All in the kitchen?

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post, an excerpt from John Bayley‘s 1990 piece in the London Review of Books:

The real secret of Wuthering Heights may be its fierce and compelling fantasy and metamorphosis of the passions and rages of five and six-year-olds – violence, food, pets, an obsession with being or merging with someone else, kitchen love and hate, a wish to disappear. The novel may be the most accurate and yet the most misleading children’s book ever written…

Bayley goes on to say WH is “a kind of bible of arrested development.” His piece was actually a review of the Katherine Frank’s Emily Brontë: A Chainless Soul (1990), a biography that – judging by the reviews I’ve seen – focused on Emily’s hypothetical eating disorder and suggested that she may have starved herself to death.

Twenty years later, Terry Eagleton (in Nothing Nice about Them) offered variations on the stuck in the childhood theme: the sisters, you see, where half-Irish children, which explains everything:

There is nothing nice about the Brontës… They have the voracious demand and implacable sense of entitlement of emotionally deprived children, which in some ways is what they were.

Children can find ambivalence hard to handle, loving their parents but also raging against them, and some of the Brontës’ fury and frustration arose from their own Janus-like situation. They were English but also Irish…

Children, says Eagleton, can also be “brutally authoritarian,” not only anarchic. Earlier, in 1999, Eagleton wrote that “there is hardly a human relationship that does not involve a sado-masochistic power-struggle” in the fiction of the Bronte sisters.

I’m not convinced by any of this, but it gives you a feel of what’s been going on the Brontë front in the past thirty years.

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