“Enjambment! Or would You Prefer the French Version, Sir?”

( PLEASE NOTE. Having mentioned the term “enjambement” once or twice in my last blog on The Marriage of Cana : A Poem I here present this from an earlier August 2020 post )

Is there a word the sound of which-whether uttered correctly or incorrectly -makes you wince?

In French -for me, “enjambement” is not like that. It is rather such a sweet sounding, elegant intonation. I love to hear it pronounced by a good French speaker. And I , in turn, attempted, in my rudimentary French to repeat that sound as best I could when I used it teaching in tutorial.

But, turn the beautiful French sound into English and the resulting sound is a crude horror. It certainly does make me wince. “Enjambement” becomes “Enjambment” and with the silent “b” the English jam, then with the “m” doubled becomes your central syllable : so “Enjamment”. In French (la) “jambe ” refers to leg and “enjambement” is the action of straddling, which in verse becomes a meaning crossing two lines. It makes sense. In English “jam” in relation to the meaning makes no sense. “En-jamming” sounds as if it is the word for a trapped child in a lift unable to move or get out because hemmed in by hulking adults. Or it reminds me of that disgustingly cruel ways wasps were lured into a jammy jar filled with water into which intoxicated with the sugar they would inevitably eventually drop trapped and drowned: “Enjam-ment”.

So it was excruciating in poetry discussion having demonstrated the subtlety with which a poet had created a particularly effective way of conveying a meaning by the use of the technique my carefully enunciated French was responded with “Ah you mean “en-jam-(b)ment”!

We noted the subtlety in “There Was a Boy”:

Then sometimes in that silence, while he hung
Listening, a gentle shock of mild surprise 

Here the suspense, the hanging action, listening for a sound is perfectly conveyed by the pause caused in moving from one line to the next.

Another example follows later in the poem:

A long half-hour together I have stood
Mute -looking at the grave in which he lies. 

where the sense of standing long and quiet at the graveside is strengthened by the lengthening of the movement between “stood” and “Mute” (both rhythically accented)

Perhaps the most famous observation on an example of enjambement that first enabled me to understand the power of the technique (before that it was just a word without point) comes where the famous critic F. R. Leavis writing on Keats in Revaluation takes the example of the gleaner in “To Autumn”:

And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across the brook. 

The gleaner’s task is to carry a basket of gleaned grain on their head. Leavis writes of this description:

In the step from the rime-word “keep”, across (so to speak) the pause enforced by the line-division to “Steady” the balancing movement of the gleaner is enacted.

Exactly like the movement of easing your way over stepping stones with a basket on your head, showing perfect balance! Leavis’ comment puts into words perfectly what is being done by the poet to achieve the effect. Once demonstrated we see the kind of enactment that the enjambement brings that enhances our identification with what is happening in the poem.

Such subtle enhancement deserves the pleasingly subtle French intonation of enjambement


This poem was initially written as a separate one and then was later incorporated in “The Prelude” (Book5), the long autobiographical poem in twelve books, which Wordsworth subtitled “Growth of a Poet’s Mind” The work in these early books, as in this poem here, follows Wordsworth’s early development and his boyhood love of Nature in the Lake District where he was brought up, before moving in later books to his student days at Cambridge, his walking tours in the Alps, and the record of being caught up in the French Revolution and its effects on his understanding. Fascinating as the whole work is, it is probably the early books on childhood that readers find most appealing.

There was a Boy: ye knew him well, ye cliffs
 And islands of Winnander!-many a time 
At evening when the earliest stars began 
To move along the edges of the hills, 
Rising or setting, would he stand alone 
Beneath the trees or by the glimmering lake,
And there, with fingers interwoven, both hands 
Pressed closely palm to palm, and to his mouth 
Uplifted, he, as through an instrument, 
With mimic hootings to the silent owls, 
That they might answer him; and they would shout 
Across the watery vale, and shout again, 
Responsive to his call, with quivering peals, 
And long halloos and screams, and echoes loud,
Redoubled and redoubled, concourse wild 
Of jocund din; and when a lenghthened pause 
Of silence came and baffled his best skill ,
Then sometimes, in that silence while he hung 
Listening, a gentle shock of mild surprise 
Has carried far into his heart the voice 
Of mountain torrents; or the visible scene 
Would enter unawares into his mind, 
With all its solemn imagery, its rocks,
Its woods, and that uncertain heaven receive 
Into the bosom of the steady lake.

