On Writing: Returning to Wuthering Heights

Monday, 25 June 2012

Wuthering Heights

I sometimes think my vision of the sea is the clearest thing I own. I pick it up, exile that I am, like the purple ‘lucky stones’ I used to collect with a white ring all the way round, or the shell of a blue mussel with its rainbowy angel’s fingernail interior; and in one wash of memory the colors deepen and gleam, the early world draws breath.

-Sylvia Plath, Ocean 1212-W.

Something really strange has been happening to me lately. I’m re-reading Wuthering Heights with a sense of newness. I didn’t think it would be possible for me to find more in this novel; a book I have read so many times and know so well. I thought we were intimate enough by now, like old companions. But there you have it, a ‘new’ feeling. And for the first time ever, I’m reading it with a sense of ease I’ve never experienced before. It’s not the ease of familiarity, but the ease of unfamiliarity. Gone is that all-consuming feeling that I need to unpick every line and understand its tone, intention and language before I can move on with the story. Instead, I’m diving into the book like someone who doesn’t need to understand a thing, but yet still emerging with a clear picture in my head of what I have read.

That’s the thing about words you love: they grow with you. They aren’t static things sitting on your bookshelf, categorised forever in a distinct corner of your mind. Their meaning changes as you do. This got me thinking about Sylvia Plath’s ‘vision’ of the sea in the ‘early world’ of her childhood. Ocean 1212-W is one of my favourite Plath essays, and I was reminded of this when reading Kate’s wonderful post. The way Plath describes her return to the sea as a collecting exile picking up her childhood memories speaks of how I return to Wuthering Heights. I pick it up like a shell on the beach, and the colours and memories from my own childhood become sharper and clearer, because that’s what I’ve attached to this book. There isn’t a way to ‘review’ such a novel, or explain its hold on you to someone else; what you inadvertently draw into yourself when you’re beginning to form that ‘vision’ of yourself is something that never really leaves you. It stamps an imprint upon you that is something beyond just simple comfort or reassurance.

The ease with which I’m reading through Wuthering Heights at the moment may reflect the growing ease I have with my writing, and in knowing what to share and what is mine alone. Some writing is created because the words simply need to come out in a dialogue with your own self. And then there are words that you know have a life beyond you. There are many reasons to share your writing: the work towards a writing career, validation, encouragement, critique, feedback, perhaps some ego-stroking at times when you just feel at a loss about the whole endeavour. But I feel these reasons would amount to very little purpose in my case were they not accompanied by some feeling that the words I write, however imperfect and cliché at times, need to have a life beyond me.

A book like Wuthering Heights, written so long ago by a woman with whom I share very little in terms of life experience, has the ability to change in meaning and enter my personal history from different doorways. Books and words aren’t simply about their authors. Sometimes I wonder at the futility of running this blog, as I’m just another voice adding to the noise of many other voices. Does it do any good? What’s the point of this all? I really don’t know, and in a few years’ time, or a few months’ time, or a few weeks’ time, I may find that I can’t find a point anymore. Or instead, I may find that my sense of ease with it all will increase, because I will come to terms with the unfamiliarity of seeing my own words move within a noisy world that is beyond me. That would be a good feeling.


lola is beauty said...

Hila, I'm reading Wuthering Heights for the first time ever - thanks to you talking about it a while back. I saw it on the bookcase at my father's house - an old edition that was my mother's in her school days. From the first page I've been entranced and amazed by it! I feel quite lucky in a way that I'm discovering it for the first time at this age. x

Tracey said...

Hi Hila. Oh I have missed reading your wonderful words, and diving into your beautiful writing ... Your post here is another thought-provoking piece that I will no doubt reflect on for some time.

How wonderful that you can re-read something that you thought you knew so well, and discover that sense of 'new'. I love how a book can surprise us like that ... and it's great to hear that you have a growing ease with your writing. Knowing where writing belongs - either for ourselves or for others is such an important realisation (I think I tend to keep too much in at times).

That feeling of your words 'needing to have a life beyond' you ... yes, I totally understand that feeling, AND your thoughts about your blog ...

I very much like your concept of the 'unfamiliarity of your own words' moving out into the world. Yes, I like that very much indeed. xx

rooth said...

That's what defines a classic for me, a book that you can come back to time and time again and realize different things that you missed or didn't grasp on to the first time. The Great Gatsby was actually one of those books for me. Now I wonder what other books that I'm missing since I last read them...

Michal said...

It has always amazed me that the same words can have different and growing effects on us each time we read them.

Also, what you said about writing some words exclusively for yourself, and then having some "words that you know have a life beyond you", really struck me. I always debate with myself over every piece I write- should this be something I share? I want to be braver at sharing my writing, because criticism will make me better, but it is true that often the motivation to share my words goes beyond that.

Caitlin Rose said...

I always get something out of whatever it is you've written Hila. It always makes me think. I'll read something of yours and immediately I become contemplative. And then I always end up thinking for a few hours afterwards.

Danya said...

