Wuthering Heights – Chapter I

WUTHERING HEIGHTS CHAPTER I

1801—I have just returned from a visit to my landlord—the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with. This is certainly a beautiful country! In all England, I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society. A perfect misanthropist’s Heaven—and Mr. Heathcliff and I are such a suitable pair to divide the desolation between us. A capital fellow! He little imagined how my heart warmed towards him when I beheld his black eyes withdraw so suspiciously under their brows, as I rode up, and when his fingers sheltered themselves, with a jealous resolution, still further in his waistcoat, as I announced my name.

“Mr. Heathcliff?” I said.

A nod was the answer.

“Mr. Lockwood, your new tenant, sir. I do myself the honour of calling as soon as possible after my arrival, to express the hope that I have not inconvenienced you by my perseverance in soliciting the occupation of Thrushcross Grange: I heard yesterday you had had some thoughts—”

“Thrushcross Grange is my own, sir,” he interrupted, wincing. “I should not allow any one to inconvenience me, if I could hinder it—walk in!”

The “walk in” was uttered with closed teeth, and expressed the sentiment, “Go to the Deuce!” even the gate over which he leant manifested no sympathising movement to the words; and I think that circumstance determined me to accept the invitation: I felt interested in a man who seemed more exaggeratedly reserved than myself.

When he saw my horse’s breast fairly pushing the barrier, he did put out his hand to unchain it, and then sullenly preceded me up the causeway, calling, as we entered the court,—“Joseph, take Mr. Lockwood’s horse; and bring up some wine.”

“Here we have the whole establishment of domestics, I suppose,” was the reflection suggested by this compound order. “No wonder the grass grows up between the flags, and cattle are the only hedge-cutters.”

Joseph was an elderly, nay, an old man, very old, perhaps, though hale and sinewy. “The Lord help us!” he soliloquised in an undertone of peevish displeasure, while relieving me of my horse: looking, meantime, in my face so sourly that I charitably conjectured he must have need of divine aid to digest his dinner, and his pious ejaculation had no reference to my unexpected advent.

Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff’s dwelling. “Wuthering” being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed: one may guess the power of the north wind, blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun. Happily, the architect had foresight to build it strong: the narrow windows are deeply set in the wall, and the corners defended with large jutting stones.

Before passing the threshold, I paused to admire a quantity of grotesque carving lavished over the front, and especially about the principal door; above which, among a wilderness of crumbling griffins and shameless little boys, I detected the date “1500,” and the name “Hareton Earnshaw.” I would have made a few comments, and requested a short history of the place from the surly owner; but his attitude at the door appeared to demand my speedy entrance, or complete departure, and I had no desire to aggravate his impatience previous to inspecting the penetralium.

One stop brought us into the family sitting-room, without any introductory lobby or passage: they call it here “the house” pre-eminently. It includes kitchen and parlour, generally; but I believe at Wuthering Heights the kitchen is forced to retreat altogether into another quarter: at least I distinguished a chatter of tongues, and a clatter of culinary utensils, deep within; and I observed no signs of roasting, boiling, or baking, about the huge fireplace; nor any glitter of copper saucepans and tin cullenders on the walls. One end, indeed, reflected splendidly both light and heat from ranks of immense pewter dishes, interspersed with silver jugs and tankards, towering row after row, on a vast oak dresser, to the very roof. The latter had never been under-drawn: its entire anatomy lay bare to an inquiring eye, except where a frame of wood laden with oatcakes and clusters of legs of beef, mutton, and ham, concealed it. Above the chimney were sundry villainous old guns, and a couple of horse-pistols: and, by way of ornament, three gaudily-painted canisters disposed along its ledge. The floor was of smooth, white stone; the chairs, high-backed, primitive structures, painted green: one or two heavy black ones lurking in the shade. In an arch under the dresser reposed a huge, liver-coloured bitch pointer, surrounded by a swarm of squealing puppies; and other dogs haunted other recesses.

