In the “Heights”

Emily Brontë turned 200 years old yesterday. Yes, we know, a day late and a dollar short and all that. But she wrote one of the most unusual novels in literature, “Wuthering Heights” (1848), along with some soul-rattling poetry, so attention must be paid.

A lot of people don’t get “Wuthering Heights,” and much effort has been expended on explaining its story of two brutal people whose impossible love for each other leaves a path of destruction in its wake. Some scholars have recently claimed its reclusive author was on the spectrum. Camille Paglia has written (in “Sexual Personae”) that the novel’s antihero, Heathcliff, is Brontë channeling the brutally beautiful and beautifully brutal Lord Byron. Even Emily’s sister Charlotte, author of the more conventional “Jane Eyre,” called out the novel’s “passionate perversity.”

It’s both simpler and more complex than that. But first you have to understand that art is neither moral nor immoral. It’s about psychological truth. And Emily’s portrait of a woman who betrays her real nature and the man who is the other half of her soul for a wealthy match – igniting her lover’s fury and a vengeance that transcends the grave – rings as true today as it ever did.

Brava, Emily, and you might take some perverse pleasure in knowing that a first American edition of your book, which sold for .75 cents in 1848, is being sold by Peter Harrington Rare Books for $11,300.

For more information on rare Brontë books, visit peterharrington.co.uk, and for more on Emily and her literary siblings, Charlotte and Anne, visit The Brontë Society and Brontë Parsonage Museum at bronte.org.uk.

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