnest. Marshalled by semi-colons, its three further independent clauses articulate the novel’s enduring preoccupation with abrupt reversals of feeling. It seems that Cathy meant no harm by her mischief. However badly she might hurt someone, Nelly informs Lockwood, she seldom left them for dead. Why? Because she knew that the weakness she displayed in not abandoning them would oblige them, in turn, not to abandon her. The aggressor turns victim in order to add the satisfactions of victimhood to those of aggression. Heathcliff be warned.

It matters, too, that Nelly is the custodian of the novel’s topographical archive: its inventory of immediately surrounding things. She knows the directions and distances. It is she who, at a moment of heightened tension towards the end of Volume One, repairs to a spot on the moors where a ‘rough sand pillar’ erected at a crossroads serves as a guidepost to the Grange, the Heights and the nearby village of Gimmerton. A characteristic tripartite paragraph-sentence recalls the way, twenty years before, she and Hindley Earnshaw used to play on the turf surrounding the pillar. By Brontë’s reckoning, the storyteller must already be fully in place – in a place – before the story can be told. The storyteller is the voice of circumstance in both senses. Nelly doesn’t think like Jane Eyre or Agnes Grey. The function of her paragraph-sentences is to assess the impact of an action on its environment. These sentences understand character – identity – as a footprint. They describe the effect Cathy’s wilfulness had on those she most cared about.

To put it another way, Brontë was interested in consequence. She couldn’t care less about why people do the things they do. The fact is that they do them. When the much-loved Keeper got into a fight with another dog, Emily waded in at once while ‘several other animals,’ the Haworth stationer John Greenwood reported, ‘who thought themselves men, were standing looking on like cowards as they were.’ She forced the dogs apart, ‘dredg[ing] well their noses with pepper’ and sent them packing. When Branwell drunkenly set light to his bedclothes, Anne raised the alarm, but it was Emily who, in Juliet Barker’s words, ‘unceremoniously dragged her brother out of his bed, flung him into the corner and the blazing bedclothes into the middle of the room, dashed to the kitchen for a large can of water and doused the flames’.

Chapter Four of the first volume includes Nelly’s account of the imposition many years ago of a state of affairs which, as Lockwood has already discovered, still remains to be dealt with. Mr Earnshaw, having walked sixty miles to Liverpool on business he’s reluctant to state – don’t ask how or why – returns three days later with a ‘dirty, ragged, black-haired child’ in a bundle in his arms. Earnshaw’s journey constitutes an inaugural fracture. It opens the relatively inaccessible, landlocked environment of the West Riding of Yorkshire to the sea, that almost limitless space of circulation and interchange. The state of affairs, in short, has to do with a condition: that of the displaced person (immigrant, refugee, asylum seeker). This one ends up in a community which by Nelly’s admission does not welcome ‘foreigners’.

Much ink has been spilled in discussing the black-haired child’s parentage. Brontë made sure to allow for a number of possibilities. ‘Gypsy’ is the term most often applied to Heathcliff in the novel. Gypsies were a steady presence in 19th-century British life and literature, at once exotic and familiar. Their enduring fascination lay in the fact that no one had been able to work out where they came from. In Jane Austen’s Emma (1815), Harriet Smith is accosted by gypsy children on the outskirts of Highbury; in George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss (1860), Maggie Tulliver absconds to a gypsy encampment. Mr Linton, the owner of Thrushcross Grange at the time of Heathcliff’s arrival, characterises him instead as ‘that strange acquisition my late neighbour made in his journey to Liverpool – a little Lascar, or an American or Spanish castaway’. The term ‘Lascar’ referred specifically to sailors recruited in India to replace British crew members, often found in dire straits in ports around England while they waited for a ship to take them home. Whichever way you look at it, Heathcliff lacks an obvious point of origin.

Is he perhaps of Irish descent, as Patrick Brontë was? It’s a reasonable enough assumption to make about a novel written and published during the years of the famine. But Liverpool was at the time of Mr Earnshaw’s visit the nation’s major slave-trading port. So is Heathcliff of African descent? Nelly consoles him over not having Edgar Linton’s blue eyes by claiming that a good heart will always help a person to a ‘bonny’ face even ‘if you were a regular black’. All we know for certain is that Brontë went out of her way to insist on Heathcliff’s racial and ethnic difference. He is as much that condition of difference as he is a person. Nelly tells Lockwood that she knows everything about his history ‘except where he was born, and who were his parents, and how he got his money, at first’.

The boldest of several recent attempts to fill in the gaps is Caryl Phillips’s The Lost Child (2015). Phillips supplies Heathcliff with an origin: he is Earnshaw’s son by a freed slave whom he keeps as a mistress in a Liverpool slum. Episodes describing the boy’s retrieval by his father after his mother dies in abject poverty frame a story otherwise set largely in postwar Britain, about the children of an inter-racial marriage, one of whom goes missing. (The story’s primary historical context is the Moors murders of the 1960s.) Phillips is well aware that Heathcliff appears in Wuthering Heights as someone discovered rather than someone lost – a foundling. What’s most striking about the way he frames his story is the intensity of the description of Earnshaw’s journey to Liverpool at the novel’s beginning, and of his return to the West Riding, with Heathcliff in tow, at its conclusion. His aim, I think, is to keep open the route to the sea created by Brontë’s original decision to send Earnshaw to Liverpool: to make of that route a channel, a thoroughfare, an axis of change.

