Yes, I made a mistake with the last slide of my PowerPoint presentation introducing Wuthering Heights. I inserted an image of the edition of Emily Brontë’s masterpiece publicised as ‘Bella and Edwards’s favourite book.’ What? You don’t know who Bella and Edward are? Been hiding with Bin Laden in the last few years?? Perhaps even he knows who they are…
Well, so there I was, ranting and raving about how unfair and parasitical this appropriation of Brontë’s work is, particularly because I happen to believe that Brontë portrays romantic love as an unhealthy form of madness (not so for the younger Cathy and Hareton, ok, fine).
I find, as I told my class, Stephanie Meyer’s immensely popular saga extremely dangerous as, once more, it preaches an extreme form of romantic love based on the girl’s total emotional dependence on a guy (who happens to be vampire, gosh!).
For me, Edward’s ‘heroic’ fight to control his predator instincts (quite unlike what Heathcliff does, he lashes out…) contributes to spreading the idea that we must accept men’s violence, as this is part of their nature, and praise them as heroes for controlling it. Just consider this: Bella initially doubts between Edward the vampire and Jacob the werewolf!! Whatever happened to nice guys??? Doesn’t she have a problem choosing boyfriends?
Anyway, as I was leaving after my session, one of the girl students approached me – a bright one, who had made the point that she didn’t admire Wuthering Heights as a romantic story (good!!). She needed to tell me, though, that she didn’t quite understand my deep mistrust of Meyer’s saga as she enjoyed a beautiful, intense relationship with her boyfriend and, in her view, this is what the saga was about: a defence of fulfilling, profound, romantic love.
So here we are, in the middle of the corridor discussing really intimate matters, myself telling her that romantic love should be all about complicity not dependence and that, no matter how much you love your partner, one cannot do a Heathcliff and spoil your own life and everyone else’s when the loved one is gone. I didn’t even tell her whether I have a relationship or not.
But, then: what do I know? I was moved by the girl’s sincerity, and if she’s reading this, I’ll insist that it was a beautiful moment. Yet, I always get very nervous at confessional times like this because suddenly the mission of teaching 19th century fiction transforms into something else, maybe a mission to protect young people from the unstoppable influence of some kinds of appalling heteronormative fiction.
Yes, I love that in a way and I wouldn’t know how to teach novels without relating them to real life (in the aseptic way of my own Spanish Literature teachers, who used to discuss just textual precedents and philological features). I wonder, though, where is the boundary. I’ll blame (I mean praise) feminism for tearing down the barriers between the political and the personal, the literary and life, yet, if any student is reading this, let me say this: literature teachers are as lost as anyone else, we just happen to have read much more…