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Beyond the Lone Islands

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Recycling Dreams

Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

Le temps n'a point de rives

(time has no shores)

I picked up the following question from a post about dreams over at Pan's Island:

"What are your thoughts on why we dream the things we do and why some dreams just stay with us?"

The way I see it, dreams are the poetry of our subconscious or semiconscious mind. The dreams that stay with us are the ones that really made a deep impression – just like with quotes and moods that sometimes remain with us long after we have read certain books. They may have been wonderful, or scary, or just thought-provoking or mysterious - but somehow they touched us and left a mark.

When I sort through my bookcase sometimes, or look at the reading list I've been keeping on my computer over the last few years, I usually discover some books that I can't remember at all from their titles, even though I know I read them. With others, I may have forgotten most of the details of the plot, but I can still recall the mood they put me in, or "pictures" they made me paint in my mind.

At other times, sorting through deskdrawers and notebooks, I have come across old notes that I made about dreams in the past. Sometimes the dream comes back to me quite vividly, just from a glance at these notes. Sometimes I keep staring at them and wonder: Whenever did I dream this?! I have no recollection of it at all…

With dreams, I suspect that the ones we have managed to work through and understand – to lift, so to say, from the subconscious to our conscious mind - are less likely to keep coming back to us in the night; unless our subconscious finds them worth recycling again to remind us of something. Dreams that keep recurring usually do so either because there is still something lacking in our understanding of them, or because we need the feeling of recognition they may be able to provide.

Pan's Island also mentions the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling. These books are full of dreams – Harry has a lot of them, and I get the feeling that Rowling must have done some pondering about the nature of dreams, too.

In the first chapter of the first book (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone), Hagrid comes riding on a flying motorbike, bringing baby Harry safely to the Dursley's house. Between the first and second chapter there is a time gap of nearly ten years; we then meet Harry as a boy of nearly eleven:

He rolled on to his back and tried to remember the dream he had been having. It had been a good one. There had been a flying motorbike in it. He had a funny feeling he'd had the same dream before.

If my memory serves me right, after Harry met and got to know Hagrid (the friendly giant comes again to his rescue, on his 11th birthday, to introduce him to the Wizarding World), this particular dream about the motorbike is not mentioned again. But other dreams, less pleasant, do keep haunting him – until Harry is "through" with whatever was or is behind them…

Monday, 30 March 2009

Quotation of the Week (14/09)


And after all, isn't that what life is all about, the ability to go around back and come up inside other people's heads to look out at the damned fool miracle and say: oh, so that's how you see it!? Well, now, I must remember that.

Ray Bradbury

These words of wisdom are from the 1974 introduction to Ray Bradbury's semi-autobiographical novel Dandelion Wine (originally published in 1957). This is one of my favourite books ever since I first read it back in my teens. My old Swedish copy printed in 1972 fell apart recently when I took it out to look something up. I sent for a new one in English now, and it turned out to include this introduction entitled "Just This Side of Byzantium", in which Bradbury looks back on the writing process behind the book. That made me look forward even more to rereading the whole novel now, in the original language!

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Raven's Wordzzle Challenge # 57

I've been on a random blog-surfing expedition again, and this time I picked up a "wordzzle" challenge from the blog Views from Raven's Nest. (Really, the words one comes across on this voyage - "wordzzle"?!...) I have tried similar exercises before, in creative writing classes. The idea is to weave a number of randomly chosen words or expressions into a story. What method Raven uses to choose her ten words is not known to me, but these were the words for next week:

apoplexy, doctor, hummingbird, shallow end of the pool, brigadier general, mustard, greed, parallelogram, slumber party, casual

Below is my attempt to put the words above into a context.