The apartment and furniture would have been nothing extraordinary as belonging to a homely, northern farmer, with a stubborn countenance, and stalwart limbs set out to advantage in knee-breeches and gaiters. Such an individual seated in his arm-chair, his mug of ale frothing on the round table before him, is to be seen in any circuit of five or six miles among these hills, if you go at the right time after dinner. But Mr. Heathcliff forms a singular contrast to his abode and style of living. He is a dark-skinned gipsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman: that is, as much a gentleman as many a country squire: rather slovenly, perhaps, yet not looking amiss with his negligence, because he has an erect and handsome figure; and rather morose. Possibly, some people might suspect him of a degree of under-bred pride; I have a sympathetic chord within that tells me it is nothing of the sort: I know, by instinct, his reserve springs from an aversion to showy displays of feeling—to manifestations of mutual kindliness. He’ll love and hate equally under cover, and esteem it a species of impertinence to be loved or hated again. No, I’m running on too fast: I bestow my own attributes over-liberally on him. Mr. Heathcliff may have entirely dissimilar reasons for keeping his hand out of the way when he meets a would-be acquaintance, to those which actuate me. Let me hope my constitution is almost peculiar: my dear mother used to say I should never have a comfortable home; and only last summer I proved myself perfectly unworthy of one.

While enjoying a month of fine weather at the sea-coast, I was thrown into the company of a most fascinating creature: a real goddess in my eyes, as long as she took no notice of me. I “never told my love” vocally; still, if looks have language, the merest idiot might have guessed I was over head and ears: she understood me at last, and looked a return—the sweetest of all imaginable looks. And what did I do? I confess it with shame—shrunk icily into myself, like a snail; at every glance retired colder and farther; till finally the poor innocent was led to doubt her own senses, and, overwhelmed with confusion at her supposed mistake, persuaded her mamma to decamp.

By this curious turn of disposition I have gained the reputation of deliberate heartlessness; how undeserved, I alone can appreciate.

I took a seat at the end of the hearthstone opposite that towards which my landlord advanced, and filled up an interval of silence by attempting to caress the canine mother, who had left her nursery, and was sneaking wolfishly to the back of my legs, her lip curled up, and her white teeth watering for a snatch. My caress provoked a long, guttural gnarl.

“You’d better let the dog alone,” growled Mr. Heathcliff in unison, checking fiercer demonstrations with a punch of his foot. “She’s not accustomed to be spoiled—not kept for a pet.” Then, striding to a side door, he shouted again, “Joseph!”

Joseph mumbled indistinctly in the depths of the cellar, but gave no intimation of ascending; so his master dived down to him, leaving me vis-à-vis the ruffianly bitch and a pair of grim shaggy sheep-dogs, who shared with her a jealous guardianship over all my movements. Not anxious to come in contact with their fangs, I sat still; but, imagining they would scarcely understand tacit insults, I unfortunately indulged in winking and making faces at the trio, and some turn of my physiognomy so irritated madam, that she suddenly broke into a fury and leapt on my knees. I flung her back, and hastened to interpose the table between us. This proceeding aroused the whole hive: half-a-dozen four-footed fiends, of various sizes and ages, issued from hidden dens to the common centre. I felt my heels and coat-laps peculiar subjects of assault; and parrying off the larger combatants as effectually as I could with the poker, I was constrained to demand, aloud, assistance from some of the household in re-establishing peace.

Mr. Heathcliff and his man climbed the cellar steps with vexatious phlegm: I don’t think they moved one second faster than usual, though the hearth was an absolute tempest of worrying and yelping. Happily, an inhabitant of the kitchen made more dispatch; a lusty dame, with tucked-up gown, bare arms, and fire-flushed cheeks, rushed into the midst of us flourishing a frying-pan: and used that weapon, and her tongue, to such purpose, that the storm subsided magically, and she only remained, heaving like a sea after a high wind, when her master entered on the scene.

“What the devil is the matter?” he asked, eyeing me in a manner that I could ill endure, after this inhospitable treatment.

“What the devil, indeed!” I muttered. “The herd of possessed swine could have had no worse spirits in them than those animals of yours, sir. You might as well leave a stranger with a brood of tigers!”

“They won’t meddle with persons who touch nothing,” he remarked, putting the bottle before me, and restoring the displaced table. “The dogs do right to be vigilant. Take a glass of wine?”

“No, thank you.”

“Not bitten, are you?”

“If I had been, I would have set my signet on the biter.” Heathcliff’s countenance relaxed into a grin.