The Boy was taken from his mates, and died 
In childhood, ere he was full twelve years old. 
Fair is the spot, most beautiful the vale 
Where he was born; the grassy churchyard hangs 
Upon a slope above the village school, 
And through the churchyard when my way has led 
On summer evenings, I believe that there 
A long half hour together I have stood 
Mute, looking at the grave in which he lies.

William Wordsworth, The Prelude Bk5

Whisling, hooting, mimicking are all second nature to many boys. The Boy of this poem has obviously become expert at owl-hooting and loves the effect it creates. The poem invites us to identify and enjoy the boy’s creative gift and the resulting “wild concourse” of sound. It does so, not simply by description of the outer effects, but by entering the consciousness of the boy in relation to the wider surroundings.

What is given by the poem in the opening sequence is shared experience with a reflection on the significance of that experience. The poem calls to something within us- certainly, at least, if we are lovers of wild natural beauty.

You may read this verse and think of it at first as simple and prosaic in expression. Actually it is neither. The form is blank verse, the traditional narrative form of Miltonic epic and Shakespearian drama. It lends itself to the speaking voice. And the movement of the reflective speaking voice-not the dramatic voice like Shakespeare or the exalted one of the epic -is Wordsworth’s distinctive speaking voice in his narrative poems.

If you want best to get into reading William Wordsworth-if you want truly to recognise what a great poet he is-it is best , I think,- at least this was my advice to my students -to follow the movement of his sentences. The Wordsworth sentence is a marvel of meander, but it is a progressive meander, a delaying of its ultimate development to enable a deeper and wider perspective, a more profound possession of and inwardness with what is being described.

So, look at the start! It begins with a simple straightforward statement with a suggestion of portent : “There was a Boy” but , then there follows a delay of five lines before we have a verb connected to this subject : “would he stand alone” with another pause before the nature of the activity : “He”,- further delay- “blew mimic hootings”. We cannot read Wordsworth in a hurry. In our day we epect sentences to be linear, to move directly from subject to verb to object. Wordsworth does not do linear. Correction: when Wordsworth does linear, because it is exceptional, it has exceptional power.

The delays enable the reader to place the setting and the Boy’s habitual place within it (” ye knew him well, ye cliffs and islands of Winnander”-Winnander is the name given to Lake Windermere , perhaps the most famous of the English Lakes.) added to place is time of day, with the movement of the stars, causing the glimmer on the lake, so expanding, universalising our sense of the scene before it moves back to the boy (“would he stand alone”-this is no showing off in company-” Beneath the trees, or by the glimmering lake”) before at last the action . Note again the interjections, clause by clause, creating the precision of preparation. And so it goes on, wonderfully, to show the reaction of the birds building up to “concourse wild, of jocund din.”

But, curiously, that is not the finale being aimed at: leaving the reader with a beautiful picture and an appealing image of the boy and the build up of the owls’ responding. It is what Wordsworth goes on to do that makes him a special poet, one of the great poets. The outer effect has been described. Now, the verse takes the reader into the consciousness of the boy and by doing so extends our consciousness as readers:

Then sometimes in that silence, while he hung
Listening, a gentle shock of mild surprise 
Has carried far into his heart the voice 
Of mountain torrents; or the visible scene 
Would enter unawares into his mind  
With all its solemn imagery, its rocks, 
Its woods and that uncertain heaven received 
Into the bosom of the steady lake.      

There is so much that could be said of this passage that this post could be three times longer. Look at the effect of the enjambement in the first quoted line (“enjambement”: continuing the sense of a line beyond its end without a punctuated pause) creating that pause of intense listening has led to the hearing of what was before unnoticed: “Can I really hear that? Gosh!”- that is the far away sound of the mountain torrents up in the hills and the peacefulness that enables that far sound to be heard enters deep: “Carried far into his heart”. “Or” we are given an alternative potential (unconscious) absorption in the beauty of the scene.