Sorry, I'm new at this game and it seems I rushed ahead a little. I probably shouldn't have posted my story until next Friday. *

Since I already did, though, I'll let it stand. But if you want to have a go yourself first, here is where you should stop reading, and come back later! :)
The Slumber Party Mystery
Chapter 1 - Dr Challenge

Doctor Challenge parked his car in front of the big house, got out and looked around him. It was a drowsy sort of afternoon, hot and still. The only thing moving was a few busy hummingbirds hovering above the flowering bushes close to the entrance. Challenge put his hand in his pocket and took out the card again. He knew his host had a very special sense of humour, but it was still an odd invitation. "Welcome to be my guest at a slumber party this Friday evening", it said. He was a little early, so he decided to go for a walk around the house before he knocked on the door. At the back, there was a large swimmingpool in the unusual shape of a parallelogram. His host was known for his greed, but at the same time always willing to pay extra for odd details that made his house and garden stand out from everyone else's. At the shallow end of the pool, there were half a dozen deck chairs spread over the lawn. Some sausages were sizzling on the grill, and on a table nearby stood a single jar of mustard. There was no person to be seen, and the whole scene looked oddly deserted. What was going on here? "Good thing I dressed casual," Challenge thought, "if sausages is all we are going to be served." Then he noticed that there was someone sitting, or rather lying, in one of the deck chairs, facing the pool. Whoever it was, he was wearing only a pair of swimming trunks, and he was lying very still. Getting closer, Challenge saw to his surprise that it was the brigadier general himself - the host of the party, and also his patient since many years. No wonder then that he was lying so still – Challenge knew the brigadier was suffering from paralysis caused by apoplexy a few years ago. But how come he was lying out here in the garden, in the hot sun, all by himself? Challenge coughed discreetly, and said "Good afternoon!" But the brigadier did not even wink. Apparently he was fast asleep…


* FRIDAY, 3 APRIL 2009

Since I discovered I had more time before I was supposed to post my contribution, I decided to add a "second chapter" , based on Raven's Mini Challenge for the same week, consisting of 5 words:

Mount Olympus, arsonist, portraits, birch trees, "that car needs a new muffler"

Chapter 2 - That car needs a new muffler

Challenge approached the deck chair where the brigadier lay with his eyes closed and one corner of his mouth pointing upwards as in a mocking smile. One could still see that he had once been a very handsome man. Challenge thought of the portraits in the gallery, which he often used to stop and look at when he came on his regular visits. These portraits were as extraordinary as the owner himself. They were all of different gods on Mount Olympus, but they all had the brigadier's face. Challenge lifted one of the man's limp arms and felt for the pulse. He couldn't find any. A sudden bang behind his back made him start. When he turned round, he saw that one of the sausages on the grill had exploded and burst into flame. Part of it had fallen down onto the grass, which was very dry. A fire immediately started spreading, and in just a few seconds reached the birch trees nearby. Challenge at first found himself unable move, but then suddenly let go of the brigadier's arm . "Not another fire!" he said to himself. "Why does this always happen to me? People will suspect I'm an arsonist! I have to get out of here, quick!" He started running back to the front of the house. To his relief, his car was still the only one parked there, and the road was empty. He jumped into the car and drove away, without looking back. Behind him, the butler peered out through the kitchen window and thought to himself: "That car needs a new muffler."

Click on the image to fly over to Raven's Nest,
"Saturday Wordzzle Challenge: Week 57"
and see her own and other people's contributions!

Friday, 27 March 2009

Time Travel

Illustration from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

(Inspired by: The One-Minute Writer: Friday Fiction: Time)

This Sunday morning, at two o'clock, we are supposed to time travel again, by setting our clocks forward one hour. The only effect this will have on me (as every year) is to throw me out of rhythm once more, just as I was beginning to find it again after the winter darkness. "Summer time", they insist on calling it in this country – even though I woke up this morning and found the world outside all white again!

No, pretending to travel just one hour forward in time is really not enough to make the experience exciting in my mind…

Real time travelling has little to do with pushing the hands of a clock backwards or forwards, or turning an hour-glass upside down. That doesn't get you anywhere! You cannot pass through into a different time dimension as long as you are still aware of how time runs in this one. If you try, this will only result in serious stress syndrome, which might take you years to recover from.

What you have to do is stop time by forgetting it altogheter. Pull out the plugs, remove the batteries, or put your clocks in another room so you can't see or hear them. You should also shut out all other kinds of noise that remind you of the time of day, or year. Then go to your bookcase, pull out a book that takes place in the time you want to visit. Make yourself comfortable, and open the book...