The basis of Phillips’s oblique affinity with Brontë may lie in their shared conviction that the storyteller, real or imaginary, must already be in place – however uneasily – before the story can be told. The introduction to Phillips’s A New World Order: Selected Essays (2001) sets each of four separate scenes in four separate countries to the same refrain: ‘I recognise the place, I feel at home here, but I don’t belong. I am of, and not of, this place.’ The postscript to his ‘Leaving Home’ in The Atlantic Sound (2001) positions him on a bench overlooking the Albert Dock in Liverpool. In a place where he both does and doesn’t belong, he is able to begin to piece together a history for Heathcliff. Phillips’s essays of this period envisage a world in which it has become ‘impossible to resist the claims of the migrant, the asylum seeker or the refugee’. The world has continued to do its damnedest to resist those claims. It may be that Brontë didn’t.

If you squint hard enough, you can just about discern the faint outline of the topography of Wuthering Heights in Phillips’s A Distant Shore (2003), the story of two displaced persons who have nothing in common with one another apart from where they happen to find themselves at a particular moment in their lives. Dorothy Jones, a music teacher in an unnamed northern town, has just retired to the nearby village of Weston; or, rather, to Stoneleigh, a new housing development at the top of a hill on its outskirts. Solomon, aka Gabriel, her next-door neighbour, the estate’s caretaker and nightwatchman, is a veteran of civil war in an unnamed African country, who, after making his way perilously across Europe, has been granted asylum in the UK. A complex narrative loops back in time to explain how Solomon and Dorothy got to where they are, returning again and again to a here and now – a circumstance in both senses – which is at once an opportunity and a terrible exposure. Phillips has transposed Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. When the residents of Stoneleigh’s genteel cul-de-sacs venture down the hill into Weston, they encounter a milieu as ‘gnarled’ in its way – as decisively left-behind – as anything Heathcliff ever presided over. Dorothy is not slow to express a Lockwood-like affront at the indifference with which she’s greeted by a community that very obviously doesn’t welcome ‘foreigners’. Solomon will suffer something far worse than indifference. The novel’s title alludes to Billy Bragg’s ‘Distant Shore’, itself an allusion to a book of essays by Colin MacInnes. Bragg’s asylum seeker has escaped his tormentors (but not the memory of the damage they did) to wash up on ‘a distant shore’. By Phillips’s account, the distant shore is now inland, or anywhere, including the heart of Yorkshire: as perhaps it already was for Brontë.

Brontë’sdecision to follow the Gondolian formula by killing off Cathy ensured that the original circumstance of the immigrant’s arrival on this inland shore would loom even larger in the second volume of Wuthering Heights than it does in the first. By the time the second volume begins, Heathcliff is already as much of a revenant as the phantom with an ice-cold hand begging Lockwood to let her in through the window. Distraught at Cathy’s decision to marry Edgar, he absconded from the Heights, a runaway near-slave. Now he’s back – don’t ask how or why – in mint condition as a man of wealth and status: a carpetbagger, in short. Volume Two chronicles the immigrant’s revenge. Heathcliff will gain control over his enemies by acquiring their property. He will humiliate them. He will gnarl their children – and his own, if needs be – as he himself was once gnarled. Brontë may have been thinking of Milton’s Satan: ‘Nor hope to be my self less miserable/By what I seek, but others to make such/As I, though thereby worse to me redound:/For only in destroying I find ease/To my relentless thoughts.’ To redound is to flow over or exceed yourself so vigorously that your action risks either sharp recoil or a rebound after impact. When Hindley was still alive, Heathcliff had once exceeded himself by saving his son, Hareton, then a baby, from what would otherwise have been a fatal fall. His face on that occasion, Nelly reports, ‘expressed, plainer than words could do, the intensest anguish at having made himself the instrument of thwarting his own revenge’.

Heathcliff’s redounding occupies the greater part of Volume Two. Few fictional protagonists can have left a firmer or more calculated footprint on a milieu or environment than he does. It’s his redounding that generates the brutality that shocked Charlotte and Anne when Emily first read them Wuthering Heights. Discussing the strong element of Gondolian fantasy in the novel, O’Gorman remarks that the ‘distance’ it maintains from the ‘fabric of lived experience’ is most evident in its ‘figuring of violence’. But Brontë’s primary concern was always with repercussion rather than with motive. She meant her figuring of the ways people deal with violence to hew as closely as possible to the fabric of lived experience. Take Isabella Linton, Edgar’s sister, for example. We’re sometimes told that Brontë took little interest in Isabella except as a delivery system for the child Heathcliff requires if he is to gain legal ownership of the Grange after Edgar’s death. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Isabella suffers relentless physical and emotional violence from Heathcliff. Brontë went out of her way to ensure that she told this tale of domestic abuse – no further from lived experience today than it must have been then – in her own words.

