Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Wuthering Heights. Broadview Press Edition - A Review

Broadview Press has kindly sent us a copy of their new edition of Wuthering Heights, edited and introduced by Beth Newman and with lots of extra material. After carefully reading the new introduction and the appendices, this is our review.

As we have commented before, Broadview editions of Brontë novels are usually very welcome because they contain numerous interesting materials in the appendices. In this edition, the extras provide some glimpses into other writings by Emily Brontë (prose and poetry) and some help in order to contextualise the novel (literary influences, contemporary reviews, geographical context, etc.). The material is sometimes well-known for the Brontë aficionado (1), but the edition gives the chance of having them all collected in one edition addressed to a general audience but particularly students.

This is not a scholar edition (2). The editor Beth Newman (3) follows the general trends of the last decades' editions of Emily Brontë's novel: to follow the first edition (1847) and to silently correct the obvious mistakes (misprints, misspellings) but also the problems with the punctuation of the original. How much of this punctuation is Emily's and how much the errors that Charlotte qualified as 'mortifying to a degree'? The 1850 edition by Charlotte gives clues but also introduces her own changes. As Beth Newman says, it's a very difficult task to know 'at what point does necessary intervention melt into meddling?'. (4)

The notes of the edition are moderate. They give some meanings of (now) obsolete words, systematic 'translation' of Joseph's speeches, literary or biblical allusions. But the aim seems to be not completeness but to make the text as smooth as possible with as few interruptions as possible.

The introduction is not intended to give a new vision of Wuthering Heights or to embrace one of the many scholar approaches that have analysed the novel in the last decades. The intention is just the opposite. To give a succinct but as complete as possible overview of Wuthering Heights as related to the life of Emily Brontë, the creation of the Brontë Myth, the contemporary reception of the novel and the very different readings which the novel can endure: metaphysical, sociological, psychological, feminist, colonial... Beth Newman also introduces some very extended views on Wuthering Heights that are particularly wrong: " If Wuthering Heights has nevertheless become popularly known as one of the great romantic stories of English literature, that is because its critique of the genre [romance novel] is strongest in the parts of the novel that its popularizations are most likely to omit". It's the well-known Isabella syndrome: to see in Heathcliff only a romantic hero.

The appendices (complete index here) are dominated by a very complete selection of contemporary reviews of the novel. Particularly interesting is the review by George Washington Peck for The American Review (1848): 'Let it stand by itself, a coarse, original, powerful book, - one that does not give us true characters, but horridly striking and effective ones. It will give a short and brilliant life, and then die and be forgotten.' A prophecy indeed, Mr Peck. (5)

(1)But not always, Appendix F, for instance, contains an article about Brain Fever extracted from a manual by the Scottish physician William Buchan (1729-1805). Its read gives a very good idea of what a diagnose of 'brain fever' meant at the time.
(2)The Clarendon Edition of Wuthering Heights is still the unsurpassed milestone of Wuthering Heights Editions.
(3)Associate Professor of English at Southern Methodist University. More articles on Wuthering Heights.
(4)The editor says that the copytext for the edition is the 1847 one. Nevertheless, as the editor points out, the Gutenberg Project e-text (based on the 1850 edition) has been used as a starting point. The text (also the Gutenberg Project one) (Volume II-Chapter II (or 16), p. 173) says:
It asserted its own tranquillity, which seemed a pledge of equal quiet to its former inhabitant.
But neither the 1847 or the 1850 editions (see, for instance, this other transcription of the 1850 edition) has inhabitant but inhabitants. A mistake? Or as Pauline Nestor says a suggestion of 'the shared identity of Catherine and Heathcliff'?

(5)Another visionary was James Lorimer, who in the North British Review (1849, not included in this edition) wrote: "Here all the faults of 'Jane Eyre' are magnified a thousand fold and the only consolation which we have in reflecting upon it is that it will never be generally read." Recently, Umberto Eco in a conference (see La Stampa) reminded us of those prophetic words.

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