Don't expect the transfer to take place immediately; at first you will probably still be too much aware of your own familiar surroundings. Sometimes it doesn't take place at all; you might have to try again another day. But remember, the key to time-travelling is not (as you might think) trying to push time forwards or backwards, but rather sideways. And the opening to the other dimension is different in each book. It might actually sometimes be a glance at a clock (in the book, mind, not in the room where you started reading!); but it could just as well be a hole in the ground, a wardrobe door, or the turning of a page in a book within the book…

… but when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet… and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit hole under the hedge.

Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

… in the hall below, there was a clock, and through the night he would hear it strike the hours. It was a grandfather clock and very old. Mr Frith of Leighton Buzzard came each month to wind it, as his father had come before him and his great-grandfather before that. For eighty years, they said (and to Mr Frith's certain knowledge), it had not stopped and, as far as anyone could tell, for as many years before that. The great thing was – that it must never be moved. It stood against the wainscot, and the stone flags around it had been washed so often that a little platform, my brother said, rose up inside. And, under this clock, below the wainscot, there was a hole…

Mary Norton, The Borrowers

Lucy felt a little frightened, but she felt very inquisitive and excited as well. She looked back over her shoulder and there, between the dark tree-trunks, she could still see the open doorway of the wardrobe and even catch a glimpse of the empty room from which she had set out. (She had, of course, left the door open, for she knew that it is a very silly thing to do to shut oneself into a wardrobe.)

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

He made himself comfortable, picked up the book, turned to the first page and began to read The Neverending Story...

Michael Ende, The Neverending Story

(the sentence translated by me from the German original)

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Multiple Me

Some time ago, on one of my random blog-surfing expeditions, I came across one page that afterwards got me thinking about how we choose and express our internet identities. I never bookmarked the page, and don't remember its name, or which way I got there. (Which I'm sort of glad of right now, because otherwise I would probably feel obligated to look it up again before writing about it, to make sure I didn't misinterpret it! But since my impressions remain vague and anonymous, I feel free to use them as such…)

It was a sort of index page with links to a whole set of other blogs, all by the same author. What gave me a sort of creepy feeling was that the index page described and named the different blogs as independent personalities rather than forums for writing about different subjects; and summed it all up by saying: "but they are all ME"…

I have no idea whether the author was just enjoying playing around with fictional characters, or if this was really an expression of a sort of multiple personality disorder.

It just set me thinking how complex "identity" has become, in this cyberspace, where on the one hand it is so easy to hide behind a signature, or pretend to be someone different than who you really are; and on the other hand we are leaving digital footprints most of us never think of but which others might find it easier to track than we can imagine.

I also started thinking, how many different names have I got myself on the internet? User names, login names, signatures, passwords, avatar pictures… How do I choose them, and why? What do they say about me? When I have time, I love figuring out good names and headlines. When I'm in a hurry, I hate those little pop-up questionnaires that demand that I either tell my complete life story, or invent an alternative personality on the spot, to be able to proceed...

Not telling the truth about one's age, for example, can sometimes have unforeseen consequences. At some point in history I probably filled in "00" instead of the actual year of my birth when creating an email account, because I really couldn't see why they needed to know my age. As a result, when I later wanted to fill in my profile, I got the reply: "You are too young to have a profile!" I wonder if in that domain, I will remain forever a child, or if I will eventually be considered mature enough to be allowed a profile? Say, in the year 2018…?

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Out of the Labyrinth of Perplexities (Udolpho V)

On page 648 out of 672 in The Mysteries of Udolpho,

"Emily was still lost in a labyrinth of perplexities"

– and so is the reader; even if some connections are by then slowly beginning to dawn upon us.

The whole book finished, just 24 pages later, I have to humbly revise my earlier impression that the author didn't quite know herself where she was going with the story. The slow beginning is deceptive; it really contains several details that turn out to be quite important later on. All the twists and turns and dead ends along the way - represented by the dark corridors and dusty chambers of the castles, as well as all the travelling abroad - are also an illustration of the winding path of the story itself, leading us round and back and forth like a labyrinth, luring us to false conclusions; sometimes false hope, and sometimes despair of ever getting out and reaching an explanation of the mysteries.

