This review is reproduced here by kind permission of the author and the online inter-disciplinary journal Cercles, where the review was first published. The original text has been reformatted and illustrated for the Victorian Web by Jacqueline Banerjee.

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alérie V. Hazette's book provides the most thorough and detailed account we have of adaptations of Wuthering Heights for film and television over the course of nearly a century. Beginning with A.V. Bramble's 1920 black and white silent film and ending with Andrea Arnold's 2011 film, Hazette juxtaposes British and world films as well as period and anti-period projects produced in England and outside it. Her book's governing critical assumption is that film adaptations of Wuthering Heights succeed insofar as they mobilize the novel's hidden or subterranean themes, motifs, and structures. Her project is fundamentally different from Patsy Stoneman's in Brontë Tranformations: The Cultural Dissemination of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights (1996), and not just because it focuses on one novel and one medium of translation. For the first time, Hazette provides a context for these adaptations in the history of film, the conditions of film and TV production, and the individual careers of directors and scriptwriters. Her book is a welcome contribution to Brontë and film scholarship for these reasons alone.

Cover of the book under review.

Part I explains Hazette's methodology, an exercise which most post-graduate programs and publishers now require their students and authors to perform. She first presents the novel's "deep structure" by way of its sources or analogues (the myth of Psyche's quest for Eros, the fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast, the romance of Tristan and Iseult) and then as themes addressed by Georges Bataille, whose brilliant reading of Wuthering Heights has directly influenced several film adaptations, and in particular those of Luis Buñuel, Jacques Rivette, and Kiju Yoshida. The novel's literary, psychological, and mythic elements come together in what Hazette describes as a "small scale, flexible, mythocritical 'Chart of the Mythical Components, Bataillan Themes and Planar/Gothic Figures'" (50). The chart didn't help me to see the ways the novel or its adaptations put these mythic and thematic elements into relation with each other or with a narrative program. Hazette is more successful in doing this in her discussions of individual adaptations.

Part 2 has a distinct project: the recovery, insofar as recovery is possible, of the lost (and presumably destroyed) first feature film of Wuthering Heights, directed by A.V. Bramble and adapted from the novel by Eliot Stannard in 1920. In her effort to reconstruct and understand this film, Hazette presents a ten-page program that has survived and provides a cast list, a foreword, and a synopsis. The cast list alone provides crucial information about the kind of film this must have been: no Lockwood, Isabella, or Linton Heathcliff; and two Cathys, three Heathcliffs, two Edgars, and two Catherines. As Hazette points out, the omission of Lockwood is common in film adaptations, and the omission of Isabella and her son Linton "helps in obliterating the most unsettling parts of the tale" (84). She does not comment on a feature of the cast list that tells a lot about how the film's director and writer understood the novel. The first character named is Heathcliff, who is followed by Mr. Earnshaw ("who found and befriended Heathcliff"), Hindley ("his son and Heathcliff's enemy"), and Frances ("Hindley's wife"). Cathy appears after Frances in the cast list, and she is described as "Hindley's sister." The second-generation Catherine is Edgar's "daughter and afterwards Hareton's wife." This is a reading of the novel as a revenge tale with Heathcliff as its hero and its female characters relegated to conventional supporting roles.

To supplement these materials, Hazette also presents newspaper accounts of the production process, reviews, and stills documenting the film's production. She studies the careers of A.V. Bramble and Eliot Stannard, who, in addition to adapting Wuthering Heights, was the screenwriter for nine of Hitchcock's silent films made between 1925 and 1928. She also examines Bramble's and Stannard's collaboration on the film that immediately preceded their Wuthering Heights, Mr. Glifil's Love Story, which adapts a short story by George Eliot, and The Manxman, a Hitchcock and Stannard collaboration that seems especially relevant to her because its storyline resembles that of the first volume of Wuthering Heights.

New York Public Library image (NYPL catalog ID [B-number]: b15262620) of the chief protagonists in William Wyler's version.

Part 3 could have stood on its own as a wide-ranging and substantial project. Its historical survey of film versions of Wuthering Heights is anchored by the two famous films that followed Bramble's, Luis Buñuel's Abismos de pasión (1953) and William Wyler's Wuthering Heights (1939). The creation of Buñuel's film, grounded in the Surrealist concept of "l'amour fou," spanned twenty years, involved several collaborators at different stages, and was importantly affected by the conditions of its production, including the producer's requirement that Buñuel use a cast already hired for a musical. Its difference from Wyler's film, which its cinematographer Gregg Toland described as "a love story, a story of escape and fantasy" filmed with romantic close-ups of Catherine's and Heathcliff's faces and set in "a chiaroscuro country of the mind" rather than in a realistic Yorkshire landscape is striking (177). Released in the same year as Gone with the Wind, which won the Academy Award for best picture, Wyler's Wuthering Heights is still the version of Brontë's novel most alive in the popular imagination. Hazette discusses several other period and anti-period feature and made-for-TV films, including, notably, Jacques Rivette's Hurlevent (1985), inspired by both Bataille and Balthus, whose illustrations for Wuthering Heights Rivette had admired, and Yoshida's Onimaru (1988), set in 14th-century Japan. Hazette is at her critical best describing Andrea Arnold's aesthetics as "televisual" and discussing the advantages and disadvantages of "Heathcliff's exclusivity as bearer of the camera" (295) in Arnold's film. Part 3 also includes transcripts of Hazette's interviews with the directors of several of the film adaptations she discusses.

Although her research is always impressive, Hazette's prose often displays the worst features of academic writing. With its preference for nominalization, theory argot, and all of the devices that enable a sentence to escape the ordering confinement of its syntax, it is not as clear and precise as it could be. One example will suffice to show the obfuscation that sometimes results:

Just as there is a sociological aftermath for those trailblazing adaptations hit by corporatist (or even chauvinistic) reviews — Albert V. Bramble's and Andrea Arnold's come immediately to mind — a sense of loss and missed opportunity can often arise from a scholastic disengagement from the bustle of the 'main/most overt[/hidden] source[s] of intertextual connection' or, in other words, from an archaeology of the hypermediatic-activist operations that promote the place of 'the Other' (or of 'the Foreign'). [46]

The dropping of substantial quotations into the text, often without comment from Hazette or attribution in the text (there are endnotes), is also jarring. Hazette's habit of quoting frequently and at length suggests that she didn't take the time to digest the insights of her sources, bring them into clear relation to her own analysis, and provide transitions. Finally, when she turns from describing the circumstances of a film's production to describing the film itself, she might easily make her analysis more accessible to readers not as familiar with the films (or the novel) as she is. Her observations about the changes Buñuel makes to Brontë's plot, for example, aren't easy to follow for a reader who doesn't know the film as well as she does. These changes are considerable, and go far beyond his omission of the second generation of characters and of the first generation's childhood. Buñuel's film, like the best of the films Hazette presents, really is a translation of Brontë's novel. Inspired by the novel, it far exceeds the project of adapting it to the medium of film. His Heathcliff dies on the night of Catherine's funeral, shot by Hindley in a spacious crypt, just after he has opened Catherine's coffin and kissed her. She is wearing the dress she wore at her marriage to Edgar, and she has just given birth to a child, not a girl, as Brontë had it, but a boy.

Clare Leighton's illustration of Heathcliff's grief, for the 1931 Duckworth ed. of the novel held here on the British Library website, and available under this Creative Commons Licence.

Related Material


(Book under review) Hazette, Valérie V. Wuthering Heights on Film and Television: A Journey across Time and Cultures. Bristol: Intellect, 2015. Paperback. xiv + 359pp. ISBN 978-1783204922. £30.

Created 3 March 2016