Many requests for reviews pass through my email in-box and when I saw the opportunity to read The House of Dead Maids, young adult writer Claire Dunkle’s prelude to Wuthering Heights and have her as a guest, I was intrigued. I have never read Wuthering Heights, but a gothic ghost story seemed so appropriate for this time of year and I was curious about the appeal of the Bronte novel. I asked Clare to tell us more about the classic and how her story meshes with the original. You can read her answers below.
Clare Dunkle is also the author of numerous other young adult books including The Hollow Kingdom trilogy and several other novels encompassing fantasy, science fiction and horror.
We also have a terrific Bronte-themed giveaway. One Grand Prize winner on the blog tour will receive The House of Dead Maids, a gorgeous Brontë sisters pocket mirror, and the HarperTeen edition of Wuthering Heights. Two lucky runners-up will receive the two books. Full entry details can be found at the end of the post. This is a beautifully illustrated novel (by Patrick Arrasmith) and you can see some thumbnails of the art with the post below.
Clare will also drop by to answer reader questions, so please give Clare a big welcome.
Young Tabby Aykroyd has been brought to the dusty mansion of Seldom House to be nursemaid to a foundling boy. He is a savage little creature, but the Yorkshire moors harbor far worse, as Tabby soon discovers. Why do scores of dead maids and masters haunt Seldom House with a jealous devotion that extends beyond the grave?SFG: As an adult reader and one who has never read Wuthering Heights, perhaps you could illuminate for readers the classic appeal of the book and why we should read it. It seems most people that have read it , have done so in their youth. Will The House of Dead Maids encourage us to do so?
As Tabby struggles to escape the evil forces rising out of the land, she watches her young charge choose a different path. Long before he reaches the old farmhouse of Wuthering Heights, the boy who will become Heathcliff has doomed himself and any who try to befriend him.
I certainly hope it does. Wuthering Heights is a classic for a reason. The prose is spare and forceful. The unusual choice of narrators is an ingenious way to hide the author’s own judgments about her book and force the reader to make those judgments instead. But what I love most about it is the characters’ magnificent disregard for what we or anyone else may think of them. If Heathcliff wants to exact a brutal revenge on his enemies, he couldn’t care less that we’re watching him do it. I find that emotional independence refreshing.
But I’m probably not the best person to ask whether adults can learn to love Wuthering Heights. I’m a YA (teen) author, and there’s a reason I write for teens. It has nothing to do with simplifying stories or dumbing them down—quite the contrary. In my experience, teen readers handle complexity and ambiguity in their fiction better than many adult readers do. Rather, I write for teens because I enjoy the opportunities for discovery that writing provides. I don’t want to trot over old ground or pass along answers. I write because I want to ask questions and see where they lead me.
Teen readers are great companions for this kind of literary treasure hunt. Yes, there are many stories that don’t resonate with them because their store of experience is so limited, but, by and large, teens know how much they still have to learn about the world. They’re hungry for experience and ready to ask what it means. And because they’re students, many teen readers have the habit of thinking critically. They engage with a text and explore it.
Some adults look for a book that will take them out of their comfort zone, but many adult readers don’t. They ask only, “Did I like this book? Did I like the characters? Did I enjoy the experience of reading this?” They read familiar genres about familiar situations. And that’s fine. Adults have to work for a living. They have to do laundry and get to the grocery store. They don’t need to come home and face Twenty Questions from a book.
But Wuthering Heights is a book that has to be explored, and it resonates with teens better than it does with adults. That’s because the options in the world of Wuthering Heights are really very limited. The setting is remote. The list of characters is short. The conventions of the time feel downright claustrophobic, and this makes the emotional explosions of the characters show up in stark contrast.
Take Cathy, for instance: many adults find her childish and absurdly dramatic. But Cathy has a good mind, a strong sense of self, and high spirits. And what does Georgian society offer her? Nothing, or worse than nothing—the role of a pampered brood mare. Cathy is a gentleman’s wife. She exists to be a living ornament and to have children. She is allowed no occupation more strenuous than embroidery. She will spend her life among a small circle of faces that she must see day in, day out, for decades. No wonder Cathy prefers to die.
If Emily Brontë were a more intrusive author, she could persuade us to pity Cathy. But Emily Brontë refuses to do this kind of hand-holding. Readers must explore the text for themselves. In fact, we have to contend with a narrator who harbors an irrational dislike for Cathy. This makes her situation even more awful, but it makes us less likely to notice.
This is where the teenage experience becomes an advantage. Adults are so used to having our independence that we don’t realize what it means to us, and we find Cathy’s life so alien from ours that we can’t help feeling impatient. But teens understand all too well what it means to have limited choices. They don’t control their schedules, and their days bring them into constant contact with people and situations they would rather avoid. So teens instinctively understand the problems of Wuthering Heights, and they cheer on the characters who have the spirit to do something about it, even if their behavior is self-destructive.
So, will adult readers enjoy Wuthering Heights if they come to it through my book? I think they will enjoy it more because they will understand it better. My book builds up a context that allows readers to grasp its problems more readily, as well as providing an entertaining explanation for some of its famous mysteries. But ultimately, whether readers of any age enjoy Wuthering Heights depends on the answer to these questions: Why do I read? Do I read to explore ideas and encounter situations that I will encounter no other way? Or do I read to relax and escape from an already-too-complicated existence?
Readers with the former mindset may well find Wuthering Heights rewarding. Readers with the latter mindset probably won’t.
SFG: I am also curious as to your view on the current trend of literary mash-ups of other literary classics especially of the paranormal variety such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Jane Slayre or Mr Darcy, Vampyre. A good thing or a bad thing?
People have been arguing since Robinson Crusoe about whether novels themselves are a good thing or a bad thing. I don’t see much sense in that. And I learned when I was a librarian that tastes vary widely. There’s no sense arguing over that either. Myself, I love a humorous treatment of a classic; I grew up reading Richard Armour’s The Classics Reclassified and Twisted Tales from Shakespeare. But mash-ups aren’t for me. It isn’t their irreverence, it’s their format. I get annoyed by the abrupt cuts away from text I know to text I don’t know, end up bored within a couple of pages, and wander off to find something else to read.
Thanks Clare for illuminating the mystery that is Wuthering Heights to many of us. After having read The House of Dead Maids, I think readers who love a chilly, atmospheric ghost story will love the book regardless of their feelings or relationship with Wuthering Heights.
You can find out more about Clare Dunkle and her writing at her website.
- One Grand Prize winner will receive The House of Dead Maids, a gorgeous Brontë sisters pocket mirror, and the HarperTeen edition of Wuthering Heights! Two lucky runners-up will receive the two books.
- To enter, send an email to DeadMaidsBook@gmail.com with your name, email address, and shipping address (if you're under 13, submit a parent's name and email address).
- One entry per person and prizes will only be shipped to US or Canadian addresses.
- Entries must be received by midnight (PDT) on October 31.
- Winners will be selected in a random drawing on November 1 and notified via email.