Some kind of sport!

Kathryn Hughes’ Wuthering Heights article succeeded beyond expectations: surely the editors couldn’t have expected twenty-four pages of comments – a good deal of them sensible, some showing a keen understanding of the subject. It’s one of the rare cases for me when reading – and rereading – the comments section becomes a genuine pleasure.

Thanks to the well-informed readers, the not so well informed should be able appreciate the unbearable lightness of the author’s approach:

In 1948 FR Leavis explicitly excluded her from The Great Tradition – his book celebrating English novelists who actually matter – by arguing that Wuthering Heights was nothing but “a kind of sport”, which is an odd way of describing a novel in which no one cracks a smile.

At least three readers (1, 2, 3 – not an exhaustive list, I suspect) pointed out that the author misunderstood the meaning of “sport” in Leavis’ aside on the Brontës:

It is tempting to retort that there is only one Brontë…

The genius, or course, was Emily. I have said nothing about Wuthering Heights because that astonishing work seems to me a kind of sport. It may, all the same, very well have had some influence of an essentially undetectable kind… Out of her a minor tradition comes, to which belongs, most notably, The House with the Green Shutters.

The range of possible meanings for this particular “sport” is clear from the above. (See “Sport in biology.”) Leavis was interested in literary genealogy and lineage, “the long creative continuity of our culture.” A marvelous mutant without noteworthy issue does not belong on his canon but merits a laudatory note.

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