Thursday, October 22, 2009

2009 OUP's edition of Wuthering Heights - A Review

We are very grateful to Oxford University Press for sending us a copy of this book.

Wuthering Heights
New Edition
Emily Brontë
Edited by Ian Jack and Intro and notes by Helen Small
Oxford University Press (Oxford World's Classics)
384 pages | 196x129mm
978-0-19-954189-8 | Paperback | 08 October 2009
Some months ago we reviewed a new set of editions of Brontë novels published by Oxford University Press under the label Oxford's World Classics. The Wuthering Heights edition was not exactly new, as it was as a matter of fact a reissue of the 1995 one.
Now OUP publishes a new edition with actual 'new' items. The text is, of course, the Clarendon 1976 edition but as the useful and informative Note to the Text says it has been revised and not used blindly as copytext. Dr Helen W. Small (Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford)(1) has supervised this revision and contributes with a new introduction and several additional notes. Many of her new notes introduce several Bible references, some biographical elements (as the Welsh-Heathcliff connection) and particularly fitting to the elements developed in the introduction, several references to Shelley's poetry which transpire in Emily Brontë's text. Particularly interesting is the analysis of the latest and highly famous phrase of the novel: and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth which Helen Small traces to Shelley's elegy for Keats 'Adonais'
Afar the melancholy thunder moan'd,
Pale Ocean in unquiet slumber lay,
And the wild Winds flew round, sobbing in their dismay. (Stanza 14)
The Introduction approaches the text as an expression of Romanticism (in the tradition of Byron, Shelley, Scott) threaded in a web of scepticism that grounds the narrative and is, in part, responsible for the duality between the more down-to-earth and the sublime that lingers in the novel. That way a presumed quote from Shelley (big Romanticism in Helen Small's words) in the final phrase of the novel is compensated when said by Lockwood, probably the less Romantic of all characters in the novel. That way the Romantic access of madness (in the tradition of a belcantista scena della pazzia) of Catherine is counterbalanced by Doctor Kenneth's common sense advice. The Introduction also explores other well-known ideas typical of Emily Brontë as her identification of morally good with naturally good, her disregard for contemporary political correctness in her ways of showing emotions and/or extreme behaviours, etc.

The edition also announces a new select bibliography but this is frankly disappointing as it doesn't include many of the latest contributions to Brontëana (or to Emily Brontë's lore, no Gezari Last Things?) and still quotes Wise & Symington's edition of the Letters instead of the Margaret Smith's.

(1) She is last year's recipient of the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize. Curiously enough, the first one was Winifred Gérin for Charlotte Brontë: The Evolution of Genius in 1967.


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