Bless! That is precisely it!

I read the Duncton Chronicles, by William Horwood, at least once a year, if not more depending on what is out there to read at the moment.

People always ask me "why?" and because I write much better than I speak, I am never quite able to articulate just what happens every time I read those books. I never have the correct words to describe the feeling you have captured so accurately, and managed to string together words to expand on that feeling beyond: "Well, you know, when you read a good book over and over again, it just gets better, you know? You understand it differently and you learn something new every time."

This is a far, far better explanation.

Sally said...

I've experienced this feeling often, probably because I find I don't remember a book well until I've read it at least twice...and I feel like reading classics in high school and college doesn't count, sometimes, as understanding only dawns when I read them later as an adult.

With WH I was lucky in that when I first read it, it was just an engrossing, escapist novel to me - later it became an academic journey - and I'll have to try it again soon, to see what it is to me now!

Bethany said...

There are so many things about this post that resonate with me right now - about wondering at the futility of running a blog, at coming upon something you've been familiar with for years and discovering it anew, at "seeing my own words move within a noisy world that is beyond me." There's a certain vulnerability in this post... I can't quite place my finger on it, but I find it very comforting today.

T C said...

Such a good comparison with the noise of many other voices,that could make a melody if there is mutual understanding.

Danielle P. said...

I know what you mean... I must have watched Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources at least 15 times — I'm sure some of the dialogue is permanently etched on my brain — but each time I perceive a fresh detail or nuance that had remained hidden from me until that precise moment.

It says something both about the power of this novel and your perceptive sensitiveness that you're able to view it with fresh eyes even after writing an entire book about it! I've only managed to read Wuthering Heights twice thus far, not having appreciated its rugged beauty the first time around because my annoyance (and even frank hatred) towards most of the characters took up so much room in my field of vision that I was unable to see beyond it. I'm glad I was able to set aside my prejudice, and look forward to reading Cultural Afterlives!

(Your last paragraph is pure loveliness. Really.)

Alia et Libris said...

Love this Hila, especially the last paragraph for me. Your thoughts mirror my own in many ways.

Lovely that you're enjoying Wuthering Heights yet again and finding more good stuff. I started enjoying reading a whole lot more once I didn't need to tear a book apart for an english lit essay. xxx

Rambling Tart said...

Hila, you have no idea how much courage and strength your words have given me over the years since I started reading your blog. I NEVER leave untouched. Never. I know changing and enriching MY life is an utterly self reason (on my part) for you to keep writing, but I make no apologies for it. :-) I hope you write here forever, while at the same time hope that you only write as long as it is a good thing for you. :-) xo

Kate said...

Your articulation of the way that words move out to have a life of their own is wonderful. The ambivalence of sharing words is something I recognise and the clarity of your words clarifies it in my own mind. And thank you for the mention. Honoured! :)

Nit said...

Very interesting! I like reading your opinions about your writing.
You make me think. In my own blog-writing, for example, or the notebooks I scribble in... I though, being a Language and Literature Licanciada, that I wrote for others, to communicate and share, but lately I realized that I write mostly for myself, to rein in and give a sense of narrative to my life and interests. Always ongoing and changing.
And, curiosly enough, I'm a Jane Eyre girl, never really enjoyed Wuthering Highs. I'll try again then!

Jane Flanagan said...

I love this post so much - both your sense of calm discovery reading Wuthering Heights and your own perspective on writing and blogging.

I've always had a hard time with the "letting go" aspect of writing, especially when people read something I wrote not as I intended. I've been letting this go too... (in no small part thanks to conversations we've had). So, thank you.

Olive said...

It is funny, I am re reading Wuthering Heights at the moment and it has something. I study in literature and it is one of a kind book that makes you feel so many things... That's a «chef d'oeuvre»!

SARAH said...

My instinct is to congratulate you on finding _Wuthering Heights_ new again. That's hard to do when it's been an object of study for so long. I just finished my MFA in poetry writing and am slowly returning to books as a human and not just a student. It's wonderful.

If Jane said...

All year long I have been re-reading books and I feel that some books remain the same for me whilst with others, I now see/feel something entirely different. And please continue sharing your writing...an exchange is never futile. ;)

Stella said...

Keep us updated on any new thoughts or insights you have about it! I'd love to hear them. It's funny; I loathed the book the first time I read it as a preteen, and it's now one of my favorite books, the kind where I can pick up on any rainy afternoon or evening and open its well-worn cover, much like its sister, Jane Eyre. Both of never cease to amaze me with their harsh energy, and their strange, spiritual, incomparable characters.

odessa said...

I believe it was Nabokov who said that one can not read a book but only reread it...and that is certainly true with Wuthering Heights. I've been thinking about this a lot too, having read some pretty crappy novels last month and decided that maybe I should just go back and reread the ones I love instead of wasting my time on books that don't mean anything to me. Or am I being snobby? :P

But yes, I love what you said about returning to WH and how it relates to your writing. I've just caught up with your previous posts Hila and just want to say that your blog is always an inspiration to me and I thank you sincerely for sharing it with all of us.

