Films, plays, comedy, an opera, a musical and a chart-topping pop song, Wuthering Heights has been adapted and distributed through popular culture like few other novels. I recently revisited Emily Bronte’s original and was, all over again, wildly impressed by its transgressive power. As I turned over the pages it also struck me just how thoroughly, hopelessly reductive each and every adaptation truly is. A literary tour de force is diluted, made less problematic – in short, sanitised – so that audiences can comfortably enjoy a love story with a few bitter, brutal twists.
A TV documentary series (broadcast just a few years ago) about lovers in literature perhaps exemplified this criminal dilution of Emily Bronte’s novel. As if believing they were so close to the radical edge that the cliff top was crumbling under the sheer weight of
their high and mighty opinion, the documentary-makers informed viewers that Heathcliff is literature’s mad lover, offering no other understanding of the character or the text. As if that’s all there is to it. Kisses for crazies.
For a text that is, as one critic – Pauline Nestor – points out, full of unresolved tensions between ‘dream and reality, self and other, natural and supernatural, realism and melodrama, structural formality and emotional chaos’, the tendency to normalise or reduce Emily Bronte’s great work, which is far more ‘Romantic than romantic’, isn’t so much shocking as incorrigibly abysmal. It is a sheer lack of imagination that should be discouraged on pain of death. Or at least their financing ought to be withdrawn. Oh damn, we’re going to go round in circles now because dross often outsells quality. Perhaps Byronic Heathcliff’s words can be taken, albeit from another context, to speak to all those artistic charlatans who have so mindnumbingly misrepresented Bronte’s novel, and in the weakest light:
‘You are welcome to torture me to death for your amusement, only allow me to amuse myself a little in the same style, and refrain from insult as much as you are able. Having levelled my palace, don’t erect a hovel and complacently admire your own charity in giving me that for a home.’
Even if you must insist on misunderstanding Heathcliff – and I guess that is easy to do – don’t misunderstand me. I have no problem with actors, writers, filmmakers, theatre companies, adapting works and trying to add something – trying to put their seal of creativity on it – but has anyone genuinely attempted this with Wuthering Heights? Time after time we are splattered with lovey-dovey mush in period costumes and English Rose accents that are supposedly made, ahem, ‘challenging’ with a flatulent whimper of understated, curmudgeonly, internalised angst and an overdone firework display of pathetic fallacy.
Just stick with the novel.
Randal Eliot’s novel, What Goes and Comes Around, is published by Literary Fragments and available at:
A daughter catching her mother cheating and high on the wild passion of the sexual act is one of the most earth-shattering, excruciating shocks and humiliations (and then some) that both parties can imagine or endure. How do they get over it? Here’s how one such terrible drama unfolded: surely repercussions will be felt for a long, long time?
So wrapped up under her quilt, Cathy only became aware of her daughter’s homecoming when she thumped on the bedroom door just as Michael’s body jerked towards a climax. Oh my god, the memory made Cathy shudder!
‘Mum, who’s in there?’ Alicia had demanded to know. ‘Dad’s at work!’
Michael’s face froze in ecstatic horror and Cathy shimmied her hips, unhooked the two-backed beast and, as his seed spilled onto the sheets, tumbled out of bed stretching for her dressing gown on the floor. Red-faced, her elbow sore, Cathy opened the door just wide enough to peek out. ‘There’s only me, darling. I was tired and decided I needed some extra beauty sleep.’
‘I heard someone!’
‘You liar!’ Alicia stomped down the stairs. ‘I’m telling Dad!’ she hollered. ‘Just wait while he gets in!’
Cathy buckled under her shame and fell against her closed bedroom door, her eyes shut tight, her arms outstretched like she’d been hoisted onto a crucifix. ‘Oh, oh, oh,’ she agonisingly moaned.
‘Let’s not be rash,’ Michael said in a low, steady voice. Though flushed from his endeavours, he had regained his typical unwavering composure and pulled on his grey suit with astonishing promptness. His back straight, his chin high, he fastened his tie aided by Cathy’s full-length mirror beside her antique chest of drawers. Michael wore business suits for their dates so not to arouse his wife’s suspicions, besides, on the occasion he’d turned up casually dressed, his ordinariness had disappointed Cathy, try as she had to hide it. When Michael wasn’t around she found it difficult to describe his face, which only confirmed it was the man and not his looks that matters. Wasn’t useless Ian handsome? Cathy’s eyes blinked open and she watched Michael in the mirror. Goblin green eyes, slightly snout-like hooter, thin lips and a grey, fast-receding hairline; he was plain ugly. Yet his finely tailored suits symbolised power and culture, the things that lifted him above the crowd. ‘Let’s go and see what we can do. After you get dressed.’
‘Yes.’ Cathy got off her crucifix and obediently picked her black French knickers from the polished floorboards.
Prostrate on a sofa, Alicia refused to acknowledge her mother’s soft entreaties and stared up at the ceiling. In her retro, floral party dress she looked like a broken china doll that a morbid little mummy had laid out in an impromptu, homely chapel of rest. ‘She’s traumatised, Michael. What have we done? My poor baby.’
‘No!’ Alicia squealed and turned over, face-down, when Cathy tried to caress her cheeks.
Cathy looked close to screaming as she placed her hands on her own cheeks.
