On Writing: Returning to Wuthering Heights

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.