A possible criticism of Wordsworth here might be we cannot be sure he is not transposing upon the boy his own subjective reaction. Yet the conjecture of the poet is based on what is likely to have penetrated the listener’s focus on the barest sound he can hear, as he is listening for sounds, and the “unawares” does point to whar we know to be a common experience-the apprehension of natural beauty, even if at an unconscious level. Wordsworth’s interest is , I think, likely to be shared by every reader who finds the poem moving: that the awareness of natural sounds and beauty of landscape is something we prize especially if we have been opened to the experience of it ( and what is the owl -hooting boy who is on his own doing if that potential is not there within him?)

The final stanza is as it were prepare for by the wonderful finale of the previous stanza, which is beautifully fitting in itself, but with its use of the phrase “uncertain heaven”- “uncertain” refers to the shadows of the sky reflected in the waters of the lake but there is a carry-over of the wider meanings of the two words -uncertainty held by the “steady lake” (Arnold’s phrase comes to mind ” to see life steady and to see it whole” as reflecting Wordsworth’s endeavour) to the recording of the death of the boy stated here in stark, (linear), plain, simplicity. We are left at the end of the poem with the poet thinking of the significance of that young life-seeking to hold it in “steady” view where the the loss of the boy’s future is balanced by the quality and meaning of the boy’s actual experience as glimpsed through this wonderful poem.

The reader feels he has known him and can celebrate the fact!


You all know the word “romantic” and it arouses all kinds of expectations. It is that kind of word. But where did it come from and how did it develop? It is an interesting story.

In the last blog while I used the word ” Romantic” I was very conscious how complex a word it is. After all the title “Making the Novel Romantic” would have encouraged many readers to imagine I was referring to Mills and Boon type fiction when I was really thinking, not about romance or passion at all, but the influence of romanticism on the Bronte sisters.

The word “romance, ” of course, is the connecting link. It developed from “romaunt” -a verse romance from Old French, as with “Romaunt of the Rose ” translated by Chaucer. But the connections of the word were ancient , going back to Rome and the development of verse in various “provincial” languages of the Roman Empire.

The word “romantic” suddenly appeared in the mid-seventeenth century in English. Since then, it has become a word which mixes ideas of aesthetic appreciation, of associations with romance or passion, of critical attitudes towards the word by rational thinkers and of the exaltation of certain qualities of feeling and imagination. Quite an assortment! Also, as we shall see, it has a complex history of cross-fertilisation with other European tongues, particularly French and German, both of which languages borrowed the word, developed it further and then returned it to English.

I went through much of my life, carrying this legacy of various meanings, without ever endeavouring to sort them out. Then I came across an old book, in a second hand bookshop, by Logan Pearsall Smith, a name I had heard mentioned with a high degree of respect by some critics I admired. This work Words and Idioms, published in 1925 included a chapter on the word “Romantic”, its history and development along with associated words, all of which developed their meanings dramatically, such as “originality”, “imagination”, “genius”, “creativity”. The chapter provided me a real education by showing how the understanding of the development of a new word -or cluster of words- helps us understand key movements of thought.

I would like to share some of Pearsall Smith’s explorations with you. If this wakens your interest I would strongly recommend you to try to get the book to read the chapter in full.

The word “romantic” was first used from the mid-seventeenth century indicating a spirit of critical detachment.:

Its appearance …is an indication of a change in human thought, and marks the moment when that change had become obvious enough to need a term to express it. Romantic simply meant like the old romances for which they were needing a name -that they were being critical of them, and had begun to view them with a certain detachment…. The special characteristic of all these romances, for which a name was now needed, was their falseness and unreality, all that was imaginary and impossible in them, all that was contrary to the more rational view of life which was beginning to dominate men’s minds. The growth of this conception of “order” and “nature”, this “dawn of reason”, as an eighteenth century writer called it, threw into relief certain groups of irrational elements which were opposed to it. The phenomena of religious fanaticism was branded “enthusiasm” and the fictions and imaginations of the old romances were labelled by the word “romantic”. The meaning of “false” “fictitious”, “imaginary”, implied by romantic was applied both to the supernatural elements in the medieval romances, their giants, magicians and enchanted castles; and also to the false, impossible, high-flown sentiments of the later romances; those “wild romantic tales” as a seventeeth century writer described them , “wherein they strain love and honour to that ridiculous height it becomes burlesque.”

