My Place: Rediscover Wuthering Heights with Sue Barnard

Today, we have a special treat in store for you at My Place: Wuthering Heights, the dark, weather-beaten setting for Emily Brontë’s classic novel of the same name. My author friend Sue Barnard has recently published a beautiful novel, Heathcliff – The Unanswered Questions Finally Answered?, in which she explores the years of young Heathcliff’s absence from Wuthering Heights, and his subsequent return. Well worth a read!

So off to Wuthering Heights we go. Over to Sue...

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WITHERING TOPS?

“Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr Heathcliff’s dwelling, ‘Wuthering’ being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed; one may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun.  Happily, the architect had foresight to build it strong: the narrow windows are deeply set in the wall, and the corners defended with large jutting stones.” 

This is how Mr Lockwood describes the house on his first visit, in Chapter One of Emily Brontë’s classic novel.  And it is a bleak description indeed, carefully setting the scene for the dark story which follows.  When Wuthering Heightsfirst appeared in 1847, published under the male pseudonym of Ellis Bell, it was a great shock to strait-laced Victorian England.  How could the spinster daughter of a rural clergyman produce a tale of such unbridled (and possibly adulterous) passion?
The signatures of the three sisters’ male pseudonyms.
The story was no doubt influenced by Emily’s response to the literary culture of the time – notably the traditional gothic novel and the Byronic hero – whilst the settings were drawn from her own life and experience. 

So what was the inspiration for the house itself?  Lockwood goes on to describe “a quantity of grotesque carving lavished over the front … a wilderness of crumbling griffins and shameless little boys”.  This has led to speculation that Wuthering Heights is based on High Sunderland Hall – a large 17th-century gothic hall (now demolished) close to the West Yorkshire town of Halifax.  It was located about a mile from Law Hill School, Southowram, where Emily Brontë once worked as a teacher.  

High Sunderland Hall, circa 1818 – around the time when Emily Brontë would have first seen it.

Elaborate carvings on High Sunderland Hall gateway, 
very similar to those described by Lockwood:

 

The house also had a resident ghost.  Anyone occupying a particular bedroom told of being awoken by a rattling at the door, followed by sight of a disembodied hand tapping at the window.  Could this have formed the basis of Lockwood’s vision of Catherine’s ghost?  The descriptions are too similar to be dismissed as mere coincidence…



In addition to her writing, Emily Brontë was a very talented artist. This drawing (now on display at Haworth Parsonage Museum) is the earliest known example of her artwork. It dates from 1829, when Emily was just ten years old.  I wonder if she had this window in mind when she later went on to write about Catherine’s ghost…

The physical description of Wuthering Heights might match that of High Sunderland Hall, but its location definitely does not.  This has led to further speculation that the house is in fact based on Top Withens, a remote 16th-century farmhouse located about three miles south-west of Haworth, where Emily Brontë was living when she wrote the book.  

Top Withens farmhouse, circa 1920. The house is now a ruin.

Whilst Top Withens itself was far too small to be the real-life model for the Earnshaw home, its position is far more plausible – as is explained by this plaque, erected by The Brontë Society in 1964:


 Top Withens might even have provided the inspiration for the name of the house. Who knows?

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Heathcliff

I borrowed Wuthering Heights’ setting and characters for my own spin-off novel Heathcliff. The book was released on 30 July 2018 – the bicentenary of the birth of Emily Brontë – and addresses one of literature’s greatest mysteries: What could have happened to Brontë’s Byronic hero during the three years when he disappears from the original story?

"It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now…”

Cathy’s immortal words from Wuthering Heightschange Heathcliff’s life.  At just seventeen years of age, heartbroken and penniless, he runs away to face an unknown future.  

Three years later, he returns – much improved in manners, appearance and prosperity.

But what happened during those years? How could he have made his fortune, from nothing? Who might his parents have been? And what fate turned him into literature’s most famous anti-hero?

For almost two centuries, these questions have remained unanswered.  Until now…"

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About Sue:
Sue Barnard is a British novelist, editor and award-winning poet whose family background is far stranger than any work of fiction. She would write a book about it if she thought anybody would believe her.
Sue was born in North Wales but has spent most of her life in and around Manchester, UK. She speaks French like a Belgian, German like a schoolgirl, and Italian and Portuguese like an Englishwoman abroad.
Her mind is so warped that she has appeared on BBC TV’s Only Connect quiz show, and she has also compiled questions for BBC Radio 4’s fiendishly difficult Round Britain Quiz. This once caused one of her sons to describe her as “professionally weird.” The label has stuck.
Sue lives in Cheshire with her extremely patient husband and a large collection of unfinished scribblings.
Connect with Sue on: 

Follow her blog here.

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Thank you so much for sharing your research with us, Sue. It's fascinating to see what might have inspired Emily Brontë's vision of Wuthering Heights. Now I'm off to do a little sing and dance...

Comments

  1. I'm looking forward to reading this one that awaits me on my kindle.

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    Replies
    1. I'm sure you'll enjoy it. It's a fab read. :-)

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  2. It's a masterful story, as are all Sue Barnard's books. Thank you for the insight, and for your great attention to detail, Sue!

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