Charleston’s Small Wonder festival takes a hard look at Heathcliff

Kate Mosse. Picture by Ruth Crafer
Kate Mosse. Picture by Ruth Crafer

I am Heathcliff takes place at Charleston on Friday, September 28 (4pm), as part of the Small Wonder short story festival.

Heathcliff, the brooding anti-hero of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, has gone down in history as the epitome of romantic love – thanks in part to cinema and theatre .

Yet that is so far from what his creator intended, it is in fact a misreading of the book, as the foreword by author Kate Mosse to a new collection of short stories, explains.

I am Heathcliff, the opening event at this year’s Small Wonder festival, dissects the influence Heathcliff and Bronte’s novel has had on literature. This collection of specially commissioned stories inspired by Wuthering Heights and curated by Kate Mosse celebrates the bicentenary of Emily Bronte’s birth. It is a collection that takes a long, hard look at the reality that was Heathcliff through a range of mostly contemporary stories.

Kate Mosse, author of six novels including the multi-million selling Languedoc trilogy, in her foreword to the collection describes how her own reading of Heathcliff through the decades has changed her perception of him and his relationship with Cathy.

From what began as a romantic love story – albeit one of violence and anger – she sees now the monumental nature of the writing. That it is no domestic story of romance but is about the nature of life, love and the universe.

“Not only did she change the rules of what was acceptable for a woman to write,” Mosse says, “but there is a total absence of any explicit condemnation of Heathcliff’s conduct.”

Two contributors to the collection of stories, Louise Doughty and Juno Dawson, will read from their work and discuss how the anthology came about.

Louise Doughty, author of eight novels including the number one bestseller Apple Tree Yard, sets her story Terminus in a bleak and wintery Brighton where Maria has fled from a violent partner.

The comparisons with Heathcliff are there, of course, but when her partner Matthew tracks Maria down, I wondered whether she had actually wanted to be found.

“No,” said Louise. “She’s terrified of Matthew and when he finds her she feels an overwhelming sense of inevitability. She is so broken down by circumstance that it is hard for her to resist.”

Did Maria feel somehow responsible for the way Matthew had treated her?

“A lot of people in difficult relationships get into the habit of self-blame and believe they can redeem a difficult man if they love him enough,” she says.

And what of the relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy?

“She was every bit as wild as he was,” she says. “Emily Bronte is quite clear on that.”

Like Kate Mosse, Louise believes that to romanticise their love is a misreading of the book.

To hear more about the enigma of Heathcliff, book a ticket for this event through charleston.org.uk/smallwonder or call 01323 815150.

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