It is noticeable also, that running concurrently with this deprecating tone towards the “romantic” there was also a devaluation of the word “imagination”. Imagination, of course, was to be exalted during the Romantic era by Blake and Coleridge as the supreme power of creativity. But to Hobbes the essential element in a poetry was Reason. “Judgement begets the strength and structure and Fancy begets the ornaments of a poem.” The imagination came to be regarded as la folle de logis, in Descartes’ phrase , or, in Dryden’s words as “a wild lawless faculty, that like a high ranging spaniel, must have clogs tied to it lest it outrun judgement”,”. (An Essay of Dramatic Poesie)

How then do we move from the denigration implied by the word “romantic”(and its associate “imagination”) to its exaltation leading us to Blake, Wordsworth and Coleridge, Shelley and Keats and on to what we looked at last time with Charlotte Bronte’s letter.

There grew in the eighteenth century along with the philosohical and rational distrust of imagination, the aesthetic attraction of the romantic setting. “Romantic” here meant “redolent or suggestive of romance; appealing to the imagination or feelings” (O.E.D).

“The word romantic then, from the general meaning of “like the old romances”, came to be used as a descriptive term for the scenes which they describe, old casles, mountains and forests, pastoral plains, waste and solitary places. In the earlier instances of the adjective the literary reference is more or less explicit; but by the eighteenth century it had come to express more generally the newly awakened, but as yet half-conscious, love for wild nature, for mountains and moors, for the “woods, Rivers, or Sea-shores” which Shaftesbury mentions as sought by those “who are deep in a this romantic way” ( Shaftesbury Moralists 1709) .

Dr Johnson the commanding literary figure of the mid-eighteenth century, the generation before the first Romantics, displays both meanings:

Dr. Johnson almost invariably uses the word [ie. “romantic”] with its depreciatory meaning ( “romantic and superfluous”,” ridiculous and romantic” ” romantic absurdities or incredible fictions” etc) was so influenced by the prevalent fashion as to try his unwieldy hand at a landscape of this kind.

When night overshadows a romantick scene, all is stillness, silence and quiet” (The Adventurer No. 108 . 1753.

When the French borrowed the word they at first translated it as romanasque or pittoresque. However, when Rousseau used it directly it as romantique, it was included in the Dictionary of the French Academy in 1798 being defined as Il se dit ordinairement des lieux, des paysages qui rapellent a l’imagination les descriptions des poemes et des romans.(Please excuse my French translation: “it usually refers to the places,the landscapes,scenery which appeal to the imagination in the descriptions of poems and stories” )

Pearsall Smith shows how the French definition underlines the subjective and also literary nature of the word. “In the first place romantic is like interesting,, charming, exciting one of those modern words which desribe, not so much the objective qualities of things, as our response to them, the feelings they arouse in the susceptible spectator. Secondly, it is nature seen through the medium of literature…..It is curious also to note the appearance and popularity of the word picturesque at the same time as romantique for just as romantique means Nature seen through a literary medium , so picturesque was used to descibe words that were like pictures and were seen through the medium of another art, that of painting. Painting and literature had been from ancient times judged and criticized by their relation to Nature; but his curious reversal of the process the projection of art into Nature through the coloured glass of art, and from a consciously literary point of view , is an element that must not be neglected”.

The entry into French then emphasised the subjective quality of the word. Equally interesting and perhaps more far-reaching developments took place when “romantic” was transported to Germany , as with France, in the late seventeenth century. Romantisch appears in a translation of Thomson’s Seasons. Romantic literature and poetry, the literature and poetry of the Middle Ages, were , in contrast with those of classical times, called romantisch ; and from this comparison and contrast the German philosophers and critics evolved that great bugbear of modern criticism, the famous opposition between classical and romantic”.

