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Mileage today:  2.95 miles, which reflects the fact that I didn’t get out for my usual walk.  I blame meetings, etc. 

The lack of mileage means that I can reflect on reading, specifically my progress through what I consider the quintessential Yorkshire novel, Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte.  I began my Yorkshire reading with a Bronte, Charlotte, but the first novel was Villette, not the most Yorkshire of the Bronte productions.  But WH puts me smack dab in the middle of the place where Nick and I will be walking coming July 2010.  Here is the gratuitous portrait of Emily.

I first read WH as a senior in AP English class in high school with Nelson Sudderth, the second of my most memorable English teachers at Girls Preparatory School.  Since I have the 45 minute commute each way to and from the Haute, I am “reading” this book via Audible.  I suppose listening may not be the same as reading, but I can say in truth that listening to the following passage is even more hair-raising than reading it the first time way back sometime in 1977-78:

“This time, I remembered I was lying in the oak closet, and I heard distinctly the gusty wind, and the driving of the snow; I heard, also, the fir bough repeat its teasing sound, and ascribed it to the right cause: but it annoyed me so much, that I resolved to silence it, if possible; and, I thought, I rose and endeavoured to unhasp the casement. The hook was soldered into the staple: a circumstance observed by me when awake, but forgotten.

‘I must stop it, nevertheless!’ I muttered, knocking my knuckles through the glass, and stretching an arm out to seize the importunate branch; instead of which, my fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand! The intense horror of nightmare came over me: I tried to draw back my arm, but the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice sobbed, ‘Let me in – let me in!’

‘Who are you?’ I asked, struggling, meanwhile, to disengage myself.

‘Catherine Linton,’ it replied, shiveringly (why did I think of Linton? I had read Earnshaw twenty times for Linton) – ‘I’m come home: I’d lost my way on the moor!’ As it spoke, I discerned, obscurely, a child’s face looking through the window. Terror made me cruel; and, finding it useless to attempt shaking the creature off, I pulled its wrist on to the broken pane, and rubbed it to and fro till the blood ran down and soaked the bedclothes: still it wailed, ‘Let me in!’ and maintained its tenacious gripe, almost maddening me with fear.

‘How can I!’ I said at length. ‘Let me go, if you want me to let you in!’ The fingers relaxed, I snatched mine through the hole, hurriedly piled the books up in a pyramid against it, and stopped my ears to exclude the lamentable prayer. I seemed to keep them closed above a quarter of an hour; yet, the instant I listened again, there was the doleful cry moaning on!

‘Begone!’ I shouted. ‘I’ll never let you in, not if you beg for twenty years.’

‘It is twenty years,’ mourned the voice: ‘twenty years. I’ve been a waif for twenty years!’ Thereat began a feeble scratching outside, and the pile of books moved as if thrust forward. I tried to jump up; but could not stir a limb; and so yelled aloud, in a frenzy of fright.”

I don’t think fiction gets more blood-curdling than this passage.  This is the kind of book that Nelson said should be read “at high noon in a crowd.”  She has a gift for the bon mot

This novel puts me in mind of Yorkshire not only because of its setting.  The brutality of Heathcliff, the raw passion of Cathy, the emotions of these characters makes me think that Yorkshire will be a landscape of extremes.  How else would the story evolve in the mind of Emily Bronte?

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Mileage:  2 miles walking the golf course, 3.5 miles for the day.

Although the mileage remains the prime mover (apropos of walking), I promised to read Yorkshire-appropriate literature.  Thus, Charlotte Bronte.

As part of the perambulation project, I plan to read Yorshire literature, but I started with a non-Yorkshire Bronte novel, Villette, because I have been thinking about this novel in particular.  It isn’t set in Yorkshire but is still authored by a Bronte.  Please add the necessary umlaut above the “e.”

I have been a Brontes reader since high school.  In Nelson Sudderth’s AP English class (Girls Preparatory School, class of 1978)l, we read Wuthering Heights, my first foray with a Bronte, Emily.  In graduate school, Brontes were on my reading list–The Professor, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Shirley, Agnes Grey, Jane Eyre, Villette.  Granted, this is a heck of a lot of Brontes.

Wuthering Heights always satisfies, Heathcliff and Cathy and the successive generations repeating the obsessions of every previous generation.  And film adaptations are inspiring.  Who beats Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff?  But Villette poses unique challenges, challenges that I seem to have forgotten since I last read it sometime in 1990-1.  The challenge is Lucy herself.   

Lucy is the first-person narrator of the novel, and it is through her perspective that we learn everything about the students and teachers at the French school where she is employed.  And yet, in reading the novel again, I was reminded how much Lucy Snowe keeps from us, how many of her feelings are only indirectly revealed through the narrative.

For instance, I forgot how absolutely secretive Lucy Snowe is.  She won’t explain the personal family disaster that forces her to seek her fortune in France.  Likewise, she takes the letters that Dr. Graham Breton writes to her and buries them beneath the ancient pear tree in a sealed glass container, but she never explains why she decided to “bury” her feelings (although seeing Polly and Dr. Breton together might be a clue).  And why does she redirect her feelings to the Professor, when she just a moment earlier felt so strongly for Breton?  She won’t explain.  She won’t confess.  Everything she feels remains her secret.

And that’s what I like about this book.  I appreciate a fictional creation who can keep her deepest feelings to herself.  More of us should be keeping our feelings to ourselves.  Enough of confession, revelation, and public display.

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