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10 Things You May Not Know About Wuthering Heights

Wuthering Heights was Emily Brontë’s only novel. The ill-fated (some would add, twisted) relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy shocked readers when the book came out. Today, the story about the lovers on the English moor is so well known, it’s iconic. 

1. Emily Brontë Grew Up On The Moors.

Emily spent most of her life in Haworth, Yorkshire with her siblings Charlotte, Anne, and Branwell. She was a recluse and had few friends other than her family. At the time, the back door of her father’s parsonage opened onto the moors. Emily, a nature-lover, was intimately familiar with this wild landscape, which she depicted in Wuthering Heights. Today you can walk many of the places mentioned in the novel. 

2. The Setting Might have been Inspired By A Real Farmhouse.

Emily may have based the farmhouse Wuthering Heights on a real place named Top Withens. Although Top Withens is now a ruin, when Emily was alive, it was a working farmhouse. Originally called “Top of th’Withens,” it's located on an isolated, windswept hill overlooking the valley. While some of Wuthering Heights’s architectural details are closer to nearby High Sunderland Hall, Top Withens is accepted as the inspiration for the house in the book. It's now a well-known tourist destination.

3. The Book Was Self-Published.

After being rejected by publishers, Emily and Anne paid the considerable sum of 50 pounds to publish Wuthering Heights and Agnes Gray together in one volume. Knowing that female writers weren’t respected, the sisters used male pseudonyms: Ellis Bell for Emily and Acton Bell for Anne. (Charlotte published Jane Eyre that same year with a traditional publisher under the name Currer Bell.)

4. Hindley Earnshaw Was Similar To Branwell.

While Emily was writing the novel, Branwell was living in the same house succumbing to alcohol and opium addiction, a situation that was accelerated by the end of his affair with a married woman named—we kid you not—Mrs. Robinson. In Wuthering Heights, Catherine’s brother Hindley Earnshaw descends into alcoholism after his wife Frances dies. “His sorrow was of that kind that will not lament,” the book says. “He neither wept, nor prayed; he cursed and defied; execrated God and man, and gave himself up to reckless dissipation.”

5. Wuthering Heights Is Not A Romance Novel.

People tend to think of Wuthering Heights as a romance. It was even voted the greatest love story of all time. But the book is closer to a gothic novel than a romance. For one thing, the love story between Heathcliff and Cathy only takes up half the book. The second half is about what happens after Cathy’s death, which involves her daughter, Hareton, and Linton. In addition, Heathcliff is not a romantic hero, but an obsessive abuser. His relationship with Cathy is sometimes disturbing—for example, he breaks the side of her coffin so that, when he dies, they can decompose together. Clearly, this guy has issues.

6. The Book Was Panned By Critics.

Wuthering Heights shocked Victorian critics with its violence, passionate characters, and amoral plot. While some reviewers admired its creativity, others downright hated it. Graham's Lady Magazine wrote: “How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery. It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors.”

7. Emily Died Thinking The Book Was A Failure.

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Wuthering Heights came out in December 1847. A year later, in December 1848, Emily died at age 30 from tuberculosis. Her brother Branwell had died in September and Anne would soon follow in May 1849, leaving only Charlotte alive. Emily would never know that she’d written a book that would become a classic of English literature.

8. Charlotte Bronte Shaped How Emily Was Perceived.

In 1850, Charlotte put out a revised edition of Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey. Along with removing typos and altering the Yorkshire dialect, Charlotte wrote a preface that revealed all three of them to be women writers. She also tackled some of the criticisms of Emily. Among other things, she blamed the wild nature of the novel on Emily’s rural upbringing in Yorkshire, painting her as a "nursling of the moors." She also suggested that Emily didn’t know what she was doing when she was writing, for she had a creative gift that "strangely wills and works for itself." The new edition turned critical perception to the Brontes’s side, but also created myths about Emily that still persist.

