“Do you ever dream queer dreams?” asks Catherine to Nelly Dean at a crucial moment of Wuthering Heights. Nelly startles and doesn’t want Cathy to proceed, because she is convinced that dreams may foreshadow some imminent catastrophe. But it won’t be that kind of dreams. The way Emily Bronte will use the dream effect on the story is innovative. In her sister’s masterpiece Jane Eyre, dreams give the novel a gothic flavour, in fact they are usually in the form of presentiments, warnings for the future or sometimes symbolize the complex representations for the events in Jane’s life. Emily will dare more, she will anticipate somehow Freud‘s Interpretation of Dreams. Let’s try to make it in simple words: dreams for Freud are unconscious wishes. As they are not accessible to the ego, they emerge from the psyche during the sleep when conscience weaken its control. Dreams for Freud are highly symbolic. They contain both overt meanings (manifest content) as well as underlying, unconscious thoughts (latent content),this is because dreams may represent the fulfillment of a wish often unacceptable to the ego,so the latent content undergoes a transformation that doesn’t allow the super ego of “the dreamer” to recognize it, thus escaping its censorship. Dreams are our unconscious wishes in disguise. Cathy tells Nelly that she often dreams to be in heaven. But she is unhappy there and when the angels, worn out by her desperation, send her back on the earth she wakes up “sobbing for joy”. Cathy won’t need many sessions with a psychologyst to decipher the metaphors of her dream. She knows exactly its meaning. That heaven isThrushcross Grange, the grand house where the Lintons’ live, and she, as the future Mrs Linton, will have to join them very soon. Respectability, society , money are part of that heaven but ,as Nelly jockingly will say, Cathy “is not fit to be there”,she belongs to the earth, to Wuthering Heights where Heathcliff may be beside her. In another dream she sees her image reflected in a mirror but she doesn’t seem to recognize it. All her dreams seem to warn that she is about to do the wrong choice, a choice that will make her betray her true nature, her true self.
Monthly Archives: January 2013
Heathcliff the villain
A villain is the evil, immoral guy of a story. The etymology of the word villain comes from the Latin “villanus” meaning “farmhand“. He is antagonist to the knight not only for his low social status but for those moral values of chivalry: faith, loyalty, courage and honour that do not seem to affect his world.The villain is often cruel, malicious and devoted to wickedness. The typical villain of the Morality plays was the devil himself:Satan. In the Elizabethan Drama the villain’s want of morality allowed him to act against the laws of nature and God which were at the basis of society and thus breaking them he gave the start to the dramatic action. The audience could easily spot villains on stage because dramatists often used to choose for them names that hid the clues for their moral imperfection. In Hamlet, for example, Shakespeare called the villain Claudius, which comes from the Latin “Claudus” that is “lame”. Sometimes the names could also point out the dangerousness of the villain. Richardson seemed to warn his unfortunate heroine Clarissa naming the man of her dreams Lovelace, truly a loveless man whose lace of love will strangle her to death. Heathcliff as well belongs to the cathegory of the villains. Emily Brontë chose for his protagonist a name that could mirror all the enigmatic nuances of his personality. He is heat, heath and cliff at the same time, that is wild, passionate, maybe stubborn, but definitely dangerous and uncontrollable. He is a modern Satan, dark( “he looks like a gipsy“), retiring, elusive and vengeful. Wherever he goes he upsets the preexisting balance bringing chaos and sorrow. Once adopted, for example, he will win Mr Earnshaws’s affection causing such frustration and jealousy in his son Hindley that will fire up their deadly fight. The same destiny will share the Lintons’ when, after a mysterious absence of years, Heathcliff will turn up at their door only to carry out his revenge. Nothing and nobody will stop him. Not even love.
