Wuthering Heights

Dominated by the wild, terrible figure of Heathcliff and infused with much of the bleak beauty of its setting, the Yorkshire Moors, Wuthering Heights is one of the most highly imaginative novels in the English language. Such is the intense power of the atmosphere which Emily Bronte builds up that even the incredible Heathcliff seems real and every detail of the fantastic story of his love for Catherine Earnshaw remains clearly remembered long after one has finished the book. It is a strange story, with something of the vividness of a nightmare and something of the beauty of an old ballad, and it contrasts strongly with Agnes Grey and Jane Eyre, the novels which were written at the same time by Anne and Charlotte Bronte.

Written by Emily Bronte, first published 1847. Published in Penguin Books 1946. This reprint, 1965. Cover art Paul Hogarth.

I’ve said it before and will no doubt say it again – there’s too much running and not enough kissing going on in this blog and so of course I had to share this gorgeously smoochalicious cover of Wuthering Heights the minute I saw it.

According to Wikipedia, Paul Hogarth OBE was an English artist and illustrator best known for the cover drawings that he did in the 1980s for Penguin’s Graham Greene’s books. And yes, his artwork is worth looking out for – search for his book covers online and there is an amazing array of his work out there, it’s great.

And it’s been a good week for ferreting out some of my favourite books and writers – in addition to the Penguin edition of Wuthering Heights above, I also found this:

The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte. Written by Daphne du Maurier. Doubleday edtion published March 1961. Giant Cardinal edition published December 1962. 1st printing October 1962.

Of all the Brontes, Branwell, as a child, showed the most promise. He was worshipped by his sisters and his widowed father; it was to him they all looked for literary success. Yet he alone was unable to bridge the gap between childhood fantasy and adulthood, and produce a mature, finished book.

There is, however, no question of his influence upon the writings of his sisters, and certainly Emily drew heavily on him for her memorable portrait of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights.

Conscious to the end of his sisters’ success and his own monumental failure, he turned to a life of dissipation and withdrew to live in the wild, fantastic imagination of his mythical, self-invented kingdom of Angria.

He died at thirty one, from alcohol and excessive laudanum – an ‘eloquent unpublished poet.’

It’s an amazing biography – Daphne du Marier’s skill as a novelist and storyteller bringing the life and times of the Bronte family alive. Anyone interested in the writings of the Bronte sisters can’t help but be drawn in by this beautifully written and wonderfully observed portrait of their incredibly talented but deeply troubled brother, Branwell.

I bought both these books for £1 at the wonderful Colin Page Books in Brighton, an amazing bookshop known and loved by bibliophiles far and wide. This is the kind of place that sells proper old books – gilt edged, leather bound, dusted in antiquity – rows upon rows of them, stacked floor to ceiling in that wonderful  ‘there must be some sort of order to this chaos’ way that real bookstores have.

And fear not all you cheap’n’cheerful paperback pulp fans – this place has something for everyone! For outside the shop are a couple of trestle tables where the paperbacks are sold and there is always a great selection, most priced at a very reasonable £1. I’m lucky enough to live and work nearby so this is one of my favourite lunchtime stops for a browse and a bargain!

For more info on this wonderful place, check out the antiquarian Booksellers’ Association page HERE.

House of Tombs

THE SARCOPHAGUS

…held the key to her passion – archaeology. She had come to this house of tombs on the windswept Maine island to learn from the greatest scholar of them all, Professor Scot Wiegand.

DAYS PASSED. WEEKS.

First she discovered the secret passageway in her room. Then the golden leaf which nearly caused an ‘accident.’ Then the buried cigarette case engraved with the initials L.M. Its owner had also an accident, a fatal accident.

Denise Stanton was beginning to think the Weigand family was not what it seemed.

AND THEN SHE FOUND THE MUMMY…

 A gothic novel by Caroline Farr. Copyright 1966 by Horwitz Publications Inc. First printing December 1966. 

Bizarre ritual murder, a love-starved madman and two beautiful women? Sounds an explosive combination and I was looking forward to getting stuck into this one over the holidays. 

Set in 1966 on an isolated island off the stormy coast of Maine, House of Tombs follows Denise Stanton, a young secretary starting her new job as a live-in assistant for the famous archaeologist, Professor Scot Weigand. Her destination is Werewold House, home to the professor and his extensive collection of encrumbled artifacts.

On the ferry over, Denise learns a bit more about her employer – that he has spent the last year under psychiatric care, having had a breakdown over the mysterious death of his one-time friend Meredith, a man rumoured by locals to have been having an affair with the professor’s (much) younger wife Karen and who met his untimely end when he fell off the cliffs near Werewold.

Denise is naturally uneasy by these stories, and soon finds she has even more to worry about once she arrives at the house. The professor seems a nice enough man, but his wife Karen and son John are giving her the heebeegeebees. Then there are the strange scratching noises emanating from behind the sliding panel in her room, as well as the torn up note, hinting at insanity and murder.

Amidst a backdrop of Sumerian myths, ancient Egyptian burial rites and dusty, sarcophagi-strewn museum rooms, House of Tombs is an enjoyable enough read if a little confusing at times. (The back story about Denise being related to the Weigand family disappears almost as soon as it’s mentioned, making me wonder whether the author just forgot about this part of the plot, with the nutty professor himself becoming a complete nonentity after chapter 2).

Plot holes and vanishing characters aside, there were enough gothic trappings in House of Tombs to keep things interesting and the burial rite towards the end of the book, in which our heroine finds herself the unwitting handmaiden to ‘evil queen’ Karen in Werewold’s very own death pit, provides a suitably suspenseful climax to the adventure. 

As for who wrote this book, well, if lines like – “A love of surfing and the sea has given me a better-than-average figure, with long slim legs and good breasts,”  hadn’t already given away the author as a man, Romancewiki confirmed this in their entry on Caroline Farr by stating:

“Caroline Farr is the pseudonym of Richard Wilkes-Hunter (1906 – 1991), a prolific Australian writer. Under this name, he wrote a number of Gothic romance novels. He used over a dozen pseudonyms and wrote war stories, romances, spy novels, westerns and pornography. Sometimes this name is incorrectly attributed to Allan Geoffrey Yates.”

However, Fantastic Fiction lists Caroline Farr as a pseudonym used by at least two other writers – Carter Brown and Lee Pattinson, as well as Richard Wilkes-Hunter, so I’m not 100% sure who the credit should go to.  Whoever it was, I’m guessing this was a book written to order rather than a labour of love.

Overall then, I’d say this is a slightly better than average gothic-by-numbers but not one worth being buried alive for. 3 out of 5 stars.