As you could see in my previous Udolpho post (The Mysterious Herione), 115 pages from the end, I still didn't feel at all sure what would prove to be important or not when we came to the conclusion of the story. I only mentioned one, but Emily really brought two major unsolved mysteries with her (in her mind) from Udolpho. Both of these were explained before the end; but one turned out to be of greater importance than the other.

Moral: Sometimes, the things we do not see can haunt us just as much as those we believe we have seen. Come to think of it, this applies to relationships as well: what we don't know can prove as important as that which we think we know…

All in all, I don't regret the journey!

PS. One complaint from my second Udolpho post still stands, although it may seem rather pettish: I still think it was a mistake by the author to suddenly introduce Emily's father's dog, "the faithful Manchon", into one single event at the Castle of Udolopho – the dog never mentioned before that, and never again afterwards! ;-)

Links to previous Udolpho posts:
Reading The Mysteries of Udolpho
The Castle, At Last! (Mysteries of Udolpho II)
Multiple Choice (Mysteries of Udolpho III)
The Mysterious Heroine (Udolpho IV)

Monday, 23 March 2009

Quotation of the Week (13/09)

"We are still more interested in crimes than in virtues."
John Steinbeck

(From excerpt of a letter in an appendix to Steinbeck's version of
The Acts of King Arthur and his Noble Knights.)

Saturday, 21 March 2009

The Mysterious Heroine (Udolpho IV)

Remember Emily? In my last report from The Mysteries of Udolpho, she had temporarily left that gloomy castle; but, as I suspected, she soon had to go back. (She really did not have much say in the matter.)

However, I was still in for another surprise, since her second stay at Udolpho did not last nearly as long as I expected. Now the girl is rambling around in another castle (or chateau), which has its own share of dusty abandoned rooms, unexplained mysteries and possible ghosts - just with a different landscape scenery outside.

There are still a lot of secrets in the air, and loose ends to tie up, concerning Udolpho as well as the other place. Relationships are also a bit messed up at the moment. The real villains do not seem likely to better themselves; but who of the heroes that will turn out to be the most heroic appears less certain.

One thing that seriously annoys me as reader is that while I'm led round and round in the maze of dark corridors, galleries, halls and chambers in these moldy old castles and chateaus, Emily still does not let me into every nook and cranny of her thoughts. I know she saw something at Udolpho, quite early on, that she just shut up in her own mind, and never talks to anyone about. Not even to the reader who has faithfully stood by her for 550 pages now… She just shudders occasionally when she comes to think of it, but always shakes it off again without explanation. But is it even important? And will it ever be revealed?

There is only one way to know. About 115 pages left to read now…

Monday, 16 March 2009

Quotation of the Week (12/03)

But the fire of the poet is in vain, if the mind of his reader is not tempered like his own, however it may be inferior to his in power.

Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho, Vol. 3, Ch. V

Multiple Choice (Mysteries of Udolpho III)

Emily - the heroine of The Mysteries of Udolpho – is at present enjoying a little repose from the terrors at Udolpho; which she really deserves, since she has been through a lot lately. I take the opportunity to breathe a little, too, and recapitulate. Cruel though it may seem, I'm hoping Emily will be going back to the castle soon, because there seems to be a lot left to be sorted out at that place, and we still have 250 pages to go...

If the idea has not already been used, Udolpho would make a great scene for an Interactive Fiction (IF) computer game, the "old fashioned" kind with just text and no pictures. I haven't played a lot of them but a few. In some of them, you get multiple choices; in others, you have to come up with suggestions yourself (like: Go north, or Feed dog, or Hit dwarf with axe.) Some are just boring, but the good ones really create pictures in your head although you haven't actually been shown any. Ann Radcliffe's novel leaves the same kind of impression – the plot sort of keeps going round in circles, but you have to give her credit for her ability to paint pictures with words, whether the subject is a tranquil valley landscape or a gloomy castle up in the mountains.