9. Wuthering Heights Has Been Adapted Many Times.

Film adaptations range from a 1920 silent film—now lost—to the 1939 version starring Laurence Olivier to the 2011 version featuring black actor James Howson as Heathcliff. Since the novel is an international sensation, it has been adapted by other cultures as well, such as the 1966 Hindi film Dil Diya Dard Liya, (watch here) or the 1988 Japanese movie Arashi Ga Oka (watch here). Other recreations include musicals, ballet, opera, and the recent TV movie Wuthering High School.

And let’s not forget the 1992 film starring Sinead O’Connor as Emily Bronte:

10. Wuthering Heights Inspires Other Artists Too.

Many have used Wuthering Heights in their own work. Sylvia Plath wrote the poem “Wuthering Heights” about visiting Top Withens. In turn, her husband Ted Hughes wrote a poem about her writing that poem. The story of Wuthering Heights has been re-imagined in other novels, such as Windward Heights by Maryse Condé, which is set in Cuba and Guadaloupe. The book has also inspired paintings, graphic novels, and a Monty Python skit. There’s even a roleplaying game.

And of course, there's that Kate Bush Song:

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6 X-Rated Library Collections
The reading room of the British Library, circa 1840
The reading room of the British Library, circa 1840
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During the 19th century, some librarians became preoccupied with the morality (or lack thereof) of some of their titles. As a result, a number of libraries created special collections for "obscene" works, to ensure that only readers with a valid academic purpose might access them. Below are six examples, adapted from Claire Cock-Starkey’s new book A Library Miscellany.

1. THE "PRIVATE CASE" // THE BRITISH LIBRARY

At the British Library (or British Museum Library, as it was called then), it was John Winter Jones, Keeper of Printed Books from 1856, who was responsible for the creation of the “Private Case.” Titles that were deemed subversive, heretical, libelous, obscene, or that contained state secrets were kept out of the general catalog, stored in separate shelving, and marked with the shelfmark category “PC” (for private case). By far the majority of books in the private case were pornographic or erotic texts; it's rumored that by the mid-1960s the case contained over 5000 such texts, including George Witt’s collection of books on phallicism and Charles Reginald Dawes’s collection of French erotica from 1880–1930.

What was unusual about the Private Case was that it was so secretive: None of the books were recorded in any catalog, as if the collection didn’t exist. But starting in 1983, all books once in the Private Case have been listed in the catalog, and many have been returned to the main collection—although librarians may still check that a reader has academic reasons for consulting some of the more scandalous titles.

2. L’ENFER // BIBLIOTHEQUE NATIONALE DE FRANCE

General stacks of the Bibliotheque nationale de France
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L’Enfer, which translates as “the hell,” was created in 1830 to house the French national library’s large collection of erotica and other books that were considered “contrary to good morals.” Many of the works were obtained by the library through confiscation, but fortunately the librarians had the foresight to preserve these scandalous texts. The collection—which still exists—has been largely kept private and was only fully cataloged in 1913, when about 855 titles were recorded.

Modern pornographic magazines and erotic fiction do not get cast into L’Enfer: It is only for rare works or works of cultural significance, such as a handwritten copy of the Marquis de Sade’s Les Infortunes de la Vertu (1787) and The Story of O by Pauline Réage (1954). In 2007, the library put on a public exhibition of some of the more fascinating (and titillating) texts in L’Enfer, finally granting the public a glimpse of this hidden collection.

3. TRIPLE-STAR COLLECTION // NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY

The New York Public Library Main Reading Room
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At the New York Public Library, some obscene works were once hand-marked with "***", which indicated that readers who wanted to consult those volumes had to be supervised. (Librarians regularly collected erotica, including from nearby Times Square, as part of their "mandate to collect life as it was lived," according to The New York Times.This system began in the mid-20th century and caused certain titles to be locked in caged shelves; it also meant that the items could only be consulted in a small restricted part of the reading rooms after special permission was granted.

