[Marxism] Was Heathcliff Black?
lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Feb 18 07:26:25 MST 2016
Wuthering Heights is the perfect example of how the traces of slavery
are not new news and can be found in seemingly unusual sources.
Wuthering Heights has, for years, been read as a literary classic, and
yet, although arguably a historical novel of slavery, it has been
overlooked as a historical source. Wuthering Heights was published in
1847 but set earlier (it opens in 1801, and the story extends back to
the 1770s), that is, before the 1834 abolition of slavery in Britain. A
historical novel under the mask of the Gothic, it is notoriously veiled
in its representations of slavery in Yorkshire. Scholars have
periodically debated whether and how the footprints of slavery can be
tracked in Brontë’s classic, sometimes by relying on the same few
enigmatic lines as textual evidence of Heathcliff’s blackness.
‘A good heart will help you to a bonny face, my lad,’ I continued, ‘if
you were a regular black; and a bad one will turn the bonniest into
something worse than ugly. And now that we’ve done washing, and combing,
and sulking—tell me whether you don’t think yourself rather handsome?
I’ll tell you, I do. You’re fit for a prince in disguise. Who knows but
your father was Emperor of China, and your mother an Indian queen, each
of them able to buy up, with one week’s income, Wuthering Heights and
Thrushcross Grange together? And you were kidnapped by wicked sailors
and brought to England. Were I in your place, I would frame high notions
of my birth; and the thoughts of what I was should give me courage and
dignity to support the oppressions of a little farmer!’
So I chattered on; and Heathcliff gradually lost his frown and began to
look quite pleasant, when all at once our conversation was interrupted
by a rumbling sound moving up the road and entering the court. He ran to
the window and I to the door, just in time to behold the two Lintons
descend from the family carriage, smothered in cloaks and furs, and the
Earnshaws dismount from their horses: they often rode to church in
winter. Catherine took a hand of each of the children, and brought them
into the house and set them before the fire, which quickly put colour
into their white faces.
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