There are few scenes in the novel more dramatic than that of Isabella’s eventual escape from Heathcliff. Arriving battered and bruised at Thrushcross Grange in its aftermath, Isabella proceeds to put Nelly fully in the picture. Heathcliff has been locked out of the Heights. Hindley and Isabella confer within. Is she too ‘soft’, he asks, to help him settle their ‘great debt’ with Heathcliff? ‘“I’m weary of enduring now”; I replied, “and I’d be glad of a retaliation that wouldn’t recoil on myself.”’ In the gnarled world of the Heights there is, of course, no retaliation without recoil. The scene that follows is Brontë at her most Tarantino-esque. Hindley has the advantage of a weapon, a combination gun and retractable knife. Smashing a window, Heathcliff reaches through and wrenches the weapon from his grasp. ‘The charge exploded, and the knife, in springing back, closed into its owner’s wrist. Heathcliff pulled it away by main force, slitting up the flesh as it passed on, and thrust it dripping into his pocket.’ This near parodic spasm of redounding doesn’t end well for Hindley. Isabella, however, now ‘in the condition of mind to be shocked at nothing’, feels powerful enough, at last, to cut any remaining ties to her abuser and strike out on her own. She makes a home for herself and the child to which she will shortly give birth somewhere ‘near London’.

The ample redounding in A Distant Shore is generated in Solomon’s case by the tit-for-tat atrocities of civil war, and in Dorothy’s by experiences of ‘abandonment’ that seem to her to merit immediate retaliation – itself subject in turn to excruciating recoil. Like Brontë, however, Phillips knows that the inevitable outcome of redounding is redundancy. Salient among the things that surround Dorothy in her bungalow in the Stoneleigh cul-de-sac is the man next door assiduously cleaning and polishing his second-hand car, which he does a lot more often than is strictly necessary. ‘Just this lonely man who washes his car with a concentration that suggests that a difficult life is informing the circular motion of his right hand. His every movement would appear to be an attempt to erase a past that he no longer wishes to be reminded of.’ What’s curious – transformative, even – about Solomon’s small-scale, repetitive iterations is that their redundancy can be shared. The movements of his right hand are as much signal as therapy. It’s Solomon’s good fortune that his car washing should have caught the eye of the equally unsettled ex-teacher who lives next door. The good fortune doesn’t last. When Solomon dies, beaten up and dumped in a canal, Dorothy mourns him by cleaning and polishing his car exactly as he would have done: ‘All careful, with small circular movements like you’re gently stirring a bowl of soup.’

The good fortune exercised when Heathcliff and Cathy roam the moors as children doesn’t last, either. Heathcliff, too, will have some mourning to do (small circular movements are not his style). Brontë has anticipated Phillips in the formal innovation of an echo or ballad-like refrain that outlasts the tumult of action and reaction. In the first chapter of the second volume, Cathy, now close to death, sits in the recess of an open window at Thrushcross Grange. The ‘full, mellow flow’ of the beck in the valley is clearly audible. This music, heard from different directions at different times of year, is a signpost, a sonic equivalent of Nelly’s sand pillar. ‘At Wuthering Heights it always sounded on quiet days,’ Nelly explains, ‘following a great thaw, or a season of steady rain – and, of Wuthering Heights, Catherine was thinking as she listened.’ In the volume’s final chapter, Heathcliff, also near death, lingers by an open window at the Heights. The evening is so still that ‘not only the murmur of the Beck down Gimmerton was distinguishable, but its ripples and its gurgling over the pebbles, or through the large stones which it could not cover.’ Nelly’s sentence beautifully enacts redundancy by its addition of that last detail of the large stones, familiar to Heathcliff, we assume, but not strictly necessary to an understanding of his current state of mind. Torn with desire, tortured by hate? Or remembering a place once won – and lost – among the totality of immediately surrounding things?

The echo of the beck’s murmur from the first to last chapter of Volume Two is about as close as Heathcliff and Cathy ever get to their long sought-after unity of mind and feeling. It matters that she is long dead, and that he will shortly be buried beside her. Brontë’s Gondal poems make it clear that for her a person’s ultimate footprint is the grave. In one of the most compelling of the poems, entitled ‘Song’ in the 1846 edition, a loyal retainer contemplates the moorland burial place of his murdered queen. All the love she once knew, all the outpourings of grief at her death – all the elements of mere saga – have been leached from the scene. What’s left to measure her by is circumstance in its literal sense: the linnet and the skylark, the west wind, the ‘murmur’ of summer streams. ‘There is no need of other sound/To soothe my Lady’s dreams.’ So it is, too, at the end of Wuthering Heights.

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