Picturing Catherine

Sunday, 1 July 2012


: : William Bouguereau, Êtude Tete de Jeune Fille, 1898 : :

I wish I were a girl again, half savage and hardy, and free.


: : Screen-grabs from the BBC’s latest version of Tess of the D’Urbervilles : : Beautiful hare-bells : :

I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth.


: : Oil painting for Paramount Pictures’ Wuthering Heights with Juliette Binoche as Catherine : : Screen-grab from the film Possession : : My own photo of Heather on the moors : : Screen-grab from Angel : :

I cannot look down to this floor, but her features are shaped on the flags! In every cloud, in every tree - filling the air at night, and caught by glimpses in every object, by day I am surrounded with her images! ... The entire world is a dreadful memoranda that she did exist, and that I have lost her!


: : Heather on the moors : :

I’m sure I should be myself were I once again among the heather on the hills ...


: : Flowering Heather : : John William Waterhouse: Boreas - 1902 : :

A wild, wick slip she was - but, she had the bonniest eye, and the sweetest smile, and the lightest foot in the parish.


: : Screen-grab from Wuthering Heights : : Screen-grab from Trois Couleurs: Bleu : : Screen-grab from The Company of Wolves : :

Ah, they put pigeons feathers in the pillows - no wonder I couldnt die! ... And heres a moorcocks; and this - I should know it among a thousand - its a lapwings. Bonny bird; wheeling over our heads in the middle of the moor. It wanted to get to its nest, for the clouds touched the swells, and it felt rain coming. This feather was picked up from the heath, the bird was not shot - we saw its nest in the winter, full of little skeletons. Heathcliff set a trap over it, and the old ones dare not come. I made him promise hed never shoot a lapwing, after that, and he didnt.


: : Untitled by Sundari Carmody : : My own photo of Top Withens : :

I’m tired, tired of being enclosed here. I’m wearying to escape into that glorious world, and to be always there.

* * *

Because I enjoyed picturing Rebecca so much, I attempted to picture Catherine from Wuthering Heights. I don’t know if it’s the pure pleasure of re-reading the novel with new eyes, or because in a few short weeks I’ll be holding a copy of my book in my hands, but in either case, this post fills my stomach with butterflies, moving in sympathy with Catherine’s desire for the heather, the moors, and the “glorious world”.


odessa said...

Oh Hila, this post makes me giddy and quiet breathless! I absolutely love all the quotes that you chose, especially the first one. And I am so very excited for your book! :)

As for Catherine, I didn't like her nor understood her actions when I first read WH but now I've come to love and appreciate her for who she is. Maybe my perception of her has also changed as I've grown older but I don't find her as self-centered or as reckless as I used to before.

Hila said...

Odessa: oh yes, a lot of readers, particularly young women, tend to view Catherine as self-centred and reckless; sort of child-like in her wildness and narcissism. Maybe that's true, but for me, she represents someone knocking against the enclosure of feminine ideals; she wants a world that will support her sense of self, rather than one that limits it. When I've taught the novel, I've always tried to get the students to imagine she were a male character, and then ask themselves whether they feel the same about her. We're familiar with masculine stories of self-exploration and identity, but not so much with female characters who employ the same mode of subjective-excessiveness. A lot of the negative opinions about her seem to stem from that gender bias, in my opinion. I'm not at all saying that's where you're coming from, though :)

I also find that the older I get, the more I understand what drives her character. I hope that means we're both growing in maturity, ha!

spotsoftime said...

What a wonderful post; such a lovely collection of apt quotes and beautiful images. Those shots from Tess are exquisite. One to linger on and re-read. Interesting comments too.
My perception of Catherine definitely changed as I got older, especially thinking of the constraints of her life. Also having been on the moors near Haworth and experienced the beauty but also the utter bleakness of the landscape I could appreciate why it is such a massive element of the book and how it plays its own part in shaping the characters - I couldn't imagine living there as an young woman, constrained by the female role of the day, I would like to think eventually I'd get a bit reckless too!

I'm babbling now but it is has really interested me how my response to characters has changed as I've got older. I was really irritated by the character of Anne Elliot in 'Persuasion' when I read it at school but adored the young girl (name escapes me!) in Rosamund Lehmann's 'Invitation to the Waltz'. Rereading these years later my feelings were completely reversed!
I think it's time to enjoy WH again - off to dig it out, thank you!

Caitlin Rose said...

Beautiful! I think I'll start re-reading Wuthering Heights today.

Chuck said...

I'm not a big fan of Catherine's either although I think your view is interesting and I agree with some of it. Not all heroines need to or should be likeable.

Your combination of images and quotes here is so beautiful. I really need to visit the moors. It is ridiculous that I live in England and I've never been. One thing at a time though - i've never been to th Lake District either and I'm going to stay there next week. Exciting! X

rusty {rambles} said...