“Come, come,” he said, “you are flurried, Mr. Lockwood. Here, take a little wine. Guests are so exceedingly rare in this house that I and my dogs, I am willing to own, hardly know how to receive them. Your health, sir?”

I bowed and returned the pledge; beginning to perceive that it would be foolish to sit sulking for the misbehaviour of a pack of curs; besides, I felt loth to yield the fellow further amusement at my expense; since his humour took that turn. He—probably swayed by prudential consideration of the folly of offending a good tenant—relaxed a little in the laconic style of chipping off his pronouns and auxiliary verbs, and introduced what he supposed would be a subject of interest to me,—a discourse on the advantages and disadvantages of my present place of retirement. I found him very intelligent on the topics we touched; and before I went home, I was encouraged so far as to volunteer another visit to-morrow. He evidently wished no repetition of my intrusion. I shall go, notwithstanding. It is astonishing how sociable I feel myself compared with him.

Global, Black and African Theatre Reading Group

Global, Black and African Theatre Group

The global, black and African theatre group is a regular

Group that aims to bring people together to read plays in a convivial atmosphere – whilst also increasing knowledge (both ours and yours) of the broad diversity of theatre in the world, we have an emphasis on black and African playwrights, but not exclusively so – with the aim of including a very broad spectrum of experience as developed by the playwrights of the world. We welcome all participants irrespective of ­­­­­­­­ gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, income, or physical ability; whilst this is a play reading group, the emphasis is on amateurs and enjoying the text in a playful manner, acting is part of it, but not the entire point – and no one should feel uncomfortable about joining because they feel they can’t act.

Why are Nigerian buildings so hot?

One of my recent observations has been how hot many Nigerian buildings tend to get without an air conditioner – and it seems perverse that with the sun being the one environmental factor we can take for granted on the continent and architecturally this wasn’t factored into modern building methods.  It prompted a conversation with architect Giles Omezi, founder of the architecture and urban design firm, Laterite. Below is a summary of our conversation, which started off from my inkling that cement might be a problematic building material.

Is cement the ideal building material?

Cement is not the problem; actually it’s a very responsive material. Essentially the issue you have is that buildings are not designed around the peculiarities of our environment – anymore.

What is the problem?

What you’ll find is that the old buildings – like you would find in many a village, are always very cool; In the rural areas, traditional buildings are responsive to the sub climates they exist in; it’s blazing hot outside – and you find that you step inside and the space is cool – and dark. That’s because the principles used are to build around the constraints of the environment.

But are there examples in Modern African architecture?

Very much so yes, you can build modern buildings on those principles, so that the building benefits from passive cooling; the whole tropical architecture movement actually started very much as an English thing – and very much before the introduction of air-conditioning as a major technology. So for example if you go to a number of the buildings at University of Lagos or Ibadan from the 1960s – you will find that they are cool, because of the way they have been built – to be spaces in which there is passive cooling. These were built by a variety of architects, for example, Godwin Hopwood, Maxwell Fry & Jane Drew.

Are there examples of African architects?
Yes, the work of Demas Nwoko – his buildings are technically accomplished, and designed to be cool even in the heat; there are examples – though not many examples of African contemporary design. For example, we’re also building this school in Benin – which is designed to cool passively – single storey quadrangles, simple straightforward, passively ventilated, utilising solar energy and collecting rainwater, all laudable environmentally sustainable intentions, but one can argue, critical in our environment.

Is the problem architects or consumers?
The problem is that we don’t engage with architecture so much in Nigeria – except in terms of aesthetics; clients are resistant to suggestions that might seem over-elaborate – and we tend to design with off the shelf technical solutions, for example the air conditioner, rather than building around our constraints, which are the heat and other factors. Then there is the cultural and aspirational factor, technology is viewed as somewhat progressive, therefore your average client won’t permit any experiments with passive energy buildings.

So it’s possible to build with cement, and get a building that cools without air-conditioning?
The short answer? Yes

 

 

Review – Moremi

 Crown Troupe of Africa’s rendition of the famous Yoruba myth of Moremi, the lady who saved the people of Ife from the Igbo people (not to be confused with the Igbo people of South-East Nigeria) – is youthful, exuberant and effectively crowd-pleasing. The story, relocated to an Ife that serves as metaphor for the wider Nigerian polity, is laced with clever contemporary references that keep the dram from being overly worthy. The conceit works well, in most respects, and provides the most gratifying elements of entertainment in the play. As a social critique of contemporary Nigeria, the narrative is a little confused – but it does pointedly and with humour highlight the degree to which youth are sacrificed to maintain the social order, without following through with the implications of this critique. More delightfully, the production makes good use of a minimal set, and inventive transitions with music to gives us a sense of the mise en scene and symbolic life of the Ife Kingdom – most elegantly in a brief musical number for one of the river deities.

