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Graeme Tytler, Facets of Wuthering Heights: Selected Essays

Leicester: Matador, 2018, 310 p.
María Valero Redondo
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Graeme Tytler, Facets of Wuthering Heights: Selected Essays, Leicester: Matador, 2018, 310 p. ISBN: 978-1789016239

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1Graeme Tytler’s book is a welcome contribution which offers sensitive close reading on Emily Brontë’s novel. Facets of Wuthering Heights: Selected Essays consists of fifteen essays which were originally published in the journals Brontë Society Transactions and Brontë Studies. This publication puts forward a fresh look at Wuthering Heights, offering innovative interpretations of its characters, plot and themes.

2Of these fifteen essays, eleven examine multifarious themes in the novel whereas the remaining make a perceptive analysis of secondary characters. Within the first category, four essays are of especial interest. In ‘Wuthering Heights: An Amoral Novel?’ Tytler challenges the argument that Wuthering Heights is an amoral novel and claims that, even if most of the characters keep secrets, lie or fail to keep promises or resolutions at some point in the novel, they do so for the benefit of other characters, proving Emily Brontë’s insightful understanding of human nature. ‘The Role of Religion in Wuthering Heights’ questions the deep-rooted belief that Wuthering Heights is an anti-Christian novel. Tytler uses the character of Hareton to argue that Emily Brontë does not reject Christianity in the novel but discloses the ways in which Christians have failed to live up to some of its basic principles, and he shows how the Judaeo-Christian tradition has influenced the language, mentality and behaviour of almost all the characters in the novel.

3In ‘Masters and Servants in Wuthering Heights, Tytler questions the subordination of servants and draws attention to the fact that, in the novel, masters cannot exercise authority successfully without the co-operation of servants. Thus, Brontë problematizes a traditional system, exposing its workings and inner conflicts. Lastly, ‘Eating and Drinking in Wuthering Heights’ examines the symbolic, thematic or psychological functions that references to eating, drinking, food and beverages have in the novel, an issue that has been scarcely raised by Brontë scholars hitherto and which contributes to the realism of the novel. Especially illuminating is Tytler’s reading of how Heathcliff was found by Mr. Earnshaw, ‘starving . . . in the streets of Liverpool’, as a symbolic foreshadowing of Heathcliff’s starvation and the end of the novel, which finally leads up to his death.

4In the second category of essays we find a sharp presentation of the second Catherine, Hareton Earnshaw, Isabella and Edgar Linton. The presentation of Hareton Earnshaw and Isabella Linton deserves special attention. Tytler contends that, far from being merely a lifeless replica of Heathcliff, Hareton represents a critique of the Gothic and Satanic qualities embodied by Heathcliff. For Tytler, Hareton’s coarseness and his sincerity should be interpreted as a symbolic rejection of the culture of civility represented by Lockwood. Therefore, the fact that the name of ‘Hareton Earnshaw’ is inscribed at the principal door of Wuthering Heights might be understood as foreshadowing the idea that Hareton will symbolize a kind of revival of humanism in Yorkshire at the end of the nineteenth century.

5In ‘The Presentation of Isabella in Wuthering Heights, Tytler underscores Isabella’s overlooked role as narrator in the novel both through her letter to Nelly Dean and through her oral account to the latter of life at the Heights. According to Tytler, it is her independent spirit that probably contributes to Isabella’s survival during the last years of her life. In fact, it is probably owing to this spirit that Isabella proves to be a capable lone parent and becomes a prototype of the modern feminist. Certainly, her personal situation at that time exemplifies the problem of the disadvantaged married woman trapped in a chiefly patriarchal society in late eighteenth-century England.

6This book detaches itself from the current productive vogue for sociological approaches to the Brontës’ oeuvre in general and to Wuthering Heights in particular, a vogue which has tended towards what the V21 contributors have termed the ‘fetishization of the archival’ and has contributed to obscure the focus on close textual analysis. By paying close attention to form, that is, to the language, tropes, themes and symbols present in the novel, this collection of articles provides a rewarding blend of insights for a range of readers and scholars, displaying the cohesive structure of Emily Brontë’s novel as well as her perspicacious understanding of human nature. The overall result is a rewarding opportunity to read fresh and shrewd perspectives on different themes and characters that demonstrate that Wuthering Heights is more than a world-famous romance.

7On a more negative note, Tytler does not claim a proper theoretical coherence to the argument. The book would benefit from a secure and grounded theory or method on which to base its readings and which would put the essays in effective conversation with each other. I would also like to have seen some conscious references to previous literary texts that might have had a direct influence on Wuthering Heights. With the exception of ‘Animals in Wuthering Heights, in which he mentions that Emily Brontë’s use of animal imagery is due to the influence of Sir Walter Scott, Tytler usually downplays—or simply disregards—the literary debts that the novel incurs with previous novels. Furthermore, a more recent and exhaustive bibliography would be sometimes desirable. For instance, in ‘Masters and Servants in Wuthering Heights, Tytler’s statement in an endnote that ‘no Brontë scholar has so far dealt extensively with the relationship between masters and servants in Wuthering Heights’ is, to my mind, quite inaccurate. Critics like Bruce Robbins (1993), or Jean Fernandez (2010)—even if they cannot be properly called Brontë scholars—have dealt considerably with this topic.

8Overall, though, this is a significant addition to criticism on Wuthering Heights. It is clearly and accessibly written, and it offers many penetrating insights into the plot, themes and characters of the novel. As someone who studies Emily Brontë’s novel, I think this is a useful volume to both scholars and students who wish to engage with this remarkable novel.

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Référence électronique

María Valero Redondo, « Graeme Tytler, Facets of Wuthering Heights: Selected Essays »Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 92 Automme | 2020, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2020, consulté le 19 juin 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/cve/8428 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/cve.8428

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María Valero Redondo

Universidad de Córdoba, Spain

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Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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