I get it: reading for pleasure is about the last thing you want to do during those precious moments you have to yourself while at school. For those of you in an English class, you’ve got a whole reading list to get through, while the rest of you are probably not taking English classes for a reason.
But really, I think that needs to change.
I’m here to tell you that reading is cool, kids, and “Nelly Dean: A Return to Wuthering Heights” by Alison Case is the coolest of the cool.
If you weren’t forced to read “Wuthering Heights” in high school in order to discover what a magically terrifying romance it really is, then that’s your loss, but luckily you don’t have to stay lost. “Nelly Dean” tells the story of Heathcliff, Catherine and the rest of this severely twisted gang from the point of view of Nelly Dean, the housekeeper who tells the original story.
In this version, however, Nelly’s personal story is front and center. Instead of a mere mouthpiece who exists only to tell about the tortured existence of the Earnshaws, Lintons, and of course Heathcliff himself, she becomes a true character in her own right. For those who read Emily Bronte’s original novel, you will wonder how you could ever have so easily have accepted Nelly’s glossed-over telling in “Wuthering Heights.” While I am too much of a dedicated fan to go so far as to say there are holes in the original story, I will admit that there is plenty of room for exploration: something Case does with gusto.
Rather than a moralizing servant whose firm belief that she is the only “sensible one” in the houses she keeps usually leads her to intervene where she shouldn’t—who, to be honest, is none too likable as Bronte paints her—Case has envisioned a fully formed woman, who the reader can easily sympathize with, while still retaining the darkness that pervades the original.
Though, as the Kirkus Review of this new novel points out, the initial set up is a bit of a stretch—Nelly is writing to Mr. Lockwood, the ex-tenant she told her original story to, and 468 pages is a bit long for a letter—Case manages to work past that and tell a tale that is all her own.
Even for those who haven’t read the original tale, “Nelly Dean” has plenty to offer. A knowledge of Bronte’s work adds an interesting edge to the story, but Nelly’s focus in this new novel is on her own story, and even those who have a limited prior knowledge of Catherine and Heathcliff’s star-crossed romance will find plenty to mourn in Nelly’s.