Parlour’s Parler: ‘The Chatter of Tongues Within …’ Wuthering Heights



Our Lockwood first encounters Catherine Earnshaw not as a person, but as a companionable text, the keeper of a diary which is simultaneously ‘like’ his own, yet different, for his writing can enclose hers, becoming in the process a commentary upon it. We glimpse hers only through his. In much the same way her diary is in fact ‘a pen and ink commentary — at least the appearance of one — covering every morsel of blank that the printer had left’ (WH 3, p. 62) in the margins of one of the printed sermons of the Reverend James Branderham, itself a commentary upon a New Testament parable. Manuscript and print are in such close proximity that the drowsy Lockwood’s eyes can wander ‘from one to another’ in the infinite regress of the meta-textual for which the New Testament, itself a commentary upon and amendment of the Old Testament, would be a perfect representation. Texts are inextricably involved with their own alterity. He gains the illusion of his admission to the labyrinthine ‘penetralium’ which he imagines to be a ‘perfect misanthrope’s heaven’ (WH 1, p. 45) at the same time that his own text, the diary begun in 1801, is provisionally admitted to the canon of supplementary, unfinished, written commentaries that inform an imaginary library, as ‘select’ in its own way as Catherine’s own.


Corporeal Punishment Literary Critic Infinite Regress Private Manner Radical Protestantism 
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  1. 1.
    J. Hillis Miller, Fiction and Repetition (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982), pp. 60–1. Although Miller appears to have abandoned the notion of a totalizable ‘meaning’ of the novel, the rhetoric of his essay suggests that the structuralist’s ‘generative unity’ (p. 61) remains as an operational principle. His term for its absence is now a ‘loss of the explanatory source’, which suggests of course that it once existed. In other words, Miller’s return visit to a text first encountered in The Disappearance of God (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975) may ironically constitute a repetition that appears ‘deconstructive’ of a previous reading, but is in fact informed by the same ideology, much as does Lockwood’s return visit. In my own reading, it would be this very ideology — the search for an absence — that represses a phonic presence so unsettling to all the theologies of the novel, including of course Miller’s.Google Scholar
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    Beatrice Didier, Le Journal Intime (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1977).Google Scholar
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    Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature, trans. Ann Smock (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982), p. 29. Blanchot’s notion of the diary as an ‘avoidance’ or ‘negation’ of literature is of course perfectly suitable both to Catherine Earnshaw’s rebellion and to Lockwood’s. For the diary seems to be phenomenologically sited between the absence of writing and the presence of speaking. Writing to oneself becomes a sign of the recognition of imprisonment, that the writer has no one to talk to. The diary as the failure of the dialogic, then, would both mark a repression (exemplified in Lockwood’s ability to write to himself, but not to talk to women, for example), but might also represent some attempt to be free of it. Perhaps this accounts for the popularity of the genre in the literature of imprisonment, be it Genet’s or Catherine and Lockwood in their respective ‘arches’. See also the essay by Steven Rendall, ‘On Dairies’, Diacritics 16, 3 (Fall, 1986), 57–64.Google Scholar
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    Jacques Attali, Bruits: Essai sur l’économie de la musique (Paris: Presses Universitaries de la France, 1979). In his remarkable account of the historical shift from the representation to the reproduction of noise, Attali charts the progressive change whereby music ceased to be an enactment of conflicts between competing representations (as in J. Hillis Miller’s essay) and became with the publishing and recording industry, a kind of stockpiling of sociality, as the commodity consumption of music was reduced to a simulacrum of the original. Royalty could no longer afford to maintain a minstrel or a string-quartet entirely for its own pleasure, commanding them to play whatever was wished. The consequence, in Attali’s analysis, is that every authority became more or less equivalent ‘agents’ in a complex activity of reproduction: performers; equipment men, producers. Similarly, perhaps, it is fruitful to think of Nelly Dean’s gossip as putting an end to competing narrative representations by devising a sort of mould for repetition that gives her a stake in all kinds of reproductions by the novel’s end. In transforming narrative into a question of the production of narrative, she operates a repetition machine, like the phonograph, thereby putting an end to the hoarding of private narrative in oak chests or in dimly-lit margins of texts.Google Scholar
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    See James Twitchell, ‘Heathcliff as Vampire’, Southern Humanities Review 11 (1977), 355–62.Google Scholar
  7. Also Judith Weissman, ‘“Like a Mad Dog”: The “Radical Romanticism” of Wuthering Heights’, Midwest Quarterly 19 (1978), 176–95. Several of Emily Brontë’s surviving essays in French for M. Heger in Brussels compare the moral qualities of men and animals. Among the most notable of these is ‘Le Chat’, 15 May 1842, Berg Collection, The New York Public Library. Although there was a well-established rhetorical tradition in late-eighteenth-century radical protestantism in which the ‘natural’ depravity of man pushes him closer to the animal world — William Huntington’s A Sermon on the Dimensions of Eternal Love (1784) might be an example — Emily Brontë’s novel would seem to subtly subvert that tradition, since Nelly Dean’s initially hidden, then engaging ‘chatter’ seems more than tangentially related to the ‘natural’ orality of yelping dogs, chirp-ping birds, and other zoological symphonics in Wuthering Heights.Google Scholar
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    Frank Kermode, ‘A Modern Way with the Classic’, New Literary History 5 (1974), 434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    George Bataille, La Littétrature et la mal (Paris: Guillimard,1957). From the notion of a literature which can say anything, Bataille displaces his conditions in favour of a literature which must express Evil, but cannot. Failing to express, it communicates. This antagonism between expression and communication may account for the interstices which characterize Heathcliff’s and Lockwood’s speech as well as Catherine’s diary, in comparison, say, with the continuity of Nelly Dean’s oral narrative. Bataille explicitly relates ‘the sacrificed’ to the novel in L’Experience intérieur in Oeuvre Complètes V, 1973, 29.Google Scholar
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    Thomas M. Kavanagh, Enlightenment and the Shadows of Chance: The Novel and the Culture of Gambling in Eighteenth-Century France (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993).Google Scholar
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    Eve K. Sedgwick, The Coherence of Gothic Conventions (New York and London: Methuen, 1986), pp. 97–117.Google Scholar
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    Anika Lemaire, Jacques Lacan (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977), p. 188.Google Scholar
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    Winifred Gérin, Emily Brontë (Oxford: Oxford University Press,1971), p. 148. Even the villagers apparently noted that Emily seemed to be more frequently absent from church than did her sisters, which might suggest that she enjoyed an exemption of sorts.Google Scholar
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    Walter E. Anderson, ‘The Lyrical Form of Wuthering Heights’, University of Toronto Quarterly 47 (1977–78), 120, suggests that the form of the novel with its thematic refrains, easily committed to memory, is a formal legacy of Nelly Dean’s songs.Google Scholar
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    Carol Jacobs, ‘Wuthering Heights: At the Threshold of Interpretation’, Boundary II 7 (1979), 49–71 analyzes the novel as one which, narratively, always promises more than it delivers, until the second generation reverses the process by ‘delivering’ itself, as it were.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), p. 69, pp. 71–3. In Heidegger’s analysis, Gerede marks the displacement of the workplace of philosophy (presumably the locus of signifying) in favour of a kind of ‘talk’ which does not signify. In some sense, this is a point of instantiation for Wittgenstein: that famous moment when language ‘goes on holiday.’Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Jan B. Gordon 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tokyo University of Foreign StudiesJapan

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