This was accentuated by the aesthetic differences between Goethe and Schiller but developed into a strenuous cultural dispute furthered by its entry into France from Germany during the revolutionary period. The result was

The romantic poets first in Germany , then in France, were the poets who, scorning and rejecting the models of the past and the received rules of composition prided themselves on their freedom from law, and on their own artistic spontaneity.”

So was developed the association of Romanticism with a scornful attitude to the application of the accepted conventions of art and a spirit of rebelliousness and individualism in his attitude to his art and his role in society.

To summarise on the various meanings we have found for”romantic” and to suggest very briefly their present relevance: on the popular level the connection of “romantic” with “romance means the word retains its association with the sentiment of love. The critical implication associated with “romances” ,however, is retained with the use of the word “romanticising”, always, I think, implying unrealism. The development of the idea of a romantic setting continues, as does the strong subjective attachment to such a setting. “Romantic” as a battle-cry in opposition to classical is less marked-though we are perhaps more conscious of it marking the change between the more formal classical music of the eighteenth century and the romanticism of a figure like Beethoven, after the French Revolution. However, the idea of the artist as a challenger and rebel, individualistic and scorning convention might be seen continuing in the twentieth century in the career of poet like Dylan Thomas and indeed it could be said to be the life-style to which the controversial rock star aspires. But perhaps that suggests the idea in its decadence!

(Topic to be continued)


The great medieval English poem was discussed on Melvyn Bragg’s “In Our Time” with guests, including Simon Armitage, the Poet Laureate and recent translator of the work . (Check the BBC Radio 4 website if you wish to listen to the programme) The development of the strands of English into the language we know, is something thinking people can take too easily for granted. How did the language of the Angles and Saxons become one of the world’s greatest literatures? It is a matter of wonder that Sir Gawain in the English of the western Midlands, Langland’s “Piers Plowman,” also in the alliterative verse tradition inherited from Old English, in an English slightly more accessible than Gawain to “southren” readers or listeners and Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” in the very different vernacular of London and Essex, are all roughly contemporary achievements of the late fourteenth century.

I append a passage from the first few pages of the poem and I add the same passage from Armitage’s translation. If I may add some advice to first time readers of medieval verse. Do not be put off by the unfamiliar language. Try to read yourself into it, seeking to pronounce the words. You will find meanings will suggest themselves to you but don’t worry if they don’t. The main thing is to get into the feel of the verse. The translation will then help to clarify the meaning but don’t make it a crutch you cannot do without. Eventually you will come to love it in the original. This is how it has worked with me with Chaucer( now a poet I love) and Langland whose work I am still seeking to familiarise myself with. With so much to read is it worth doing? you may ask. Well quite as much as it is learning to read in any other language and with the additional incentive that this, if you are a native English speaker, is your language to be proud of.

Of this poem John Spiers has concluded in his Medieval English Poetry Faber 1971, “Sir Gawain is a superb work of art-a formly rooted, muliple-branched, gnarled but symmetrical northern oak”

Here is a verse paragraph early on on the Court of King Arthur:

  "This kyng lay at Camylot upon Krystmasse
With mony luflych lorde, ledes of the best,
Reckenly of the Rounde Table alle tho rich brether,
With rych revel oryght and rechles merthes.
Ther tournayed tulkes by tymes ful mony,
Justed ful jolile thise gentyle knightes,
Sythen kayred to the court, caroles to make.
For there the fest was ilyche ful fiften dayes,                                                                                     With alle the mete and the mirthe that men couthe avyse:
Such glaum ande gle glorious to here,
Dere dyn upon day, daunsyng on nyghtes;
Al was hap upon heghe in halles and chambres
With lordes and ladiees, as levest him thoght.
With al the wele of the worlde they woned ther samen
The most kyd knyghtes under Krystes selven
And the lovelokkest that ever lif haden,
And he the comlokset kyng that the court haldes.

For al was this fayre folk in her first age on sille,

             The hapnest under heven,
             Kyng hygest mon of wylle;
             Hit were now gret nye to neven
            So hardy a here on hille .

