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  • "I Twisted the Two, and Enclosed Them Together":Hairwork, Touch, and Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights
  • Heather Hind (bio)

The entire world is a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her!

—Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights

In emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (1847), it seems that death, rather than life, animates objects. A deathliness hangs over the possessions of the deceased and suffuses them with vitality. Objects left behind sentimentally or quasi-spiritually become something more—more present, persistent, and alive—by virtue of their possessor's absence. Touched by "a glowing patina of memory," in Deborah Lutz's terms, they seem to hold "little histories of intimacy" (Relics of Death 53), as though invisibly animated by a once-animate presence. My concern in this article, however, is with the physical imprints left on matter by living bodies: the dents, kinks, knots, frayed edges, and scratched surfaces. Just as Lockwood is roused by the "writing scratched on the paint" of Catherine's windowsill (Wuthering Heights 15), leading him to open and consider the mildewed pile of books on its ledge, it is the visible marks of objects that precede and guide my entry into the text. What can be found throughout Brontë's novel, and among her family's possessions collected in the Brontë Parsonage Museum (hereafter BPM), are objects with tangible signs of use and wear. It is much more than an imagined engagement, the idea that these things were touched by living bodies, that lends them a vitality. The visible tears and repairs that can be observed on articles of well-worn homeware attest to the touch—the movements and mishaps—of the people who owned them.

A red tablecloth (D162) is described by the BPM catalogue as "poor, torn, patched, stained, faded," featuring "[t]ears, holes, burn mark in centre, stains."1 The asyndetic listing of these terms of deterioration inadvertently imitates the accumulation of marks that conjure the back story of this piece of Brontë memorabilia. Each stain marks a point in time—a drop of ink or gravy, the fallout of a private moment or social occasion, a spillage at work or play—the faded colours of the cloth charting the passing of time since its first use. The cloth captures the literal collisions of daily life, food, and [End Page 31] thought, bleached by the sun and burned by candlelight as the family sat around the table to eat and entertain, to work and write. It is this kind of marked materiality that hairwork so vividly evokes. Hairwork—the art of crafting decorative objects, such as jewellery, from human hair—produces a uniquely tactile token of the body.2 It is hair made to bear the marks of exchange and possession. While locks of hair may be cut, exchanged, and kept as mementos of family, friends, or lovers, hairwork codifies the dynamics of these relationships in a way that unworked hair does not. The way hair is carefully plaited or coiled and tied becomes a metaphoric anchor for complex and sometimes contrary meanings and ideas, identities and alliances. Hairwork makes manifest touch, labour, creativity, and the desire to beautify and preserve in anticipation of distance or death. In this way, hairwork is a product not only of the body from which it was taken but also of the body that works and wears it. Each time hair passes between hands, to be cut and exchanged, to be worked and worn, it is impressed to some degree by its contact with the body. Sometimes barely touched and sometimes transformed, it is continuously crafted from the point at which it is cut.

Turning away from the eighteenth-century fashion for concealing hair within jewellery, the mid-nineteenth century saw the rise of a new kind of hairwork: jewellery composed of hair rather than enclosing it. The method of "table work" involves arranging a bundle of hair into strands around a circular table with a hollow centre, securing the strands with weights at either end, and crossing them over one another to form a braid. This technique preserved hair in a way that meant it could be openly seen and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 31-47
Launched on MUSE
2020-10-30
Open Access
No
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