‘I deeply wish this had never happened, Alicia,’ Michael mellifluously apologised, going down on one knee. ‘Your mother and I have been very good friends for a long time and tonight – and only tonight – we made a mistake. It’s my fault. I wouldn’t listen. If only I could recompense you for the upset I’ve caused.’
Alicia flipped from her belly to her back and eyed him severely, hatefully.
‘Perhaps I’d better leave.’ Michael got to his feet, his knees creaking, and sombrely said to Cathy, ‘I’ll show myself out.’
‘Wait!’ Alicia was staring at his shoes in wonder. ‘Don’t go yet.’
‘Alicia, are you all right?’ Why did her girl stare at Michael’s laces? Had she taken a funny turn and was considering stringing… No! Unthinkable! ‘Answer me, Alicia. What is it?’
‘You want me to stay?’ Michael’s faint smile hinted at some kind of recognition.
‘You’ve nice shoes.’
‘Thank you.’ His smile slowly broadened, his eyes twinkling.
‘What the blazes? Alicia, I said, are you all right?’
‘I won’t say a word if you buy me all – and I mean all – those clothes I showed my mum online the other day.’
‘Mum, he wants to recompense me. Didn’t you hear?’
‘He didn’t mean like that! It’s immoral!’
‘Hark who’s talking!’ Alicia jolted upright. ‘I suppose you’ll try to tell me that Dad married you in the house of God so you could shag Michael in his bed while he’s at work.’
‘Don’t talk like that. Please.’
‘Oh, Michael! Yes, Michael!’ Alicia mocked the passion that had rocked the house as she’d entered. ‘Harder! Harder!’
‘How dare you?’
‘I dare tell Dad, trust me.’
‘You’ll be in for it, young lady.’
‘I will? Huh, and I suppose you’ll be congratulated.’
Michael coughed into his hand. ‘Your girl has a point,’ he murmured, ‘not very well presented, but it is a point.’
‘Are you suggesting that we pay my daughter off?’
‘I’m saying that we’ve made this mistake just once.’ He winked on Alicia’s blind side. ‘Should everybody suffer because of one misdemeanour? Now, Alicia is clearly upset. A gift might make her feel better.’ Michael pulled his black leather wallet from his trouser pocket. ‘How much do you need? It is Alicia, isn’t it?’
‘At least, erm,’ – her eyes greedily marvelled at the wad poking out of his wallet – ‘well, four hundred.’
‘I think I can accommodate that,’ Michael smiled, unfazed, already counting out twenty pound notes. ‘…Two hundred and eighty, three hundred, three hundred and twenty. I’ll give the rest to your mother by Saturday. Happy shopping.’
‘Michael, this is not only wrong, it’s such a risk.’
‘It isn’t any risk at all.’ Alicia’s eyes lit up as she went through the wad like a youngster with her first flipbook. ‘If I take this money, I’ll be just as guilty in Dad’s eyes. So I won’t say a word.’
‘It’s not right!’
‘So you’d like Dad to find out?’
‘No, but, Alicia, come on, see…’ What should she see? That her mother’s a trollop? Cathy’s lip trembled.
‘We don’t always like the most necessary deals we make,’ Michael said, humbly, like he’d been scorched by the world many times over.
‘Just like I don’t like coming home and listening to that grunting and groaning.’ Alicia reached for the TV remote. ‘Now leave me in peace so I can get over it!’
‘As you wish,’ said Michael, turning. ‘Goodbye.’ Cathy followed him out, glancing disbelievingly at her daughter.
At the back door in the kitchen, Cathy demanded to know, ‘What sort of parent – what sort of people – bribe a teenage girl?’
‘Pragmatic lovers,’ Michael quietly replied, looking to the floor.
‘You don’t mean to say you think we’re going to carry this on?’ Cathy’s incredulity cut through the air and she winced, thinking that Alicia must have heard. ‘It’s impossible,’ she violently whispered.
‘I can’t stand to lose you.’ Michael took Cathy’s hand and raised it to his lips. ‘Darling, we can get through this.’
‘Just go!’ Cathy snatched away her hand and averted her gaze. The joint of beef was still roasting in the oven.
‘I’ll be in touch.’
‘I’ll phone a cab from the pub down the way to the car park, then. Cheerio, my cherub.’
The second the door closed behind Michael, Alicia ran out of the living room and up the stairs to her bedroom. Her sobs could be heard for an hour, maybe more, before she either settled somewhat or fell asleep.
Tears aside, perhaps Alicia had taught her mother a crude, clear lesson in ‘getting exactly what you want and now!’ Something changed in Cathy from that day on. By anybody’s reckoning she had previously splashed out to keep herself, her children and her home just how she liked; now she became passionately extravagant. The rift between her and her husband soon opened into a gulf, not that he noticed he was like a man marooned on an iceberg floating out to deep, tropical seas. He even seemed pleased in his gruff, vacant way. Cathy had her foibles; whose wife doesn’t? She revelled in some kind of happiness so he must be doing something right…
The excerpt features in chapter two of Randal Eliot’s great contemporary novel, What Goes and Comes Around, available at all Amazon outlets.
Amazon UK http://www.amazon.co.uk/What-Comes-Around-Randal-Eliot-ebook/dp/B00PLZR75U/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1423659890&sr=8-1&keywords=randal+eliot