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Thread: Linton Heathcliff

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Linton Heathcliff

    Poor young Linton, he did not get much sympathy. Even the author did not seem to like him much. Yet the description of his illness was as bleak as anything. He was a PITA and had numerous personality faults. However, can you imagine what it is to be like to be a teenager, who instead of being able to look forward to adulthood, independence, marriage and a family, knows he is going to die soon? Horrifically, this must have been a situation in which a lot of young people found themselves back then. Presumably Linton was suffering from tuberculosis. Emily Brontė watched her two oldest sisters die of the disease, and she herself died of the disease only a year or two after her book was published. No doubt, Emily Brontė was suffering from the same symptoms she was describing in Linton while writing her book, or at least anticipated that she would suffer them soon. It is strange therefore that she is so harsh on Linton. Nelly, who is usually a sympathetic character, does not feel much pity for him. Joesph ignores his complaints of cold while sitting in front of a roaring fire, eating oatcakes, in another room. Hareton will not hit him, and on one occasion carries him to his room, but abuses him frequently and otherwise has little sympathy for him. Heathcliff, needless to say, is pitiless to him. It seems Heathcliff is prepared to hit a dying lad, who is his own son. The only person who shows any kindness is young Cathy, who probably has the biggest heart of anyone in the book. Perhaps it is part of Emily Brontė's inversion of the normal hero or heroine's personality attributes. EB persuades you to empathize with heroes who are entirely selfish, although they are charismatic, willful and strong. In contrast, I suppose in most 19th century literature you would be expected to sympathize with a character who was very sick, disabled or dying, but not Linton Heathcliff.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    You really are intriguing me kev. I thought of starting WH this evening, but picked up Our Mutual Friend instead and got into that.

    What I mean here is the young person with a pathetic death bed is a standard feature of Victorian novels, usually with religious connotations. It would be interesting to see how the convention is subverted here.

    (I would be interested in WH, as I'm interested in Wagner, which is not the attitude the creators would probably expect - far more passionate engagement than I can manage.)
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    It would be standard because it was common in this country until the NHS, better nutrition and advances in inoculation made it uncommon for the young to die. I suggest the strongly Gothic elements in Bronte's novel is part of the reason we might feel that there is something odd about the attitude to Linton.

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ruggerlad View Post
    You really are intriguing me kev. I thought of starting WH this evening, but picked up Our Mutual Friend instead and got into that.

    What I mean here is the young person with a pathetic death bed is a standard feature of Victorian novels, usually with religious connotations. It would be interesting to see how the convention is subverted here.

    (I would be interested in WH, as I'm interested in Wagner, which is not the attitude the creators would probably expect - far more passionate engagement than I can manage.)
    I have not read very many 19th century literature books. There was that quote by Oscar Wilde who joked you would need a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of Little Nell. Little Nell being a child that Dickens kills off in one of his books. It would be difficult to imagine Dickens being as hard on a dying character as Emily Brontė. There was a child in Tom Brown's School Days who died. He was very pious, I seem to remember. You don't actually see the death of Linton in WH, which I expect Emily Brontė could have made very upsetting. Instead, you just see the effect on young Cathy. She has to nurse Linton in her last few weeks by herself and is harried by the experience. She resents the others for not doing anything to help. It is easy to imagine. Linton was probably a difficult patient. Cathy was a genteely brought up girl who finds herself having to nurse a dying man all day, every day. She probably had to change smelly chamber pots, dress him, spoon-feed him, listen to him cough his lungs up, keep him company, etc.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    I've not read the little Nell book (Old Curiosity Shop?), but I think her death is so unbearably sentimentalized that the reader can't bear it anymore and decides to laugh instead. That has happened to me with Fantine's sad story in Les Miz and Colonel Brandon's 'tragic' backstory in Sense and Sensibility. So I think it was a case of sentimental overkill rather than Dickens being hard on the dying character.

    The thing about Linton Heathcliff is that he's the most despicable character in the book - weak, whiny, cowardly, cruel. I just couldn't rustle up any sympathy for him.
    Exit, pursued by a bear.

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I wonder whether Emily Bronte's point with Linton Heathcliff was that while suffering from a terrible, but progressive disease like TB, you could still face it bravely and try to make as most of your time as you can. Or you can whine and whinge. But if you do whine and whinge, you will make things even harder for the people who look after you, so that they might not be entirely sorry when you're gone. I suppose that is cruel, but EB was suffering from the disease herself, and had had watched various members of her family die from progressive illnesses. TB is an odd disease. I presume with most infectious diseases that were around then, you either died in the first two weeks or you became better. TB could take years to kill you. I expect you would have good days and bad days, but over time you would gradually get worse.

