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by Alison Case
Imprint: The Borough Press
For a specimen of true benevolence and homely fidelity, look at the character of Nelly Dean(1).Mid twentieth century critics begged to differ qualifiying Nelly Dean as literally 'one of the consummate villains in English literature'(2) or 'an agent of patriarchal law'(3).
One has only to read the admiring critics of Wuthering Heights, even more the others, to see that there is no agreed reading of this novel at all. Desperate attempts to report a flawless work of art lead to a dishonest ignoring of recalcitrant elements or an interpretation of them which is sophistical; other and more sustained sophistry has resulted from such academic bright ideas as the one confidently asserted to me in an American university by a professor of English Literature who had discovered that ' The clue to Wuthering Heights is that Nelly Dean is Evil.'(3) James H Kavanagh, Emily Brontë (Oxford: Blackwell, 1985); see also Sandra M. Gilbert, Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic (1979)
As Milton's cook, in fact, Nelly Dean is patriarchy's paradigmatic housekeeper, the man's woman who has traditionally been hired to keep men's houses in order by straightening out their parlors, their daughters, and their stories.(4) She currently is a professor at Williams College. She received her PhD in English Literature from Cornell University and has published a couple of books: Plotting Women: Gender and Narration in the Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century British Novel (1999) and Reading the Nineteenth-century Novel: Austen to Eliot (coauthored with Harry E. Shaw) (2008), Wiley-Blackwell.
Nowhere else in the narrative is there any allusion to Nelly being married or having any love interest other than with Hindley. As a result, the story line is ambiguous enoughSpoiler alert: Also the revelation that Nelly is an illegitimate daughter of Mr Earnshaw has been discussed before in, for instance, Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights by U.C. Knoepflmacher (1989).
to allow for a romantic relationship between Hindley and Nelly to exist.
That was my first idea on observing an elf-locked, brown-eyed boy setting his ruddy countenance against the bars. Further reflection suggested this must be Hareton, my Hareton, not altered greatly since I left him, ten months since.
'God bless thee, darling!' I cried, forgetting instantaneously my foolish fears. 'Hareton, it's Nelly! Nelly, thy nurse.'
He retreated out of arm's length, and picked up a large flint.
'I am come to see thy father, Hareton,' I added, guessing from the action that Nelly, if she lived in his memory at all, was not recognised as one with me. (Chapter XI)