Anyway, here is a Multiple Choice scene for an imaginary Udolpho IF game:

You are all alone in your gloomy bedroom at the Castle of Udolpho. It is midnight, the fire has gone out and you have no way to light your candle. You are a long way from the servants quarters of the castle. The other rooms in your corridor are empty, or at least you would prefer to think so, because the alternative is even more unpleasant to consider. You are sitting by the window, gazing medatively out over the ramparts. The moon shines over a wild mountain landscape of pine forests and deep ravines. Suddenly, you see a dark figure moving in the shadows on the rampart below. There really should not be anybody there at this hour. What do you do?

a/ You recall the stories you have heard about the castle being haunted, and faint.

b/ You tell yourself it must be one of the guards, but wonder what he is doing there.

c/ You think it is your beloved fiancé, whom you reluctantly left behind in France.

d/ You decide to keep watch the next night too, and see if the figure returns.

e/ You decide to wait for the maid, and ask her what she thinks. (You already know that she will think it was a ghost, and then you can play the rational one and convince her that there are no ghosts, and that there must be a natural explanation.)

f/ You decide not to wait for the maid but to go and find her, even though you have no light.

h/ You open the window and call out: "Who are you and what are you doing here?"

In the game of Udolpho, you should not expect just one of these answers to be the right one. They will all lead you on in different directions; but in the next chapter you will again find yourself right back in your room by the window, at midnight…

Read more about Interactive Fiction (Wikipedia)

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Despair And Hope


The month of March, in our climate, often brings a strange mix of hope and despair. We know by the lengthening days that spring is on its way, but it still seems out of reach. Thursday morning the streets lay bare, the birds were twittering... Later in the day it started snowing, and in the evening a thick layer of snow once more covered the ground and the trees! Now, Sunday, most of the snow is again gone. But nature is really at its most bleak and dull. You get that feeling of doubt - it just doesn't seem possible anything will ever grow out of the ground again! If you see a bit of colour somewhere, it turns out to be a piece of candy wrapping...

However, if you lift your eyes from the ground to the tree tops, there is that hint of purple, that wasn't quite there a few weeks back... And if you can get close enough, you'll find you weren't wrong!

Saturday, 14 March 2009

The Castle, at last! (Mysteries of Udolpho II)

Reader's patience awarded; the next chapter transported me (along with the main characters) more quickly than I had come to expect (see previous post), to the Castle of Udolpho. Wild mountain scenery, quickened pace of events, dark and gloomy castle, hints of ghost and other lurking terrors... Now I feel I'm in a Gothic novel...

Although what puzzles me more than mysterious covered portraits or secret passages (which I have been expecting) is the sudden presence of the heroine's late father's old dog, lying at the foot of her bed, just when it is needed. The dog has never been mentioned before (all the emphasis has been on Emily being completely alone), but logically it must have been her companion ever since she left home, a couple of hundred pages ago. (Since Emily herelf is not at all surprised to see it.)

Now the question is, how and when to get out of the castle. 400 pages to go... I suppose we'll have to explore a few more nooks and crannies before we leave! ;-)

She often paused to examine the gothic magnificence of Udolpho, its proud irregularity, its lofty towers and battlements, its high-arched casements, and its slender watch-towers, perched upon the corners of turrets. Then she would lean on the wall of the terrace, and, shuddering, measure with her eye the precipice below, till the dark summits of the woods arrested it. Whereever she turned, appeared mountain-tops, forests of pine and narrow glens, opening among the Apennines and retiring from sight into inaccessible regions.
The Mysteries of Udolpho, Volume 2, Ch. VI

Friday, 13 March 2009

Reading The Mysteries of Udolpho

Woman on a balcony by Carl Gustav Carus
(=the front cover picture on my copy of Udolpho
After finishing Wuthering Heights, I picked up another
classic novel, that I first started reading a year or two ago, but for some reason or other lay aside again. The book is Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho from 1794, and I have been curious about it ever since I first read Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, which parodies this and other Gothic novels.

After 220 pages out of 670 (which is further along than I got last time) I'm still wondering when I'll be getting to the "gothic" stuff; or if I shall have to review my whole concept of that word.