4. PHI COLLECTION // OXFORD'S BODLEIAN LIBRARY

Radcliffe Camera building, part of the Bodleian Library
Oli Scarff/Getty Images

The restricted collection at the Bodleian Library was created by E. W. B. Nicholson, who was head librarian from 1886–1913. No one is quite sure why it was named after the Greek letter phi, but some have suggested it was because it sounds like “fie!” which you might exclaim when asked to retrieve a book from this collection. Or, perhaps it stems from the first letter “phi” of the Greek “phaula” or “phaulos,” meaning worthless, wicked, or base. The collection included pornography alongside works of sexual pathology, and students needed to ask a tutor to confirm their academic need for a book before the librarians would let them consult any texts with a phi shelfmark. Today, many of the books have been reclassified into the general collection, but the phi shelfmark still persists.

5. "XR" COLLECTION // HARVARD’S WIDENER LIBRARY

 Widener Memorial Library at Harvard University
Darren McCollester/Newsmakers

The Widener Library still holds its restricted collection behind a locked copper door in the basement of the library—not because they still want to hide it, but simply because (it's said) no one has the time to redistribute the collection back into main circulation. The collection was thought to have been set up in the 1950s, after a sociology professor complained that many texts he needed for his class were missing or defaced (the Playboy centerfold was apparently always going astray), and thus the restricted collection was created to protect and preserve rather than to censor. The collection was only added to for a 30-year period and is now closed; however, its classification reveals something of the social attitudes of the times towards titles such as The Passions and Lechery of Catherine the Great (1971) and D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). The X part of the shelfmark does not stand for X-rated but indicates that the books are unusual; the R part stands for “restricted.”

6. THE ARC // CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY

Trinity College Library, Cambridge University
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As library collections are frequently made up of a series of smaller collections donated to the institution, they may often acquire titles that the library may otherwise have not chosen to collect—such as some of the more risqué works. Cambridge University Library felt it had a duty to students to protect them from some of the more offensive books in their collection, and for this reason the Arc (short for arcana—meaning secrets or mysteries) classification was created. As with other restricted collections, Cambridge’s Arc provides a fascinating insight into changing moral attitudes. Some of the highlights included what is considered by some historians as the first gay novel, L’Alcibiade fanciullo a scola (Alcibiades the Schoolboy), published in 1652; a 1922 copy of Ulysses by James Joyce (notable because at that time the book was being burned by UK Customs Officers); and a misprinted copy of the Cambridge Bible.

BONUS: "INFERNO" // THE VATICAN LIBRARY

The Sistine Hall, once part of the Vatican Library
Michal Osmenda, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

There has always been a rumor that the Vatican Library holds the largest collection of pornographic material in the world, in a collection supposedly known as the “Inferno,” but in fact this honor goes to the Kinsey Institute for Sex Research in Bloomington, Indiana. It is thought that the Vatican Library’s collection was created from the thousands of erotic works that have been confiscated by the Vatican over the years. However, no evidence for the collection has been found, and the (admittedly incredibly secretive) Vatican librarians deny its very existence.

This article is an expanded version of an entry in Claire Cock-Starkey’s A Library Miscellany, published by Bodleian Library Publishing.

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8 Professional Translators Choose Their Favorite 'Untranslatable' Words
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Readers tend to think of a translated novel as having just one author. While that’s technically true, each work contains two voices: that of the author and the translator. Translators must ensure that their interpretation remains faithful to the style and intent of the author, but this doesn't mean that nothing is added in the process. Gabriel García Márquez, the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude, once famously said that the English version of his novel was, in some ways, better than his original work in Spanish.

“A good translation is itself a work of art,” translator Nicky Harman writes. Put differently, translator Daniel Hahn believes translation is literally impossible. “I don’t just mean it’s really, really difficult, but really, it’s not actually possible,” he says. “There’s not a single word in any of the languages I translate that can map perfectly onto a word in English. So it’s always interpretative, approximate, creative.”