    Emily Bronte made the best of her time by finishing off WH. George Orwell wrote 1984 secluded in a house on a remote Scottish island while suffering from TB. The main protagonist, Frank Owen, in Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, suffered from TB while having to look for work as a painter-decorator to support his desperately poor family. The author, Robert Tressell, who seems to be Frank Owen in the book, suffered from TB as he wrote it, and died before he ever saw it published.
    Last edited by kev67; 11-12-2012 at 07:08 PM.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Tressell's book is an excellent piece of work if you subtract the polemical Marxism

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mona amon View Post
    I've not read the little Nell book (Old Curiosity Shop?), but I think her death is so unbearably sentimentalized that the reader can't bear it anymore and decides to laugh instead.
    I have read The Old Curiosity Shop and Oscar was being very unfair. There is no death bed scene. Nell is already dead when visitors at last make contact, and her grandfather can't bring himself to acknowledge that she is already dead upstairs, which is only gradually revealed. I've shed tears over other death bed scenes in Dickens (Jo in Bleak House and old Frederick Dorrit) but not over Little Nell. It is a powerful and macabre piece of writing, despite its popular reception as the ultimate in the lachrymose.

    I thought the socialist polemic in The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists was magnificently done.

    I'm convinced current squeamishness about the reality of death only makes it harder to cope with.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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    Registered User mona amon's Avatar
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    Aww! What a pity, because Wilde's quote is so funny!

    Quote Originally Posted by kev67 View Post
    I wonder whether Emily Bronte's point with Linton Heathcliff was that while suffering from a terrible, but progressive disease like TB, you could still face it bravely and try to make as most of your time as you can. Or you can whine and whinge. But if you do whine and whinge, you will make things even harder for the people who look after you, so that they might not be entirely sorry when you're gone. I suppose that is cruel, but EB was suffering from the disease herself, and had had watched various members of her family die from progressive illnesses. TB is an odd disease. I presume with most infectious diseases that were around then, you either died in the first two weeks or you became better. TB could take years to kill you. I expect you would have good days and bad days, but over time you would gradually get worse.

    Emily Bronte made the best of her time by finishing off WH. George Orwell wrote 1984 secluded in a house on a remote Scottish island while suffering from TB. The main protagonist, Frank Owen, in Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, suffered from TB while having to look for work as a painter-decorator to support his desperately poor family. The author, Robert Tressell, who seems to be Frank Owen in the book, suffered from TB as he wrote it, and died before he ever saw it published.
    I don't think Emily was making a point so much as presenting us with a character who was selfish and whiny and despicable, and dying of a wasting disease, because these things are not mutually exclusive. Besides there was no reason for her to be particularly empathetic to him, since she was hale and hearty at the time she was writing WH, and no suspicion of illness. The death of her older sisters was too far back (when Emily was only 7). Her fatal illness started about a year after WH was published, with a cold caught at her brother Branwell's funeral, and she died just a couple of months later.
    Last edited by mona amon; 11-13-2012 at 12:52 PM.
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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    I don't know enough about tuberculosis. When I tried to look up E.B.'s death, I read she caught a cold at her brother's funeral, which turned into consumption, and died a month later. I also read that it was consumption that finally carried off her brother, Branwell. Apparently, the water supply to their house was contaminated by the church graveyard. I do not know whether tuberculosis can kill within a month. Apparently there are latent and active stages of the disease, and many people are infected by it without showing symptoms. E.B. must have been infected for ages. Linton certainly sounds like he was suffering from consumption/tuberculosis.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User Jackson Richardson's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mona amon View Post
    Aww! What a pity, because Wilde's quote is so funny!
    Yes it is and he is (fairly) mocking self-indugent and sentimental Victorian literary deathbeds. It's just not fair in this case.

    Although my favourite Wilde putdown of popular literature is Miss Prism's "The good ended happily, the bad ended unhappily. That is the meaning of fiction."

    There's a whiny, not-very-sympathetic TB sufferer in Dostoyevsky's The Idiot but I can't remember his name.
    Previously JonathanB

    The more I read, the more I shall covet to read. Robert Burton The Anatomy of Melancholy Partion3, Section 1, Member 1, Subsection 1

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