So far, the heroine has spent most of her time gazing out over tranquil landscapes, feeling generally faint. Well, she has lost her parents, and had to leave her childhood home, and her beloved fiancé, and is on the verge of being forced into marriage with another man whom she does not love (or even respect). But all is happening at a very slow pace - I suppose in a way reflecting the very slow pace of travelling by horse and carriage in those days! - set against impressive mountains, peaceful valleys full of sheep and shepherds and dancing(!) peasants, fresh verdure and colourful sunsets, French chateaus surrounded by vast parks, and Venetian palaces overlooking canals with gondolas... (We're nowhere near the mysterious Udolpho yet, but the name has recently been introduced in passing once or twice...)

The most interesting part of it all so far is really that the author herself had never actually travelled and seen the landscapes that she so meticiously describes...

However, by writing down that I intend to finish the book this time, I'm hoping this will help me keep my resolution to do so! ;-)

Here's a teaser from the last chapter I read, Volume 2, Ch IV - a conversation between heroine Emily and her aunt:

'...I wish to see you happy, and it is your own fault if you are not so. I would ask you, now, seriously and calmly, what kind of a match you can expect, since a Count cannot content your ambition?'
'I have no ambition whatever, madam,' replied Emily, 'my only wish is to remain in my present station.'

Monday, 9 March 2009

Quotation of the Week 11/09

They loved and were beloved, and saw not, that the very attachment, which formed the delight of their present days, might possibly occasion the sufferings of years.

Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho, Volume I, Ch XII (1794)

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Through My Spectrespecs

Luna Lovegood wearing Spectrespecs

Parallell to this blog, I have been starting up another one all about Harry Potter, which I have given the name Through My Spectrespecs. You will find magic doors to that world in the margin of this one.

My aim in that blog is to go back in time and collect some of my own Harry Potter "research" and speculations from between the 6th and 7th books, and take a new look at them from the perspective of now knowing how the story ended. I decided it was better not to mix those posts into The Island of the Voices, but to give them their own space. In this world, I try not to put too many spoilers into my book or film reviews. In that world, I presume that you, dear readers, have read all seven books, and know how it all ends.

The first three introduction posts, however, do not contain any direct spoilers. So if you are just curious to find out a bit more about my "relationship" with Harry, you can go directly to the following three posts from here:

1. Through My Spectrespecs (first introduction post)

2. Other books I read because of Harry Potter

3. Harry Potter and I, or How To Grow From Reader To Fan

I have now also published the first post of the other kind (spoilers included) - Harry Potter and Beowulf, where I compare the basic structure and plot of the Harry Potter series to the basic structure and plot of the ancient epic poem. (Beowulf was written in Old English sometime before the tenth century A.D., and describes the adventures of a great Scandinavian warrior of the sixth century.) You will find my comparison here (if you are sure you really want to go there...)

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Back On Track

It seems I have managed to reinstall the Followers gadget. (Had to remove it last week because of technical problems, see posts from 27 February and 1 March.) However, when I tried putting it back at the bottom of the margin, below all the other gadgets, it evidently got upset and again blocked the whole blog from access. I had to move it up a bit to get it to cooperate. Now we seem to have agreed on a compromise solution (somewhere in the middle)...

I have recently been watching the British TV adaption (from 1981) of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and the behaviour of this widget/gadget thingy here sort of reminds me of the depressed robot Marvin... Quotation from Wikipedia:
Marvin is the ship's robot aboard the starship Heart of Gold. He was built as a prototype of Sirius Cybernetics Corporation's GPP (Genuine People Personalities) technology. Marvin is apparently afflicted with severe depression and boredom, in part because he has a "brain the size of a planet" which he is seldom able to use. Indeed, the true horror of Marvin's existence is that no task he could be given would occupy even the tiniest fraction of his vast intellect.

Rereading Wuthering Heights

Portrait of Emily Brontë
by her brother Branwell Brontë

Twenty years or more have probably passed since I first read Wuthering Heights. When I reread it now I had this question in my mind throughout the book: Why do people consider this a romantic love story? There is passion, certainly, but love...? Most of the passion comes out as possessive obsession and downright cruelty.