Amelia said...

(Now whenever I see WH I can't help but remember our Twitter conversation regarding it. It still makes me sad.)

I think that's the beauty of books with which we grow up. They have a strange hold on us.

Denise | Chez Danisse said...

I have noticed the way the experiences I'm having in my life while reading a book incorporate themselves into my memory of the book. Later readings sometimes leave me wondering if it was in fact the same book I read earlier.

The meaning of writing a blog is one I continue to reevaluate. For what it is worth, I like reading what you write.

Gracia said...

"That’s the thing about words you love: they grow with you. They aren’t static things sitting on your bookshelf, categorised forever in a distinct corner of your mind. Their meaning changes as you do."

Yes! This I like a tremendous deal.

And yes to that blogging feeling. I sometimes wonder at the point of it all. Working from home though, it makes things that little less inward. For now it serves as a portal looking outward that this introvert needs.

(On the night zine front... it's coming along well, though nothing to show as yet. All in the head. And scanning!)

Craig said...

"Sometimes I wonder at the futility of running this blog, as I’m just another voice adding to the noise of many other voices. Does it do any good? What’s the point of this all?".

A question that could be asked about life really. For a tonic, listen to the Galaxy Song by Monty Python (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buqtdpuZxvk) Lovely female "creator" symbolism.

Of course, a blog with readers, and discerning reaers like yours, is far from futile. It is no longer a diary or personal reflection but something that has changed other people. It may have other consequences that you cannot see yet. I've seen some blogs that become books, some blogs that carry a hobby into a serious concern, and some blogs that connect people to each other in the real world. What did the Beatles say?

Anis said...

I love the way that, for some reason, this books helps you move forward! I also like to read some books again, a year after the very first reading, it never feels the same!

Hila said...

lola is beauty: lucky indeed! I almost envy you :) But then again, I wouldn't trade my personal history with the book for anything. Enjoy every word.

Tracey: I've missed your comments, and your own posts, so very much. Thank you for visiting once again. I think I keep too much of my writing to myself as well, especially my fictional work. I have so much prose and poetry for my eyes only, I feel I should start sharing it some more. But it's really scary to contemplate that.

Rooth: yes, classics for me have a personal relationship, and aren't defined by a canon or list created by others.

Michal: I have the same doubts and thoughts about my own words. And no amount of experience or publications dispels those doubts. Maybe that's the way it's supposed to be.

Caitlin Rose: That's the best compliment ever, thank you.

Danya: I'm not quite sure mine is the best explanation either :) It's so hard to articulate things that move you.

Sally: Wuthering Heights has been so many things for me, I've almost created a human persona for the book!

Bethany: I'm glad you find it comforting. And yes, I did feel somewhat vulnerable writing it.

TC: Ah, if only! Sometimes the noise is too much.

Danielle: Thanks Danielle. The characters aren't particularly likeable, and to me, that's part of the beauty of the novel. I can't quite express why I love it so much, but I do.

Alia et Libris: ha, I usually enjoy analysing texts. It's just that now, I feel more at ease with the book, and I'm not really sure why.

Rambling Tart: wow, I don't quite know what to say to that - thank you! It never really occurs to me that anything I post here actually affects people to this degree. It makes me feel humbled to hear you say that.

Kate: my pleasure, I loved your post!

Nit: I'm both a Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights woman :)

Jane: I know what you mean, I hate the feeling of being misunderstood. Maybe this is a confidence thing? The more confident I feel, the less I care how people interpret me. I still have my moments though!

Olive: I agree, it does make you feel so many things, and that's so hard to describe.

Sarah: It came as a surprise to me, I didn't think I'd be able to even look at the book for a long time after finishing my book.

If Jane: I hope so :) Same goes for you too ...

Stella: I feel the same way about both books - it amazes me that I never seem to get sick of them.

Odessa: Thank you! I've been disappointed with some newer books too. I want more from books. I don't think that's been a snob, it's just demanding quality.

Amelai: ah yes, I know. The strange speculations around the Brontes can be downright insulting to these authors.

Denise: Thanks, so far I'm enjoying writing it. When I stop enjoying my blog, It'll be the end for me.

Gracia: "For now it serves as a portal looking outward that this introvert needs." Yep, I know exactly what you mean. And no need to rush, take your time ... xo

Craig: yes, all good points. It's hard sometimes to see beyond your own perspective when you're writing a blog. From my own perspective, it can feel so futile at times, like my words are just lost in a sea of other blogs. But as you point out, I don't really know how far they actually travel. Thanks for this.

Anis: I don't know if I'm moving forward, but the feeling is so different now.

B. said...

Great post! I agree so much with everything you wrote... I haven't posted anything to my blog for a while: I started my blog when I was 15 years old, and now I'm 22, so I don't feel identified with what I see there anymore. I have been writing in private; looking for a new message to share.

Everything is intern dialogue for the moment; but I look for something that goes beyond me.