Wuthering Heights is the novel about Sehnsucht, but in one of its most extreme and pathological form. Even if the dialogues of the two protagonists, Heathcliff and Catherine, seem to express a kind of deep, absolute love (” he is more myself than I am” Catherine will confess) that may foreshadow some Romeo and Juliet actions, they actually will never succeed in staying together, at least in this world. It isn’t even correct to say succeed, because it would imply that there is a struggle for the sake of the couple. Not at all. Once set the social barrier that will divide them forever at the beginning of the novel, they will begin to tease, hurt each other under the command of a destructive instinct . When Heathcliff comes back after few years and Catherine is now Mrs Linton, he only seeks revenge and wants her to suffer making her jealous seducing and then marrying her sister in law. It was Catherine who had chosen a comfortable and respectful life to love. She deserved punishment. Blinded by jealousy and resentment they won’t be able to crush the obstacles that separate them, but rather they will add some more. This violent longing will wear out Catherine in particular who has always shown a self-destructive nature. For example when Heathcliff mysteriosly disappears, she waits for him till night under the rain, consequently developing a dangerous fever or she decides to starve whenever things don’t go her way. Her mind and body grow weak page after page and even when Catherine meets Heathcliff for the last time , we understand that their mortal fight is suspended only because she is about to die. From now on, without her love, Heathcliff will long only for death, the place where he’ll meet her again. Maybe these are the words Cathy said when she had come back to take him there:
Sehnsucht is a German word that translates that Romantic feeling of intense longing (das Sehnen) with its addiction (die Sucht). The intensity of the emotion is given by the awareness that the object of our desires cannot be conquered, the consequent profound pain could be unacceptable for someone and eventually lead to suicide. But there is also a non pathological meaning: longing is also what makes man feel alive and happy. In Ode on a Grecian Urn the poet is attracted by the marble figures on the breede of the urn. There are trees, musicians and maidens pursued by “bold lovers“. As I said in the previous post, the urn belongs to “slow time” (eternity) so those lovers will never reach their goal. Their Sensucht will last forever. But their hopelessness is seen by Keats as the true source of happiness. Their longing is the real love, it will last forever and time will not “waste” it.The Knight-at-Arms of La Belle Dame Sans Mercì had reached his goal but when he awakes from his dream of love he finds himself alone “on the cold hill side“. A sense of emptiness replaces the longed fulfillment. There is no real happiness in the material world.
The affliction of time
My youth has been nothing but a tenebrous storm,
Pierced now and then by rays of brilliant sunshine;
Thunder and rain have wrought so much havoc
That very few ripe fruits remain in my garden.
I have already reached the autumn of the mind,
And I must set to work with the spade and the rake
To gather back the inundated soil
In which the rain digs holes as big as graves.
And who knows whether the new flowers I dream of
Will find in this earth washed bare like the strand,
The mystic aliment that would give them vigor?
Alas! Alas! Time eats away our lives,
And the hidden Enemy who gnaws at our hearts
Grows by drawing strength from the blood we lose!
Charles Baudelaire L’Ennemi translated by William Aggeler.
At the very beginning of the Ode on a Grecian Urn Keats draws a line between art and man. Man has the gift of creating something that may outlive him, something immortal:ART. That’s why the urn is “foster child” of “slow time“ that is eternity and a “bride” that will never be violated by the mortal touch of life. On the contrary, men’s destiny is to be “wasted” by “clock time” generation after generation, while the urn/art is the cold indifferent witness of our “woes”. Hamlet regarded the passing of time like a whip that leaves on our skin and flesh scars that can’t be wiped out and “scorns” us when we become old, weak and useless. We can feel the pain in these words which is both physical and psychological, while in that “wasted” there is all the nonsense of the disrespectful action of time on man, who can’t find any consolation in art. In Baudelaire ‘s L’Ennemi time takes the semblance of a vampire which “eats away our lives” “gnaws our hearts” and sucking our blood finds its strenght. It is the cruel twilight of our dreams of a youth that very soon will become autumn.
The fallen artist
Often, to amuse themselves, the men of a crew
Catch albatrosses, those vast sea birds
That indolently follow a ship
As it glides over the deep, briny sea.
Scarcely have they placed them on the deck
Than these kings of the sky, clumsy, ashamed,
Pathetically let their great white wings
Drag beside them like oars.
That winged voyager, how weak and gauche he is,
So beautiful before, now comic and ugly!
One man worries his beak with a stubby clay pipe;
Another limps, mimics the cripple who once flew!
The poet resembles this prince of cloud and sky
Who frequents the tempest and laughs at the bowman;
When exiled on the earth, the butt of hoots and jeers,
His giant wings prevent him from walking.
