Whirling wreaths of grey vapour upon the heath.
James Joyce’s obsession lies thwarted on a smokey moor. Social status impeded the lovers, and an accidental relationship leaves only a forbidden and unlucky love. His paragon of feminine beauty conceded instead to marry an undeserving man. The images have taken shape in the poet’s imagination but rise in a green vapor from Canto XL with its factual background unfolding in the life of Amalia Popper.
Joyce contrived a personal value system that rationalized the preceding paragraph. In the canto’s three lines, he conceded the end to his leering pursuit of a student. His logic argued a rejection not because Amalia found a greater love but because she finds a more convenient love in concession to religious, social, and class conventions. Where do these conclusions arise? In Wuthering Heights!
In Emily Bronte’s novel, Heathcliff is “adopted” into Catherine Earnshaw’s family, creating an artificially incestuous taboo against their love. He is unsuitable to his new family by his “natural” class, upbringing, and temperament. He is morose, vengeful, and violent by nature or in consequence of his treatment. Joyce is non-violent but a master of moroseness and vengeful retribution.
His adopted father’s favorite son, Heathcliff lived a lavish lifestyle, then subsequently mistreated and impoverished. Later as his fortunes fell, his life’s love leaves him to marry for the sake of social class. Bronte’s hero survives lost love through the self-inflicted punishment of a miscast marriage of his own. Joyce, despite all Nora’s devotion, believed he settled for marriage below his station. He might also have felt with an overwhelming ego that Amalia compromised in marrying Michele Risolo, a competent man of letters but not like the genius she abandoned. Bronte’s lionheart says, “If he loved with all the powers of his puny being, he couldn’t love as much in eighty years as I could in a day.” The quote might have been from Amalia’s language professor. Like Heathcliff, James was a father’s favorite son, and a fall from privilege shaped his art.
When James tumbled into love with Signorina Popper, she was sixteen years old. She appears, disappears, and matures as a phantom across the sketch paper sheets that became the handwritten copy of Giacomo Joyce. Likewise, Heathcliff’s first Catherine roams her story as a ghost.
Summoning a specter, Catherine’s lover says:
Catherine Earnshaw, may you not rest as long as I am living. You said I killed you–haunt me then. The murdered do haunt their murderers. I believe–I know that ghosts have wandered the earth. Be with me always–take any form–drive me mad. Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! It is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!
Catherine’s daughter, who shares her name, is too young for a lover who is now past middle age. She marries undereducated Hareton in a pre-enactment of Amalia’s abandonment of Joyce. Like Giacomo Joyce, time and the identity of characters come undone in Wuthering Heights. Like Giacomo Joyce, the novel is told partially in flashbacks cloaked in “green vapor upon the heath.”
don ward October 6, 2020