This is such a beautiful visualisation! I love the Waterhouse. Every winter I get this book out to curl up and read on a stormy day and somehow I never get around to it. You might just have spurred me on..

T C said...

pure delight to see these wonderful images and read the quotes.

Stella said...

Have you read Virginia Woolf's writing on the Bronte sisters? Needless to say it's pretty fascinating, and I love this quote about Emily Bronte: "It is as if she could tear up all that we know human beings by, and fill these unrecognisable transparences with such a gust of life that they transcend reality." That's how I view Catherine and Heathcilff, and I wonder if trying to discern their "motivations" as we would for any ordinary character is pointless, in a way. As a person, Catherine is loathsome; as a fictional character, she and Heathcliff feel less like flesh-and-blood beings than manifestations of the natural elements that surround them. The scene that always comes to mind when I think of Catherine is one of her famous fits in the novel, where she literally works herself into insanity by her twisting and stomping and "gnashing of teeth," until she's in an indomitable rage. It's almost the Hulk, in a ridiculous way, but that, in my mind characterizes her perfectly - as a force of nature that can't exert self-control and whose mind and reasoning are beyond comprehension.

Hila said...

Stella: I've definitely read Woolf's essay on Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre - I analysed it in the introduction to my book :) I can understand this perspective on the book and Catherine's character, and I understand the appeal of approaching them both from a 'natural' philosophy. However, I don't follow this camp: I'm more on the side of approaching the novel from its 19th-century context. Bronte knew exactly what she was doing, and what she was writing. She was engaging quite forcefully with the Romantic literature of her time, as well as her own experiences of the position of women. As did her sisters in their own novels. That being said, I do understand the pull to view Catherine as a type of natural force, even if I may not necessarily agree with it.

Sorry for this long-winded response, I could talk about this book forever!

Tracey said...

This is a lovely post Hila. I really enjoyed the quotes you chose to accompany those beautiful images. It's wonderful to see some of your own photos in there too!

I am so looking forward to the release of your book ... my goodness, you must be filled with a mix of excitement and nervous anticipation! :)

Carolina said...

This makes me want to pick WH up and read it again.

Sally said...

Great collage!

I forget if you've mentioned whether you've checked out the 2011 film adaptation? I still haven't gotten round to watching it...

Exciting that the book is so soon :)

Olga said...

This is a very beautiful post. The anticipation of holding your own book in your hands is one of the most exciting moments in the life of an author.

Maša said...

Wonderful use of imagery (oh, Waterhouse <3). Interesting point about imagining Catherine to be a male character. I must admit I couldn't relate to her at all, but I've only read the novel once so far. Hope my giveaway book went to the right hands. ;)

Denise | Chez Danisse said...

I enjoyed reading each bit, looking at each image--letting it all wash over me. A beautiful respite.

Hila said...

Spotsoftime: I know what you mean. I loved Pride and Prejudice the most out of Austen's books when I was in high school, but now, Persuasion is my favourite because I've grown to appreciate the character of Anne.

Caitlin Rose: yay! I'd like to convert everyone to the book :)

Chuck: you really must visit as it's right on your doorstep. I envy you so much going to the Lake District, enjoy!

rusty: it's such a perfect book to read in Winter, so I hope you get round to it.

TC: thank you :)

Tracey: yes, I am! I have nightmares that I find a spelling mistake and such - I'm such an idiot sometimes, I should just enjoy the moment.

Carolina: I certainly hope so.

Sally: yes, I have, I got the dvd. I'm still undecided about it. But when I feel comfortable with my ideas, I'll do a post about it.

Olga: and I hope I'll be able to repeat it again sometime in my life with a second book.

Masa: Catherine is one of those characters that I don't need to like to relate to. I don't know why.

Denise: thanks, it was fun to create.

Stella said...

@Hila I'm a relatively new blog reader, so I haven't read your book, but I would love to get my hands on it! (the new one or the "other" one, btw?) I definitely agree with you as well, in that the social and feminist commentary in WH is very strong. I guess I just conclude that Catherine can't be strictly confined within a social framework, since an core part of her personality is almost animal-like, which is reflected in Heathcliff as well. I think Jane Eyre contains similar elements, but that's why I think the Bronte sisters are so ingenious - blending so many different facets, themes, commentaries on different subjects and philosophies effortlessly. And please, feel free to talk on as long as you like. I could listen to Bronte analysis forever. :)

Jane Flanagan said...

This is delightful! How I love that book.

Hila said...

Stella: Fair enough :) Even if I don't agree with the 'natural' argument, I don't pretend that my opinion is everything, so I do understand where you're coming from. And it's nice to disagree with someone in the comments section, and have it be a nice, polite and enjoyable conversation! That doesn't happen very often online.

Jane: I'm so glad to hear you love this book Jane, because I value your opinion so much.