Saturday, May 14, 2011

My Name is Catherine - On Emily Bronte, Tom Hardy & the Wuthering Heights

Emily Bronte published her first and only novel in 1847. This was a colorful and tumultuous year in the world. The first postage stamps came out in the U.S. Mormon pioneers arrived in a small town that eventually became Salt Lake City. California bound emigrants became snowbound in Sierra Nevada and had to resort to cannibalism to survive. Hundreds of thousands perish in the Great Irish Famine. Verdi premieres his operatic version of Shakespeare's Macbeth in Florence. General Zachary Taylor's 5,000 American army drove off 15,000 Mexican soldiers in the Battle of Buena Vista. So it seemed like another normal day in world affairs, right? Well, not much different from current affairs, except that these days, we can blog, text, attain cyber orgasm, send documents within a few seconds, watch Pinoy indie films with the technical quality of the 1800s and cook meals by mere pushing buttons.

What we can't do is have three strong-willed sisters publish mind-blowing novels within the year: Charlotte Bronte for "Jane Eyre", Anne Bronte for "Agnes Grey", and Emily Bronte for "Wuthering Heights" - although they had to use androgynous pseudonyms Currer, Acton and Ellis Bell, respectively (to avoid prejudice against female writers).

I just watched Coky Giedroyk's 2009 version of "Wuthering Heights" and its tale of amoral passion which once again swept me off my feet. This time around, it's Tom Hardy portraying Heathcliff, Charlotte Riley as Catherine, and "Walking Dead's" Andrew Lincoln completing the triangle as Edgar Linton.

But back in 1847, when "Wuthering Heights" first came out, it was greeted by a firestorm of protests, some quarters calling it "one of the most repellent books ever published" while others encouraged that the books be "burned". It wasn't until the 2nd edition came out that people learned that author Ellis Bell was actually the daughter of a parish priest - which shocked the public (Thanks, Ms. Laura Linney!)! How can a parson's daughter from west Yorkshire write such sexual passion and vengeance?

You see, Emily wasn't much of a social being. She kept to her house (and was close to her siblings) and hated to travel. When she did (she took language classes in Belgium), she became gravely ill. She was 29 and single (in fact was never known to have had a romantic relationship) when "Wuthering Heights" came out. A year later, she died at the age of 30!

"Wuthering Heights" is told in broad and dark narrative strokes, nothing short of a sweeping romantic epic involving poor young English boy named Heathcliff who's taken in by the wealthy Earnshaw family where he develops an intense relationship with his young foster sister, Cathy. The staggering power of this relationship is chronicled as they grow into adults driven apart as a consequence of the patriarch's death. What made it so powerful is its unapologetic depiction of love and passion. To me, an affection that's anything less than passionate is not worth having. Do you read that, Tom? ;->

The staggering story will not fail to shake you.

This was from a 1992 version starring Ralph Fiennes and Juliette Binoche.

The only surviving photos of the Bronte sisters are from paintings. This is Emily Bronte.

Riley and Hardy in "Wuthering Heights".

Tom Hardy was Eames in Leonardo DiCaprio's "Inception", if you orbited Neptune when it was showing everywhere.

No comments: