<<

. 13
( 47 .)



>>

shown in these texts, however, to be ultimately replicated, even intensi¬-
ed, in these seemingly radical alternatives to marital merger. These
alternatives to marriage are portrayed as even more hierarchical and
possessive than traditional marriage itself.
Conventional relations of property, individuality, and mortality are
reinstated by the conclusion of each novel, a restoration of the status quo
· Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
that is both formally and ideologically conservative.¹⁶ Both second-
generation heroines, Priscilla and Cathy II, end up prospering within
more or less conventional marriages; if conventional femininity is con-
¬ning to them, it nonetheless allows them certain ˜˜powers of the weak,™™
powers enjoyed by wives as well as by invalids. By contrast, both
¬rst-generation heroines succumb as a result of their performances of
unconventional femininity, or perhaps from their very attempts to
conform to the strictures of conventional femininity. Zenobia drowns
herself, having lost both Hollingsworth and Priscilla as the consequence
of her self-interested ambition;¹· Cathy dies in married childbirth after a
pregnancy that is clearly incompatible with her primary bond to Heath-
cli¬. Each novel o¬ers up the uncanny spectacle of the dead ¬rst-
generation heroine as a kind of gendered object lesson.¹⁸ These displays
of female bodily mortality converge, moreover, with the ethereally
disembodied ¬gure of the Veiled Lady, that uncanny representative of
the living dead who is also Blithedale™s emblem of the public, career
woman.¹⁹ All three female spectacles are located somewhere between
the realms of life and death, whether lying peacefully horizontal (Cathy),
kneeling erect in rigor mortis (Zenobia), or hovering upright slightly above
the ground (Priscilla).
These novels™ living-dead heroines, heroines who both conform to
and transgress conventional boundaries of gendered identity, have their
counterparts in the novels™ invalid bachelor narrators. Coverdale™s
description of his illness “ ˜˜I speedily became a skeleton above ground™™
(BR, p. ±) “ explicitly recalls the uncanny spectacle of the Veiled Lady.
Lockwood™s account of the onset of his illness evokes the uncanny,
Gothicized experiences of live burial and return from the dead “ he
describes himself ˜˜sinking up to the neck in snow, a predicament which
only those have experienced it can appreciate™™ (WH, p. ·), and notes
that ˜˜everybody conjectured that I perished last night; and they were
wondering how they must set about the search for my remains™™ (WH,
p. ·). Thus, in addition to their unreliability as narrators and their
conspicuously inaccurate self-portrayal as thwarted suitors, Coverdale
and Lockwood share yet another striking set of similarities. Early on in
both novels, the bachelor narrators leave a domestic space warmed by
the hearth. Both bachelor narrators also leave comfortable urban en-
virons for more rugged rural ones, although this transition occurs before
the story time for Lockwood. They both travel through chilling snow
and consequently fall ill. Both narrators recover their health only by
virtue of assiduous nursing during a protracted convalescence. While
·µ
The constitution of the bachelor invalid
illness is a motif common to both novels, its manifestation in the novels™
bachelor narrators is all the more conspicuous for its apparent gratu-
itousness to the plotting, if not the narration, of both novels.
Whereas Coverdale™s illness is less than central to the narrative mise en
scene of Blithedale, Lockwood™s is the enabling condition of narrative in
`
Wuthering Heights. Lockwood™s illness is apparently caused by his expo-
sure to the elements during his two-hour struggle back to Thrushcross
Grange through the snow, after he has pronounced himself ˜˜quite cured
[by Heathcliªs inhospitality] of seeking pleasure in society, be it coun-
try or town. A sensible man ought to ¬nd su¬cient company in himself ™™
(WH, p. ·°). Lockwood almost immediately breaks his vow of ˜˜hold[ing]
myself independent of all social intercourse™™ (WH, p. ·), and thereafter
is repeatedly moved by the boredom and loneliness of his convalescence
to seek out Nelly™s company: ˜˜This is quite an easy interval. I am too
weak to read, yet I feel as if I could enjoy something interesting. Why not
have up Mrs Dean to ¬nish her tale?™™ (WH, p. ±°). Installed in the same
room that Nelly set up for Catherine when she was convalescing from
brain fever and which also served as a nursery for the motherless baby
Cathy, Lockwood undergoes a kind of ˜˜listening cure™™: ˜˜Dree, and
dreary! I re¬‚ected as the good woman descended to receive the doctor;
and not exactly of a kind [of story] which I should have chosen to amuse
me; but never mind! I™ll extract wholesome medicines from Mrs. Dean™s
bitter herbs™™ (WH, p. ±±). Nelly™s narrative is represented here as a
prescription as much as a pastime for what ails Lockwood.
Meanwhile, back at Blithedale, neither Zenobia™s burnt gruel nor her
desultory story-telling speed Coverdale™s convalescence.²° Indeed,
Coverdale suggests that Zenobia™s bedside attendance makes him even
more ˜˜morbidly sensitive™™ (BR, p. ), exacerbating a major symptom of
his illness:

The soul gets the better of the body, after wasting illness, or when a vegetable
diet may have mingled too much ether in the blood . . . The spheres of our
companions have, at such periods, a vastly greater in¬‚uence upon our own,
than when robust health gives us a repellent and self-defensive energy. Zen-
obia™s sphere, I imagine, impressed itself powerfully on mine, and transformed
me, during this period of my weakness, into something like a mesmerical
clairvoyant. (BR, pp. “·)

The penetrating power of ˜˜Zenobia™s sphere™™ transforms the weakened
invalid bachelor into a Priscilla-like, spiritualist medium, a prophetic
seer capable of reading other people™s minds. Hollingsworth™s sphere is
· Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
at least as forceful as Zenobia™s, yet it is the muscular philanthropist who
becomes Coverdale™s nurse ideal. The attentiveness of Hollingsworth™s
bedside manner encourages Coverdale to believe that he ˜˜would have
gone with me to the hither verge of life, and have sent his friendly and
hopeful accents far over on the other side, while I should be treading the
unknown path™™ (BR, p. ). Coverdale envisions Hollingsworth™s nurs-
ing as having the power to e¬ect a more perfect union between individ-
uals while bridging the boundaries which divide the earthly sphere from
the eternal one. The spiritualist rhetoric Coverdale uses to describe his
illness is comparable to that which he uses to describe Hollingsworth™s
nursing:
My ¬t of illness had been an avenue between two existences; the low-arched
and darksome doorway, through which I crept out of a life of old conventional-
isms, on my hands and knees, as it were, and gained admittance into the freer
region that lay beyond. In this respect, it was like death. And, as with death, too,
it was good . . . In literal and physical truth, I was quite another man. (BR, p. ±)

The separate ˜˜lives™™ bridged by illness may be embodied by two
di¬erent men, as in the intimacy produced when Hollingsworth nurses
Coverdale, or by one man over time, as in the case of Coverdale™s ˜˜lively
sense of the exultation with which the spirit will enter on the next stage
of its eternal progress™™ (BR, p. ±).
Although the ˜˜tenderness™™ of his nursing seems initally to redeem
Hollingsworth from unmeliorated ˜˜masculine egotism™™ (BR, p. ±),
Coverdale discovers that the redeeming ˜˜soft place in his heart™™ is soon
˜˜forgotten™™ by Hollingsworth (BR, p. ±). It is merely a ruse meant to
enlist him to Hollingsworth™s cause:
But, by-and-by, you missed the tendernesss of yesterday, and grew drearily
conscious that Hollingsworth had a closer friend than ever you could be. And
this friend was the cold, spectral monster which he had himself conjured up,
and on which he was wasting all the warmth of his heart . . . It was his
philanthropic theory! (BR, p. µµ)