Charles Baudelaire L’Albatros translated by William Aggeler
It is in Charles Baudelaire‘s L’Albatros that the poet becomes clearly the martyr of common ignorance and blindness. Mankind, just like in Coleridge is represented by a crew of coarse men and the Albatross, which stands in this case for the poet himself, floats by. In his flight the Albatross is magnificent and elegant with his vast wings, he is “the prince of sky and clouds“, but when the men of the crew catch the Albatross and place him on the deck, well ,everyhting changes. The bird has to walk now and he seems to have lost all its confidence and becomes pathetic,clumsy, ashamed and his beautiful wings which used to take him up to the sky seem like oars that drag him down. This fallen angel has become so gauche and weak that seems like a cripple. But the men feel no pity, but quite the contrary, they sneer at him. The poet/Albatross belongs to the sky and he is used to facing the tempest. Only up there he is the king that laughs at the(bow)man. But when he is on the earth, when he is exiled among the jeering men, his wings are useless because they “prevent him from walking“. Modern society is no longer for poets. Men don’t understand them and so laugh at them. Any attempt of communicative effort is destined to failure. Poetry, just like the wings of the Albatross, is useless. The earth is no place for poets.
A bitter realism
Progress can’t be stopped. The fast growing transformations in England couldn’t be stopped. It was the country of the “dark satanic mills” where the social solitude of Blake‘s chimney sweepers and exploited women emerged. It was Dickens‘s smoky and polluted land where litte Oliver, David or Nicholas struggled to find their dignity in that insensitive world where the dominant creed was that of Scrooge before becoming all generosity and kindness. The bourgeous society was too blinded by the new range of opportunities so that success,social status, money making became the top values of that age everywhere. It is clear that the role of that artist willing to change the world in the pervading materialism had to be re-defined. What was the point of keeping on with the effort of educating to sensibility an ignorant, indifferent, arrogant audience? What for? To end up like Wilde‘s nightingale? To die for nothing? So modern artists decided to turn their backs to their public and ceased any attempt of didactic or moralizing effort. They accepted the course of events. Some of them decided to describe accurately the evil mechanisms of the bourgeous society with cold scientific detatchment just like Gustave Flaubert and Emile Zola in France or with a certain sentimentalism with Charles Dickens. Some others openly rejected the vulgarity of the contemporary world and refused to conform finding a safe shelter in that exclusive place where taste and beauty ruled and art was for art’s sake that is, using Wilde’s own words, “quite useless”. It was the bitter defeat of the Romantic ideals.
The Romantic defeat
Do you remember those bedtime stories your parents used to read you ? Those stories where good always won over evil and made you slip into a peaceful and satisfied nap? I guess you do, so you have well understood that Oscar Wilde‘s collection The Happy Prince and the other tales does not belong to this cathegory. The rhythm is that of fairy tales, just like the characters which come mostly from the world of magic or fantastic: giants, speaking animals or statues…but the end……..the end is shocking. It seems that Oscar Wilde wrote these stories for his children, but how, HOW could a little baby sleep after hearing that, for example, the rose for which the brave nightingale had sacrified her life had been thrown into the street, “where it fell into the gutter” and just like it wasn’t enough “a cart-wheel went over it”? I coudn’t, for sure. The prevailing sense sadness that overwhelms you at the end of the stories is given by the unexpected harsh realism of the real world that replaces abruplty the pampered world of magic. Wilde didn’t want to reassure his kids at all, he wanted them to see life as it was: happy ending is never for granted in a world where men are corrupted by material values and deaf to sensibility.In other words in these stories there is the defeat of the Romantic ideals. The Happy Prince is a statue placed “on a tall column”, so that now can be aware of the poverty and suffering of that world he had never seen before. He wants to do something to relieve those people of their pains, so with the help of a swallow, which seems to have missed the last “train” to Egypt he will give away all the precious stones and leaves of gold that cover his body to whoever he sees in need. But when winter comes the helpful swallow dies and the statue seems to have become ugly and shabby at the eyes of the people who count in town:”as he is no longer beautiful he is no longer useful”. So they decide to pull it down. They are unaware and shallow .They cannot see that behind the ugliness of the statue there is the real beauty of his sacrifice. There is love. The deserved reward doesn’t belong to this world, in fact the dead body of the bird and the leaden heart of the Prince will be brought to God because they are the most precious things in the city. Only in the other world they will be recompensed. Maybe.