In a show of appreciation for this challenging craft, the Man Booker International Prize was created to annually recognize one outstanding work of literature that has been translated from its original language into English and published in the UK. Ahead of the winner being announced on May 22, the translators of eight Man Booker International Prize nominees have shared their favorite "untranslatable" words from the original language of the novels they translated into English.

1. BREF

Sam Taylor, who translated The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet from French to English, said the best definition of bref is “Well, you get the idea.” It’s typically used to punctuate the end of a long, rambling speech, and is sometimes used for comedic effect. “It’s such a concise (and intrinsically sardonic) way of cutting a long story short,” Taylor says.

2. SANTIGUADORA

Unsatisfied with any of the English words at their disposal, translators Sarah Moses and Carolina Orloff left this word in Spanish in Die, My Love, a psychological novel by Ariana Harwicz. The word, which describes a female healer who uses prayer to break hexes and cure ailments, was explained in the text itself. The translated version reads: “If only there were santiguadoras living in these parts, those village women who for a fee will pray away your guy’s indigestion and your toddler’s tantrums, simple as that.”

3. HELLHÖRIG

The German word Hellhörig "literally means 'bright-hearing' and is used, for example, to describe walls so thin you can hear every noise in the next room," says Simon Pare, who translated The Flying Mountain, a novel by Christoph Ransmayr. Pare notes that while English equivalents like "paper-thin" and “flimsy” carry the same negative connotation, they don’t have the same poetic quality that hellhörig has. "'The walls have ears,' while expressive, is not the same thing,” Pare laments.

4. VORSTELLUNG

Vorstellung (another German word) can be defined as an idea or notion, but when its etymology is broken down, it suddenly doesn’t seem so simple. It stems from the verb vorstellen, meaning “to place in front of—in this case, in front of the mind’s eye,” according to Susan Bernofsky, who translated Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck. “The Vorstellung is the object of that act of mental conjuring-up," Bernofsky adds. (Fun fact: All nouns are capitalized in German.)

5. 눈치 (NUNCH'I)

Literally translating to “eye measure,” the Korean word nunch’i describes “an awareness of how those around you are currently feeling, plus their general character, and therefore the appropriate response,” says Deborah Smith, the translator of Han Kang’s The White Book. Korean culture stresses the importance of harmony, and thus it’s important to avoid doing or saying anything that could hurt another person’s pride, according to CultureShock! Korea: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette.

6. ON

Anyone who has survived French 101 has seen this word, but it’s a difficult concept to fully grasp. It’s also one that crops up regularly in novels, making it “the greatest headache for a translator,” according to Frank Wynne, who translated Vernon Subutex 1 by Virginie Despentes. On is often translated as “one” (as in “one shouldn’t ask such questions”), but in general conversation it can come off as “preposterously disdainful,” Wynne notes. Furthermore, the word is used in different ways to express very different things in French, and can be taken to mean “we,” “people,” “they,” and more, according to French Today.

7. TERTULIA

Store this one away for your next cocktail party. The Spanish word tertulia can be defined as “an enjoyable conversation about political or literary topics at a social gathering,” according to Camilo A. Ramirez, who translated Like a Fading Shadow by Antonio Munoz Molina. Although tertulia is tricky to translate, it's one of Ramirez's favorite Spanish words because it invokes a specific atmosphere and paints a scene in the reader’s mind. For instance, the first chapter of The Hobbit, “An Unexpected Party,” becomes “Una Tertulia Inesperada” when translated into Spanish.

8. PAN/PANI

Like the French on, the Polish words pan (an honorific address for men) and pani (an address for women) are challenging to explain in English. While many European languages have both a formal and informal “you,” pan and pani are a different animal. “[It's] believed to derive from the days of a Polish noble class called the szlachta—another tradition unique to Poland,” says Jennifer Croft, who translated Flights by Olga Tokarczuk into English. This form of address was originally used for Polish gentry and was often contrasted with the word cham, meaning peasants, according to Culture.pl, a Polish culture site. Now, it’s used to address all people, except for children or friends.

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