Or, in Zenobia™s indicting words, Hollingsworth cares for ˜˜nothing but
self, self, self!™™ (BR, p. ±). Just as Hollingsworth™s practice of nursing
fails to transcend his own implicitly masculine self-interest, Coverdale™s
performance of illness, despite its ˜˜e¬eminacy™™ (BR, p. µ), does not
exactly mitigate the self-seeking qualities he associates with masculine
nature, what he calls ˜˜this ugly characteristic of our sex™™ (BR, p. ±).
Illness may make Coverdale ˜˜quite another man™™ (BR, p. ±), but he
··
The constitution of the bachelor invalid
remains a man. While conventional gender can be bent in this novel “
witness Hollingsworth™s nursing, Zenobia™s intellect and ambition, Pris-
cilla™s public appearances “ the asymmetries of gender do not permit
simple androgyny in either its male or female gender-benders. The
invalid bachelor, though feminized in certain respects by his illness,
nevertheless retains many of the powers and fears of bourgeois man-
hood.
While Coverdale™s susceptibility to the in¬‚uence of other people™s
spheres recalls Priscilla™s clairvoyant ˜˜sympathy™™ with other lives, it also
recalls Westervelt™s mesmerical control over her. Indeed, Coverdale
describes his own sensitivity in terms more suggestive of the mesmerist
than of the mesmerical subject when he characterizes himself as ˜˜mak-
ing my prey of people™s individualities, as my custom was™™ (BR, p. ),
and when he observes that the ˜˜cold tendency, between instinct and
intellect, which makes me pry with a speculative interest into people™s
passions and impulses, appeared to have gone far towards unhumaniz-
ing my heart™™ (BR, p. ±µ).²¹ We can see shades of the Veiled Lady but,
even more, we see the dark shadow of her Svengali in Coverdale™s
description of his own tendency ˜˜to live in other lives, and to endeavor “
by generous sympathies, by delicate intuitions, by taking note of things
too slight for record, and by bringing my human spirit into manifold
accordance with the companions whom God assigned me “ to learn the
secret which was hidden even from themselves™™ (BR, p. ±°).²² While the
twentieth-century reader might hear a foreshadowing of Dracula in this
image of vampiristic mind control, and mid nineteenth-century readers
might have heard resonances of one or more of that novel™s popular
literary predecessors, Coverdale himself suggests a closer a¬nity be-
tween his habit of mind and the practices portrayed in a di¬erent
medical horror story, Mary Shelley™s Frankenstein:
It is not, I apprehend, a healthy kind of mental occupation, to devote ourselves
too exclusively to the study of individual men and women. If the person under
examination be one™s self, the result is pretty certain to be diseased action of the
heart . . . Or, if we take the freedom to put a friend under our microscope, we
thereby insulate him from many of his true relations, magnify his peculiarities,
inevitably tear him into parts, and, of course, patch him very clumsily together
again. What wonder, then, should we be frightened by the aspect of the
monster, which . . . may be said to have been created mainly by ourselves! (BR,
p. )²³
The bachelor invalid Coverdale su¬ers from a ˜˜diseased action of the
heart™™ produced by an egotistic self-¬xation associated in this novel with
· Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
untempered masculinity. He is also aligned with the scientist or medical
doctor, male ¬gures whose ¬xed gaze is also represented as damaging.
The scienti¬c detachment of Coverdale™s dissecting gaze through the
microscope does an emotional violence to its objects, in¬‚icting damage
that cannot be surgically repaired.
The illness of the bachelor is therefore associated with hypermascu-
line detachment, indi¬erence, and objectivity as well as with hyper-
feminine attachment, sympathy, and subjectivity. Indeed, the one ex-
treme may be seen as Coverdale™s attempt to compensate for the
other:

I betook myself away, and wandered up and down, like an exorcised spirit that
had been driven from its old haunts, after a mighty struggle. It takes down the
solitary pride of man, beyond most other things, to ¬nd the impracticability of
¬‚inging aside a¬ections that have grown irksome. The bands, that were silken
once, are apt to become iron fetters, when we desire to shake them o¬. Our
souls, after all, are not our own. We convey a property in them to those with
whom we associate, but to what extent can never be known, until we feel the
tug, the agony, of our abortive e¬ort to resume an exclusive sway over
ourselves . . . Hollingsworth, Zenobia, Priscilla! These three had absorbed my
life into themselves. (BR, p. ±)

