Thursday 15 October 2009

My Idea of Good Romantic Fiction

I suppose it really depends what is meant by ‘Romance.’ I hate soppy pulp fiction, I always have, but I adore high romance; romance as the most sublime form of literature.

Knut Hamson’s Victoria is one of the most beautiful love stories ever written. The ending came close to breaking my heart; I don’t think I’ve ever cried so hard over a book. But the love story that captivates me more than any other is that of Cathy and Heathcliff in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.

Alas, nobody-apart from me, that is!-seems to understand the elemental force that is Heathcliff. Cathy is his anchor; without her he is lost, blowing through the novel with all the unrestrained energy of a great tempest. Theirs is a mutual passion, with echoes of an ancient tragedy, which goes well beyond the cosy domesticity that Jane brings to Rochester in her sister Charlotte’s novel Jane Eyre. Charlotte did not understand the force of Emily's great novel, a work of unsurpassed genius, going far beyond anything she ever achieved; going well beyond the limits of the Victorian imagination itself.

We buried him, to the scandal of the whole neighbourhood, as he wished. Earnshaw and I, the sexton, and six men to carry the coffin, comprehended the whole attendance. The six men departed when they had let it down into the grave: we stayed to see it covered. Hareton, with a streaming face, dug green sods, and laid them over the brown mould himself: at present it is as smooth and verdant as its companion mounds - and I hope its tenant sleeps as soundly. But the country folks, if you ask them, would swear on the Bible that he WALKS: there are those who speak to having met him near the church, and on the moor, and even within this house. Idle tales, you'll say, and so say I. Yet that old man by the kitchen fire affirms he has seen two on 'em looking out of his chamber window on every rainy night since his death:- and an odd thing happened to me about a month ago. I was going to the Grange one evening - a dark evening, threatening thunder - and, just at the turn of the Heights, I encountered a little boy with a sheep and two lambs before him; he was crying terribly; and I supposed the lambs were skittish, and would not be guided.

'What is the matter, my little man?' I asked.

'There's Heathcliff and a woman yonder, under t' nab,' he blubbered, 'un' I darnut pass 'em.

For me Heathcliff and Cathy will walk those Yorkshire moors, hand-in-hand, forever.


  1. I've never understood women's love of romantic fiction, but then I'm a guy
    The only book I (nearly) cried at was Rosemary Sutcliffe's version of Beowulf when I was ten years old, the part where Beowulf dies. It's coloured the rest of my life and interests.

  2. I wish I could write like that. Bloody wonderful and strangely my old pal Pak Abu 'The Sage of Klaten' for whom I copy literature from the internet because he hasn't got a computer, asked for a copy of Wuthering Heights when I went with an armful of George Bernard Shaw and George Orwell for him yesterday. All this wonderful stuff is out of copyright and there it is free, and what a resource.

    Off next week to see someone who would make your hair stand on end. Pak Abu is just a Socialist of the old school, rather like me but Chinese/Buginese/Japanese/Indonesian. I am going with Abu to meet a poet, Saut Situmorang, who is a 'Scientific Marxist'. Now; I have no idea what that is, but he is married to a German lady who is an artist and they are part of the artistic scene in Yogya where I live. Also he has a lot of my stuff from a publisher in Yogya, which he was going to translate into Indonesian but says it is impossible because Indonesian is too young a language and the subtlety will be lost! Me; subtle? Maybe Javanese then, which is older than English, or it will all have to be published in English for the upmarket market. That is probably what will happen but I am looking forward to a happy time talking far left views and why Indonesia is off to hell in an ox cart.

  3. Ginro, even guys like romance; well, some do. :-)) Yes, Beowulf is excellent. I had a similar experience when I was about six after reading Robert Graves' adaptation of the Myths of Ancient Greece. I cried when the gods were driven from Olympus by the Christians. That had a deep impact on me, on my way of thinking, though it would take a while before I fully understood.

    Thanks, dear Duckham. I hope you enjoy yourself. :-)

  4. Graves' Greek Myths have been republished recently in a complete and unabridged single-volume edition. No other book on the myths come close to it in erudition. Another recent book I read which I found extremely interesting is Karen Armstrong's A Short History of Myth particularly the last chapter on the importance of myth in our times. It is a small book but she writes with a masterly command of subject.

    Wuthering Heights is best evoked and the spirit of it's literary truth invoked (to me) by Plath's poem of the same name and her writing about it upon her own visit to the moors. It is an extremely powerful and truly inspired novel about the endurance of love.

  5. I just loved Graves' collection, Rehan. It's good to know that a new edition has been published. I shall check this out on Amazon. I'll also have a look at the Armstrong. Thanks. :-)

    Yes, Wuthering Heights; indeed it is. Sigh!