Catherine does have deep feelings for Heathcliff, but not the romance-leading-to-marriage kind. It is the wild streak in herself that makes her understand the kind of person he is:

My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath - a source of little visisble delight, but necessary, Nelly, I am Heathcliff - he's always, always in my mind - not as pleasure, any more than I am always pleasure to myself - but as my own being –
(Catherine to Nelly, Ch. 8)

However, she is never deceived as to his character:

It is deplorable ignorance of his charachter, child, and nothing else, which makes that dream enter your head. Pray, don't imagine that he conceals depths of benevolence and affection beneath a stern exterior! He's not a rough diamond - a pearl-containing oyster of a rustic; he's a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man.
(Catherine to Isabella, Ch. 10)

What intrigued me more than the main characters this time, was the narrative structure.

At the beginning, at Wutherings Heights, there is the Earnshaw family, with brother and sister, Hindley and Catherine. Into the family comes Heathcliff, an outsider who remains an outsider, even though a bond develops between him and Catherine.

At Thrushcross Grange, in the same generation, we have the Linton family, with brother and sister, Edgar and Isabella.

I won't go into all the details here; but a tangled web of marriages between the two families follows, enhanced by the tradition of naming children after close relatives, and sometimes interchanging first and last names; so that the same names recur in the next generation, but in different combinations.

An indication is given in the 3rd chapter of the book, where the narrator Lockwood stays over night at WH on his second visit there, and sleeps in a "haunted" room, where there is a ledge "covered with writing scratched on the paint. This writing, however, was nothing but a name repeated in all kinds of characters, large and small – Catherine Earnshaw; here and there varied to Catherine Heathcliff, and then again to Catherine Linton."

A closing of a circle seems to be indicated at the end of the book; which usually also suggests some kind of moral – but I'm not so sure there really is one, in this story... (?)

There is also a rather complicated narrative perspective. The first narrator is Lockwood, who stumbles into Wuthering Heights at the beginning of the book, as a complete stranger - an outsider – and starts to unravel the mysteries of the past. But his own observations are few, and limited to a few occasions in the very last year of the story. Moreover, a shadow of doubt about Lockwood's judgement is thrown in by the real narrator (the author) in the very first chapter. Lockwood reflects, after his first visit to WH: "He /Heathcliff/ evidently wished no repetition of my intrusion. I shall go, notwithstanding. It is astonishing how sociable I feel myself compared to him." This indicates that Lockwood is first and foremost interested in his own entertainment.

Lockwood's main source for the background story, or the second narrator, is the servant Ellen "Nelly" Dean. She may seem to be an outsider, too, in a way, because she is "just" a servant (and Lockwood sees her as such). But Nelly cannot really be considered an objective storyteller, since she often takes an active part in the events herself.

Quite often, there is even a third filter introduced between the events and the reader, because Nelly in turn recounts what others have said, or written in letters. And the things that Nelly (perhaps?) leaves out or distorts, the reader will never know…

It struck me when I thought about this, that Lockwood could be said to represent "the reader", while Nelly represents "the author". The final interpretation of the story (any story) is, and has to be, a dialogue between author and reader - and I suspect Emily Brontë was well aware of that. (It is Lockwood – "the reader" - who gets the last word, by the way.)

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Quotation of the Week 10/09


The weather outside (still rather wintry) + yesterday's post about computer trouble made me think of this passage from Winnie-the-Pooh:

One fine winter's day when Piglet was brushing away the snow in front of his house, he happened to look up, and there was Winnie-the-Pooh. Pooh was walking round and round in a circle, thinking of something else, and when Piglet called to him, he just went on walking.

'Hallo!' said Piglet, 'what are you doing?'
'Hunting,' said Pooh.
'Hunting what?'
'Tracking something,' said Winne-the-Pooh very mysteriously.
'Tracking what?' said Piglet, coming closer.
'That's just what I ask myself, What?'
'What do you think you'll answer?'
'I shall have to wait until I catch up with it,' said Winnie-the-Pooh. 'Now, look there.' He pointed to the ground in front of him. 'What do you see there?'
'Tracks,' said Piglet. 'Paw-marks.' He gave a little squeak of excitement. 'Oh, Pooh! Do you think it's a - a - a Woozle?'
'It may be,' said Pooh. 'Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't. You can never tell with paw-marks.'


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