And here is Simon Armitage’s translation of the same verse paragraph:

"It was Christmas at Camelot-King Arthur's court,
where the great and good of the land had gathered,
all the righteous lords of the ranks of the Round Table
quite properly carousing and revelling in pleasure.
Time after time, in tournaments of joust,
they had lunged at each other with levelled lances
then returned to the castle to carry on their carolling,
for the feasting lasted a full fortnight and one day,
with more food and drink than a fellow could dream of.
the hubbub of their humour was heavenly to hear:
pleasant dialogue by day and dancing after dusk,
so the house and its hall were lit with happiness
and lords and ladies were luminous with joy.
Such a coming together of the gracious and the glad:
the most chivalrous and courteous knights known in Christendom;
the most wonderful women to have walked in this world;
the handsomest king to be crowned at court.

Fine folk with their futures before them, there in that hall.
                    Their highly honoured king
                    was happiest of all: 
                   no nobler knights had come 
                   within a castle wall.  

Simon Armitage (tr.) Sir Gawain and the Green Knight Faber 2008

Happy reading!


On the morning of a fine June day, my first bonny nursling, and the last of the ancient Earnshaw stock, was born.

We were busy with the hay in a far away field, when the girl that usually brought our breakfasts came running an hour too soon, across the meadow and up the lane, calling me as she ran.

“Oh, such a grand bairn!” she panted out. The finest lad that ever breathed! But the doctor says missis must go; he says she’s been in consumption these many months. I heard him tell Mr Hindley-and now she has nothing to keep her, and she’ll be dead before winter. You must come home directly. You’re to nurse it Nelly- to feed it with sugar and milk, and take care of it, day and night-I wish I were you, because it will be all yours when there is no missis!”

“But is she very ill?” I asked, flinging down my rake, and tying my bonnet.

“I guess she is; yet she looks bravely, “replied the girl, “and she talks as if she thought of living to see it grow a man. She’s out of her head for joy, it’s such a beauty! If I were her I’m certain I should not die. I should get better at the bare sight of it, in spite of Kenneth. I was fairly mad at him. Dame Archer brought the cherub down to master, in the house, and his face just began to light up, then the old croaker steps forward, and, says he:- “Earnshaw it’s a blessing your wife has been spared to leave you this son. When she came, I felt convinced we shouldn’t keep her long; and now, I must tell you, the wintere will probably finish her. Don’t take on, and fret about it too much, it can’t be helped. And besides you should have known better than to choose such a rush of a lass.


D. H. Lawrence uses the phrase “spirit of place” to point to the writer’s gift of rendering the essence of his particular setting. I love this particular passage of Emily Bronte’s great novel because it gives an immediate insight into a society and way of life on the Yorkshire moors around her chosen setting of Wuthering Heights. It also gives a sense of the rich power of the language of the book reflecting the community life of the folk which I shall seek to underline with a comparison of her language with Jane Austen’s.

The narrator is Nelly, a live-in servant whose main employment at this stage of the novel is indoors but who is clearly employed to help as needed with the ongoing life of the farm . Note the rhythm of the opening sentence with its balance of the words “first” and “last” : ” my first bonny nursling and the last of the ancient Earnshaw stock” suggests her pride in the association with the family with their long history, her delight in the birth of the new heir and her sorrow at his being the last. The prose renders the excitement of the breathless servant girl pouring out her joy at the the beauty of the new born and the energy of Nelly’s response “Flinging down my rake and tying my bonnet”. But vigour is an element sadly lacking in the condition of the mother. The doctor’s testimony of the mother’s inadequacy brings us to the specifics of place: “the winter will probably finish her……you should have known better than to choose such a rush of a lass”. The doctor’s brutal realism (rejected as he is by the phrase “old croaker” of the young servant girl) on the physical limitations of the not local wife acts in the passage as a kind of counterpoise to the apparent vigour of the “grand bairn” and the energy of the young Nelly ready to take on her first “nursling”. You do not survive in this kind of place without rude vigour and strength. The breakfast girl’s implicit joy in the beauty of the boy, the pride in the survival of the Earnshaw “stock” is of the celebration of the physical qualities of strength and endurance that make possible survival over generations in a harsh landscape.

