"Lot of rage in that one:" Group therapy and anger management in Wuthering Heights

"Lot of rage in that one," whispered Miss Havisham. "Do you see a pattern beginning to emerge?"

"That they don't much care for Heathcliffe?" I whispered back. "Does it show that badly?" she replied, a little crestfallen that her counseling didn't seem to be working as well as she'd hoped.

Much of Fforde's satire is double-edges, cuting sharply two ways, and sometimes more. For example, the mandatory rage-counnseling sessions in which the characters of Wuthering Heights must particpate every week obviously makes fun of both the romantic intensity of the novel's passions and also modern mental health professionals. Miss Havisham from Great Expectations (of all people) runs the session, which begins with each character in turn explaining why her or she hates Heathcliff, who tyoically arrives late. Isabella, for example, who identifies herself as "sister of Edgar," explains “I hate and despise Heathcliff because he lied to me, abused me, beat me and tried to kill me. Then, after I was dead, he stole our son and used him to gain control of the Linton inheritance." Catherine, the "sickly looking" child, Linton, and others follow, in the process each providing a portion of the novel's plot, until Catherine Earnshaw, “who looked around at the small group disdainfully," proclaims

“I love Heathcliff more than life itself!”

The group groaned audibly, several members shook their heads sadly and the younger Catherine did the "fingers down the throat" gesture.

“None of you know him the way I do, and if you had treated him with kindness instead of hatred, none of this would have happened! . . . “He is a real man,” continued Catherine, amidst a barracking from the group, "a Byronic hero who transcends moral and social law; my love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks. Group, I am Heathcliff! He's always, always in my mind: not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself, but as my own being!” [126-27]

At which point the others pound their fists on the table or jump up and shout at Catherine Earnshaw as the session disintegrates into comical near-chaos until the darkly handsome (and very vain) subject of the session appears.

As Morse Peckham once explained, literature serves as a kind of laboratory of the imagination that authors use as a separate, parallel world — something like what Empson called the “pastoral” — in which authors can safely interrogate their society's most firmly held and often least examined myths and dearest beliefs. Literature, he argues, permits writers to create not order but cleansing disorder. Here one effect of such disorder, paradoxically created by moving the world of Brontë's characters to something like our own, is to wash away any glamor of the novelist's romantic intensity, reducing its characters to the kind of dysfunctional group one finds in an encouter group or on a so-called Reality Show on twenty-first-century television. Like all comedy and satire, it relies upon placing its subjects in new and unexpected contexts — in this case by moving characetrs from a nineteenth-century isolated rural setting to a contemporraty one that assumes the novel's power emotions producing, not great, near tragic literature but mental derrangement that needs to be contained and therefore to therapy. That the therapy obviously doesn't work cuts with the second edge of the satiric knife.

The real reason Wuthering Heights has multiple narrators

FForde has a lot of fun with Wuthering Heights, not all of it with such a satirical bite. For example, he finds an explanation for the novel's multiple narrators in their dislike of being in the same story with Healthcliff. Coming in an angry group to the local “The Judgment of Solomon®” franchise — run, Thursday discovers, by a man named Kenneth — they voice their complaints, which he at first misunderstands, assuming that each wants the power and position of the first-person narrator, but Nelly Dean explains, “"No, Your Worshipfulness . . . 'tis the otherways. None of us want it.” Her explanation and Heathcliff's angry response prompts a shouting match

until Kenneth banged his gavel on the desk and they were all instantly quiet. The Judgment of Solomon® was the last form of arbitration; there was no appeal from here and they all knew it.

“It is The Judgment of Solomon® that. . . you should all have the first-person narrative.”

Lockwood thinks the idea is “loopy,” and Catherine sarcastically inquires if they are all supposed to talk at the same time until Kenneth explains his “fair and just” decision: “Mr. Lockwood, you will introduce the story, and you, Nelly, will tell the major part of it in deep retrospection; the others will have your say in the following ratios," which he writes on an old envelope. They all grumble, “Nelly Dean the most,” but he instructs her, “you are, for better or worse, the single linking factor for all the families. Consider yourself lucky I did not give the whole book to you. It is The Judgment of Solomon® — now go!” One of Fforde's points here is that multiple narration most effectively tells a story with such conflicting, conflicted characters, and the comedy arises in the idea that the charaacters themselves, raher than the author, try to find the best way to telling their stories.

The ending of Conrad's Lord Jim

The last chapter of Joyce's Ulysses

Related Materials


Fforde, Jasper. The Well of Lost Plots. Penguin, 2003.

Peckham, Morse, Man's Rage for Chaos: Biology, Behavior, and the Arts. New York: Schocken, 1967.

24 February 2010