Coverdale experiences the permeability of the boundaries of his individ-
uality as threatening: to the rootedness of the living on earth; to the
integrity of each human soul in its own body; to the rights of privacy and
private property; and to ˜˜the solitary pride of man,™™ the pride of
masculine autonomy that is shackled by the ˜˜iron fetters™™ of feminine
˜˜a¬ections.™™ His ˜˜inexpressible longing™™ for absorption into the tri-
angulated desire which unites Hollingsworth, Zenobia and Priscilla
produces in Coverdale an equal and opposite ˜˜stubborn reluctance to
come again within their sphere™™ and a ˜˜morbid resentment of [his] own
pain.™™ Coverdale withdraws to his urban hotel-room-with-a-view for
the same reason that he resorts earlier in the novel to his ˜˜hermitage,™™
the tree-top hide-out and spying place that he counts as ˜˜my one
exclusive possession, while I counted myself a brother of the socialists™™
(BR, p. ). His withdrawals are engendered not by his failure to connect
with other people, but by what he experiences as an excessive and
overwhelming connection. He feels that ˜˜Unless renewed by a yet
farther withdrawal towards the inner circle of self-communion, I lost the
better part of my individuality™™ (BR, p. ).
Overwhelmed by his experience of emotional connection and even
·
The constitution of the bachelor invalid
by his very desire for such connection, Coverdale retreats to a distance.
Lockwood™s retreat to the countryside from the seaside ˜˜goddess™™ and
from society more generally is also an attempt to compensate for what
he experiences as his excessive engagement with others. Both bachelors
put themselves at a physical distance from others in order to shore up
the threateningly permeable boundaries of their individuality, in order
to regulate more properly the boundaries within and between selves.
Yet their isolation ultimately intensi¬es, rather than diminishes, the
self-projections through which they constitute their identities. Thus
when Nelly proposes to abbreviate her narration, Lockwood vehement-
ly objects, describing for her his ˜˜tiresomely active mood™™: ˜˜Are you
acquainted with the mood of mind in which, if you were seated alone,
and the cat licking its kitten on the rug before you, you would watch the
operation so intently that puss™s neglect of one ear would put you
seriously out of temper?™™ (WH, p. ±°). Elaborating on this conceit, he
brings out the contrast between urban and rural life as well as the visual
element of his vicariousness in both worlds: ˜˜I perceive that people in
these regions acquire over people in towns the value that a spider in a
dungeon does over a spider in a cottage, to their various occupants; and
yet the deepened attraction is not entirely owing to the situation of the
looker-on™™ (WH, p. ±°). The vicarious ˜˜value™™ of objects to be visually
consumed multiplies with the privations of ˜˜sitting alone™™ or even
languishing in a dungeon.
It is not insigni¬cant that the ful¬llment of Lockwood™s vicarious
desire depends upon the proximity of Nelly as a primary source of the
narrative which he so avidly consumes, and then relays to the reader.
Nelly is the mother cat giving her kittens a thorough going-over; she is
the spider who sews or knits while spinning her tale. She thus represents
both object and subject of the narrative™s gaze; the ˜˜situation of the
looker-on™™ is doubled in the double narration of Lockwood and Nelly.²⁴
This doubling of the narrative perspective represents another version of
the mingling of self and other that, as we have seen, is also associated in
these two novels with illness, spiritualist mediumship, utopian commu-
nalism, and the merger of Cathy and Heathcli¬. Though Lockwood™s
and Nelly™s narratives provide separate and di¬erent frames for the
story, these frames are not impermeable. One might expect a palpable
distinction between what Nelly calls her ˜˜true gossip™s fashion™™ of orally
telling the story and the obfuscatingly pretentious, hyperliterate self-
expression that sometimes characterizes Lockwood™s voice. However,
the narrative is generally undi¬erentiated in this regard, perhaps re¬‚ect-
° Bachelors, manhood, and the novel
ing the fact that Nelly is unusually well read for ˜˜a poor man™s daugh-
ter,™™ as she tells Lockwood when he comments on her relative lack of
˜˜provincialisms™™ and her well cultivated ˜˜re¬‚ective faculties.™™ (WH,
p. ±°). The distinction between the voices of the two narrators fully
breaks down when Lockwood announces that he will ˜˜continue it in her
own words, only a little condensed. She is, on the whole, a very fair
narrator, and I don™t think I could improve her style™™ (WH, p. ±).
Just as the two narrative voices overlap stylistically, the separate
spheres of narration also break down at the level of plot. That is to say,
not all of Lockwood™s knowledge comes from Nelly, and each narrator
also separately enters the story as a character, thereby ˜breaking the

<<

. 13
( 47 .)



>>