Last week my latest book hit the shelves. It’s only 5000 words long and is based on a very famous novel called Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, which also happens to be my all time favourite book, so you know, no pressure.
The plot of mine is Wuthering Heights.
Yet unlike the original, which is told from the viewpoints of Lockwood and Nelly Dean, mine comes from Heathcliff’s perspective. And if you know the story of Wuthering Heights, you might have a crumb of sympathy for me here because Heathcliff isn’t exactly nice. He’s sullen, ill-mannered, bitter, violent, singleminded, sadistic, greedy- I could go on but you get the idea. In many respects he’s an archetypal villain, yet my job was to make him sympathetic for younger readers. Yikes.
Deciding to do some research, I started by Googling ‘Heathcliff’. What first came up was this…
…which didn’t much help.
So instead I did the sensible thing and went back the original book, which I knew pretty well already having taught it many times over the years.
Here’s what we know about Emily Bronte’s Heathcliff:
- He’s found starving on the streets of Liverpool by Mr Earnshaw and brought back to Wuthering Heights.
- he’s named after a son of the Earnshaws who has died.
- On arrival he can’t speak English. No one knows his background, though the suggestion is he’s black or mixed-race.
- Only Cathy and Mr Earnshaw like him- the words Bronte uses to describe him are offensive + racist -he’s called a ‘gypsy brat’, ‘imp of Satan’ and a ‘lascar’ (an Indian sailor)
- He adores Cathy but no one else. When she befriends Edgar Linton, Heathcliff disappears for three years, returning to Wuthering Heights rich and extremely handsome.
- He takes revenge by destroying Cathy’s marriage to Edgar Linton, bankrupting Hindley Earnshaw and marrying Isabella Linton only to disown her once she’s borne a son.
- On her deathbed, Cathy calls Heathcliff her ‘murderer’.
- Years later, Heathcliff’s son marries Cathy and Edgar Linton’s daughter . He then dies + Heathcliff inherits the Lintons’ wealth.
- With his revenge complete, he begins to be haunted by Cathy’s ghost.
- Cathy’s daughter falls in love with Hindley’s son, and Heathcliff, reluctant at first, allows the match. He realises his revenge has come to nothing. He makes plans to be buried alongside Cathy, then refuses to eat or sleep, and dies a few nights later in a rainstorm.
There have been lots of film interpretations of Heathcliff over the years.
Clockwise: Ralph Fiennes, James Howson, Laurence Olivier to name a few.
And two of my favourites for different reasons:
Yes Sir Cliff Richard really did perform in a musical called Heathcliff ( insane I know),and Kate Bush really did sing about Wuthering Heights, ( also insane but in a GOOD way).
My point here is I had my work cut out. Do I manage it? Is my Heathcliff sympathetic? I hope so-to a point-, though I didn’t want to hide his flaws. So I guess you’ll just have to read it and see what you think!