Emily Brontë
Donada Peters, reader

(Books on Tape)
Being an English Major, I had always heard tell of this one, but missed the class in 19th Century English novels (Dr. Botticelli was out one semester with phlebitis) and by the next year it was too late and I never thought I'd get around to it --- certainly not all two volumes in the Folio Society edition. But then suddenly a couple of weeks ago Wuthering Heights appeared improbably on the doorstep: eight tapes, each 1-1/2 hour, as read by Donada Peters.

Since the daily work commute is two hours, it works perfectly but --- truth be told --- sometimes I find myself so gripped by the story that I slow down, so as to not miss a word. Such as when Catherine the First goes quite mad, pulling feathers out of her pillows, identifying where each came from, or, looking in the mirror, becomes frightened to death at the visage she sees there so that dear Nelly Dean must hang her shawl over it.

And then in comes that grumpy Heathcliff, and, in their short meeting, he drives her further mad. She blames him for killing her --- she tells him she will be glad to be in the grave for she knows it will kill part of him too:

    Heathcliff had knelt on one knee to embrace her; he attempted to rise, but she seized his hair, and kept him down.

    "I wish I could hold you," she continued bitterly, "till we were both dead! I shouldn't care what you suffered. I care nothing for your sufferings. Why shouldn't you suffer? I do! Will you forget me? Will you be happy when I am in the earth? Will you say twenty years hence, 'That's the grave of Catherine Earnshaw. I loved her long ago, and was wretched to lose her; but it is past. I've loved many others since: my children are dearer to me than she was; and at death, I shall not rejoice that I am going to her: I shall be sorry that I must leave them!' Will you say so, Heathcliff?"

    "Don't torture me till I am as mad as yourself," cried he, wrenching his head free, and grinding his teeth."

The elegant dying Cathy and the dark Heathcliff, and all the while Nelly Dean is right in the middle, eavesdropping so she can narrate the whole scene to Lockwood fifteen years later. Lockwood, who opens the can of worms, the stranger in town who creates the tableau vivant, the picture of misery that he sees first-hand in dark Wuthering Heights where we meet the brooding Heathcliff --- the name so perfect, the gypsy fondling amidst those dark, barren cliffs. And the name "Wuthering Heights" which the Yorkshire accent comes out not unlike "withering."

And it is withering, all souls there in the house dying on the vine of hate, churlishness and jealousy, except for dear Nelly floating over all of it, the faithful retainer, who retains all the stories, these ghoulish stories --- Earnshaw drinking himself to death, Heathcliff running off with Isabella, Catherine's mad death, Isabella jeering "you killed her!" and brother Edgar catching, too, the rages that bedevil this whole nutty bunch, and finally the younger Catherine trapped ,set up by Heathcliff's dying son, there on the windy, mad-making house atop the purple moors.

Emily Brontë --- dead at age 30! --- somehow, 100 years before the concept came into being, had known enough to sew together in this novel what would be called a dysfunctional family: ruled as they are, as all such families are, by a violence of words and passion and actions, alternating with the equal violence of broody silences, all fomented by what is now known in psychological circles as "enmeshment." Never to be free of each other, generation after generation, no matter how much they loathe, scorn, hate (and love) each other.

Thus, more than a century-and-a-half ago our author captured the secret of family systems where brother and sister and father and mother and son and daughter and even the faithful retainers are so entangled with each other that, like cats tied at the tail, they have to maul each other to death, destroying each other with a passion so powerful, one that could never be resisted, nor sated. The only difference between 1845 and now being that in those days the writer could only treat with the shadow of the passion, not the passion itself.

§     §     §

I have to confess to you I am no more than half-way through this one. I'll be starting in on tape #5 tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. I will be done at 10 or so. Don't try to interrupt me.

Well, you can try, but it won't work, for I'll be far away, me and my car dawdling along the lonely moors of Yorkshire, with the cold and the wind and the darkness of a family poisoned by this gypsy-dark boy, that bleak cliff at the edge of the heath. You'll find me gone for an hour and a half (or possibly it might be longer, however long Ms. Brontë wants to keep me) so don't try to wave me down or call me on the cell-phone because I won't respond being as enmeshed as I am (as they are) in this nuthouse, as they are with each other on the very heights that wither the soul, that shrivel the heart, that kill the innocent and the beautiful alike --- kill them with love.

By-the-bye, Donada Peters reads all the parts of this book like a dream, being able to invoke the harsh voice and harsh words of that scoundrel Heathcliff, the sweet seductive (later acidly scolding) Catherine, the stolid peasant intonations of dear, rocklike Nelly, the Yorkshire accents of the pious boor Joseph, the drunken cursing scowling of Hindley, the futile reasoning of the younger Cathy. It's all perfectly contained in this one from Books on Tape. I guarantee that if you try it you'll never forget --- nor forgive, alas --- that foundling gypsy who was able to poison them all for love.

--- L. W. Milam

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