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ARTICLES INHABITING WUTHERING HEIGHTS'. JANE URQUHART'S REWRITING OF EMILY BRONTÉ J. RUSSELL PERKIN Saint Mary's University It seems that on a just view of die matter the books we call classics possess intrinsic qualities that endure, but possess also an openness to accommodation which keeps diem alive under endlessly varying dispositions. (Kermode, Classic 44) These are tilings that we have learned to do Who live in troubled regions. (Rich 3) Jane Urquhart's Changing Heaven (1990) is a contemporary novel that interacts significantly with a Victorian novel, Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. It has recently been fashionable for novelists to make metafictional use of tiieir predecessor's work, and Victorian novels have been particularly popular sources. One thinks of John Fowles's bestseller The French Lieutenant's Woman (1969), which may well have begun die fashion, along widi novels like David Lodge's Nice Work (1988), A.S. Byatt's Possession (1990), Valerie Martin's Mary Reilly (1990), and further back Jean Rhys's Wide Sargasso Sea (1966). I hope tiiat my discussion of Urquhart's novel will suggest reasons for this general trend, and also for the enormous current popularity of Victorian fiction, botii in its original form and in television and film adaptations, but my main concern in this essay is widi die particular way in which Urquhart responds to and adapts Emily Bronte's novel. I will look at Changing Heaven in die context of die published criticism of Wuthering Heights, for Urquhart's novel shares many of die preoccupations of the critics, and it can valuably be Victorian Review 21.2 (Winter 1995) 116Victorian Review considered both as a contribution to the critical interpretation of Emily Brontë and, like The French Lieutenant's Woman, as a work whose metafictional qualities have implications for the theory of fiction. Changing Heaven is characterized by a mixture, sometimes uneasy, but usually compelling, of emotional intensity and ironic comedy. Janice Kulyk Keefer describes the basis of Jane Urquhart's novel as "a love affair with another novel" (31). These words are well-chosen, because both Jane Urquhart and her protagonist have a relationship with Wuthering Heights that goes beyond mere critical esteem, becoming sometiiing immoderate, obsessive, and in some ways dangerous. In the case of Ann Frear, the Canadian Brontë scholar who is Urquhart's protagonist, Wuthering Heights is dangerous because of its effect on her relationships with men and with the external world in general; in the case of Jane Urquhart, I would guess that Wuthering Heights is dangerous because it is, to quote Keefer again, "one of the strangest, most powerful texts in the English language" (31), and thus a challenge to any subsequent novelist who acknowledges that power. Urquhart discusses her early experience of literature in an interview with Geoff Hancock of Canadian Fiction Magazine. Like Ann Frear, she began reading the Brontës as a young girl, and she declares with an unfashionable lack of detachment, "I feel precisely the same way about those books today as I did then" (Hancock 25). In the course of the interview, she gives the story of her own youth a structure which distinctly echoes what we know of the life of Emily Brontë. Like the Victorian novelist, Urquhart jealously guarded the privacy of her own writing as a young woman, and she had to overcome a strong resistance to publishing her work. The Brontë children are famous for creating a visionary world in their imaginations, which fuelled their early writings; similarly, Urquhart notes that she spent a lot of her childhood,listening to family stories, "seeing the stories in my mind. This produced a kind of visual landscape that didn't necessarily exist in the real world" (25). For Urquhart, then, as for the characters in her novel, fiction is a necessary part of existence, as inevitable as eating or breathing. However, her heroine Ann Frear must learn to take some control over the narrative process. Changing Heaven suggests that if one does not remake the fictions of the past in one's own image, one will be controlled by them. This can be seen on at least two levels, as a comment on the role ofromantic...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 115-128
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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