Gran lived near Rochdale and so my childhood summer holidays were largely spent in and around this area. Places like Skipton Castle, Hollingworth Lake and Haworth seemed infinitely more fascinating than anything our dull semi-industrialised Welsh valley offered and so I guess I was already predisposed to love anything that linked me to Gran and to this landscape.
The parsonage at Haworth was probably the first old building that I showed any interest in visiting (apart from castles – we had a few of those at home) and I was intrigued by the painting of the Bronte family which had a ghostly scrubbed-out Branwell at its centre. Just how bad would you need to be for your family to want to do that? During the summer I was ten, my mum bought me a copy of Wuthering Heights to read from the parsonage’s shop. It would be quite a few years before I realised the story I knew so well was an abridged version, first published by Macmillan in 1964, one for ‘non-native speakers of English from lower intermediate level upwards, as well as providing an easy introduction to the great storytellers for young native speakers.’ Reading it again now, having taught the full text many times, I am thoroughly impressed by Mary Calvert’s adaptation – it was a brilliant introduction to literature and I read it over and over again. The cover is pure 70s (Sir Tom Jones, surely?) and I loved the vivid line drawings, presumably from the original 1964 edition, which accompanied key moments of drama.
The beauty of this edition is that Calvert has retained much of Bronte’s language – I recognise many of the key lines from the original. The narrative is still book-ended by the rather hapless Mr Lockwood, and Nelly provides her account in the same familiar tone of a family servant who has seen all their mis-steps and cruelties. One difference is that there isn’t as much of Joseph’s chuntering on in the background, and I can’t say this is a shame, to be honest.
The relationship between Catherine and the young Heathcliff is as painful and as passionate as in Bronte’s narrative (although I didn’t read it as being so problematic as I would later do so – Heathcliff was a rather romantic hero to me at this stage) and Calvert has retained Catherine’s declaration that ‘my love for Heathcliff is like the eternal rocks beneath’. The cruelties meted out to the second generation took my breath away and I felt a deep sense of satisfaction at the ending. This was a story unlike anything else I had read to date and I loved it.
There are some readers who believe that to abridge, not to mention ‘simplify’, is to reduce a text’s stature. And I can see that the version I loved as a young reader is not Emily Bronte’s novel – her famous last line,
“I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.”
‘I stood still under the calm, evening sky, listening to the soft wind breathing through the grass. Surely in such surroundings they must all sleep peacefully there.’
But even this altered line had the power to move me at the age of ten, and, perhaps more significantly, meant that I was keen to read more stories like this. And that’s why it was such a good buy on my mother’s part all those years ago – it set me up for a life of reading classic texts.