By William Boyd
William Boyd’s masterful new novel tells, in a chain of intimate journals, the tale of Logan Mountstuart—writer, lover, paintings broker, spy—as he makes his frequently precarious means throughout the 20th century.
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Should you chance to read it a second or third time, Wuthering Heights comes at you afresh, in part because the novel seems to vanish into its own delirious origins once you舗ve finished it, leaving no footprints, and in part because it is a literary force of nature such as you舗ve never encountered before. Whether this quality of being intractably unlike other novels舒although various influences, especially that of the writer Sir Walter Scott and the Romantic poets (particularly Byron), have been teased out by diligent scholars as well as wildly imaginative critics舒is a good or a bad thing is a puzzle that continues to engage the novel舗s readers every bit as much as when it was first published in 1847, causing, with a few exceptions, consternation and outright hostility among Victorian readers.
I could not but be a partial judge, yet I thought that these verses, too, had a sweet, sincere pathos of their own. We had very early cherished the dream of one day becoming authors. This dream, never relinquished even when distance divided and absorbing tasks occupied us, now suddenly acquired strength and consistency: it took the character of a resolve. We agreed to arrange a small selection of our poems, and, if possible, to get them printed. Averse to personal publicity, we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because舒without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called 舖feminine舗舒we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice; we had noticed how critics sometimes use for their chastisement the weapon of personality, and for their reward, a flattery, which is not true praise.
More than 150 years and many cultural upheavals later, Emily Brontȵ舗s novel remains almost blindingly original, undimmed in its power to convey the destructive potential of thwarted passion as expressed through the unappeasable fury of a rejected lover. To paraphrase Shakespeare, age cannot wither it, nor custom stale its infinite variety. Every aspect of the novel舒whether it be the writer舗s expert grasp of the laws pertaining to land and personal property, her meticulous rendering of local dialect, or her use of multiple narrators舒has been put under microscopic study.