In the rhythm of speech we note the strong physical words of common life that stand out : “bonny”, “ancient,” ” stock,” “bairn,” “flinging,””bravely” “beauty,” blessing,” “croaker” “spared””fret” “rush of a lass”. This is language unlike that of Jane Austen. Compare the start of Sense and Sensibility :

The family of Dashwood had long been settled in Sussex. Their estate was large, and their residence was at Norland Park, in the centre of their property, where for many generations, they had lived in so respectable a manner as to engage the general good opinion of their surrounding acquaintance”.

Jane Austen Sense and Sensibility

The language here belongs to a different class of gentility -“family, ” long settled” (as against “ancient stock”), “residence”, “respectable” “general good opinion”; gentility which is securely settled, not struggling for survival. We notice the preponderance of longer more Latinate, anglo-Norman vocabulary. The short blunt physicality of the language of Wuthering Heights is absent. It is a contrasting England with a quite different spirit of place.

It is worth noting how the Wuthering Heights passage continues. The doctor’s prophecy is accurate. Yet the wife shows the kind of spirit that shows us why the Yorkshireman was drawn to her. When Nelly approached “She spoke merrily” and in the face of death “that gay heart never failed her”. The language, the merriness and gaiety, reflects a resilience of spirit that can take her so far but not further. It is a resilience of spirit lacking in her husband Hindley. Earlier Nelly had noted “I was very sad for Hindley’s sake; he had room in his heart for only two idols-his wife and himself- he doted on both, and adored one, and I couldn’t conceive how he would bear the loss”. The effect indeed is catastrophic for himself and for his family:

“For himself he grew desperate; his sorrow was of that kind that will not lament; he neither wept nor prayed-he cursed and defied-execrated God and man, and gave himself up to reckless dissipation”.

Again we note the powerful rhythm of reinforcing doubles ( “wept nor prayed”, “cursed and defied” “God and man ” with the force of “execrated”).

Hindley with all his physical strength and his unruly character has none of his wife’s spiritual resilience”. He lacks the moral force to complement his physical powers. His “idol” gone his only recourse is defiant recklessness bringing ruin.


What kind of novel is Wuthering Heights? I ask because the novel blends so many different possibilities within its composite whole. It is a passionate love story of a never consummated relationship that dominates the whole story-even though the heroine dies well before the end and consummation is sought by her lover after death ; it is a history novel to do with life on the Yorkshire moors sixty to forty years before- a history describing class differences between the two houses of its settings; it is a revenge drama, in which the adopted outsider who feels rejected, becomes the usurper eventually taking over the two houses; it is a saga of three generations in which, eventually, there appears to be a restorative process at work whereby characters in the third generation learn from the mistakes of the earlier generation; it is a novel pre-eminently of two dominating characters who are often regarded as over- shadowing everything else in the novel. It is a novel, which is realistic, with very accurate sociological observation, as well as a novel with sensationalist gothic and supernatural elements. As a result of all this blending it has challenged literary theorists to very different approaches. Marxist, feminist, pscho-analytic theorists have found much within the novel to discuss.

In a series of blogs I want to look more basically at what I find in the novel which makes it great reading as literature. What makes it, quite simply, a wonderful book with a life of its own? The critical approach is traditional : to present a passage which is looked at for its particular qualities and which leads the discussion towards debate as to the rich experience the book has to offer. I hope thereby to encourage interest in the novel for those who have not read it and to stimulate further thought in those who have. I shall be delighted to deal with any responses from readers.


I began this blogging web site, discussing novels, poems, stories etc., as a way or doing something purposeful through Lockdown. Being around Easter when I started, this is my first theme. I have chosen a series of poems as well as the Journey to Emmaus story from the gospel of St. Luke. Following each there is a Comment. I hope you will find these blogs stimulating, thought- provoking and interesting. As I chose material, I was struck by the particular relevance to our present experience of Lockdown. The T. S Eliot poem “The wounded surgeon plies the steel” is a notable example.

Please feel free to join me and also to add your comments.

Welcome to the site and happy reading!