Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Wuthering Heights, Vampires, Handbooks, and Citizen Science

Heathcliff as vampire wannabe? Why didn't I think of that? Fortunately others have.

Over at The Literature Network, kev67 asked (in Nov 2012):
I was just wondering whether Wuthering Heights was some sort of proto-vampire book when in the last chapter Nelly herself wonders whether Heathcliff is a ghoul or a vampire. I was surprised as I did not think vampires had been discovered till later. I have not watched any of the Twilight films (and I don't intend to neither) but it struck me there were some similarities between Wuthering Heights, Twilight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other vampire films and television series. Heathcliff can stand bright sunlight; bibles, wooden crosses, garlic and holy water might annoy him but would not be sufficient to ward him off; and although driving a wooden stake through his heart would kill him, so would other methods of execution. However, there are some similarities: Heathcliff is evil (like most vampires). Heathcliff and Catherine continue to walk the Earth after death and do not find rest. Heathcliff has no hope of salvation, neither does he want it. Heathcliff's idea of heaven is close to torment. Heathcliff's love for Catherine is eternal (rather like some vampire love stories). Heathcliff's love for Catherine is rather chaste. Heathcliff is tall, strong, rather dark with long, black hair. Heathcliff forms one point of a love triangle with Catherine as the apex (a bit like Twilight I believe).
The good folks at Shmoop – "We speak student" – are on the case. Here's the lead to their Wuthering Heights material:
Edward and Bella, meet Heathcliff and Catherine.

That's right: before The Walking Dead, Twilight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Vampire Diaries, there was Wuthering Heights.

At first glance, Heathcliff may not resemble the vampires that you've grown to know and love (or hate), but he's got a lot more going for him than most of 'em. Just saying.

Wuthering Heights, published in 1847, revolves around the passionate and destructive love between its two central characters, Emily Brontë's headstrong and beautiful Catherine Earnshaw and her tall, dark, handsome, and brooding hero/devil, Heathcliff.

Forget the romantic candlelit dinners, the wine, and the roses. Catherine and Heathcliff's love exists on an entirely different plane: one that involves ghosts, corpses, the communion (or possession) of souls, and revenge. And, speaking of revenge, Heathcliff—who harbors more than one grudge against his adoptive family, the love of his life, and his neighbors—manages to make every revenge drama look like kid's play.
And to seal the deal, "Reading Wuthering Heights gives you bragging rights over all your friends who think that the whole vampire thing started with Buffy. Suckas."

* * * * *

I'm thinking a couple of things.

First, the connection is valid. I assume that proper scholarly work has been done on this connection, tracing themes and connections, that sort of thing. If not, get on it, someone!

Second, I'm guessing that these two sites, Shmoop, and The Literature Network, are aimed at high school students and lower level undergraduates and community college students (and their teachers). And we've got Cliff's Notes and Spark Notes and others serving the same market. They all have basic stuff about literary texts, mostly canonical ones.

How much of the material at these sites could be consolidated into consensus handbooks of materials about these texts? These sites are commercial enterprizes and so, I assume, would be reluctant to give up their stuff to an open-access resource. But, they're already giving their stuff away on the net. Why don't they all draw on the same body of standard material, material that furthermore has been vetted by scholars – assuming you can find first-rate scholars willing to do this. These sites would also be useful for the casebook industry.

I've been calling for handbooks for awhile. My point is that we've got the seeds of that already on the net.

Third, this leads us to citizen science. There's lots of 'fan'-created stuff on the web. Some of high quality. This Wuthering Heights site, by Paul Thompson, is excellent. I found it when looking for a timeline of events in the story. Thompson's done quite a bit of sleuthing on this. There's handbook quality material lurking here.

But how do we put it all together? And just who is "we"? Does literary academia want to commit proud suicide or does it want to enter the 21st century and engage the large population of people who are interested in literature (though they might not give a crap about high theory)?

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