Though it remains true to the myth, the tragic element of the Moremi story is under-utilised – the salient fact of a mother giving her only son is rather haphazardly worked into the story, and we have very little time to reflect on it in the course of the play; what does sparkle are the actors, and the musical numbers, bar a few bum notes. Providing lots of comic relief is the love sub-plot between Moremi’s son, Oluorogbo, sometimes to the detriment of the play – and the hapless emissaries to the Oba, and their unfortunate encounter with Ife’s market women.

In general, the pacing of the production is sure footed – and it is only at the end when we are given a very bizarre concluding hip-hop number that the youthful exuberance starts to chafe. Nevertheless, this is slick and entertaining fare, which one hopes will find a home to play again.

Moremi played on the 25th – 27th March, as part of Park Theatre at Freedom Park

 Picture courtesy of Segun Adefila | Source: Telegraph Newspapers

 

In praise of Ancestor Worship

So, Grace Mugabe has said that should her husband die before the next election, he should stay on the ballot as a corpse. It’s not a bad idea, and it is keeping with ancestor worship, an aspect of our culture as Africans that we have for so long neglected, albeit never abandoned. Now that Grace Mugabe has put it on the table, it is something that needs to be explored in all African countries. In fact, it is in Southern Africa where this idea first needs to be applied; in South Africa where the African National Congress is struggling to field a candidate with charisma and character to revive its electoral fortunes, the answer is obvious – Nelson Mandela needs to be on the ballot, and if the ANC really wants to recover its radical bent, it should field Chris Hani. Further west, the revolutionary presiding spirit of Angola, Eduardo dos Santos should feel no need to step down, instead, he must wait till he is transformed by death into an ancestor, and can continue to benevolently supervise the development of his country. In West Africa, where the giant of Africa has suffered the travails of death and ill health plaguing the highest office in the land – our veneration of ancestors must be brought back into the field of politics; if during the political crisis of the Jonathan-Yaradua years we had the option of fielding Yaradua as a corpse, would the constitutional crisis have been so great? I think not. As it stands we can even take the idea further and schedule elections with no living candidates at all; for one thing, it would make electoral politics much cheaper, and might even give us a better connection to our history. How wonderful it would be if we could have Nkrumah, Awolowo, and Bouteflika (oh wait, he’s still alive) contest again – alongside their corpses we can also revive moribund political ideas, or at least justifiably allow them to remain in circulation. In truth, putting our political ancestors on the ballot papers all across the continent will save us the hardwork of reconciling our need to have more youthful and dynamic leadership to match our populations – with our long held respect for age – even when such aged persons have more years than sense.

1. 100 Essential Non-Fiction Books: How Europe Underdeveloped Africa By Walter Rodney

Written by one of the most celebrated thinkers in the tumultuous decades following Africa’s independence struggles, this is a book to read both for its romance, as well as its insight. First published in 1979, Walter Rodney’s dissection of the west’s imperial domination and deliberate under-development of  Africa is a classic of anti-imperialist literature. Since its publication, it has given intellectual ballast to African examination of the experience of colonialism and its aftermath; Rodney’s examination of the relation between Europe and Africa through the prism of historical materialism is both bold and rich, with a bracing articulation of what development is, and how Africa was denied it. Seizing on the Marxist concept of the dialectic, Rodney adopts and expands on the idea of capitalism as a system of domination in which the profit of the capitalist is based on the exploitation of the worker – Africa, both as place and metaphor, Rodney argued was the exploited in a relationship that privileged Europe, and the west more broadly.

Perhaps, the most crucial and enduring contributions of this book is the articulation of African development prior to the encounter with Europe in the 15th century, and the demonstration of the slave trade’s devastating impact on African social, economic and technological progress. In articulating this, as well as a roadmap for correcting Africa’s development through anti-imperialist struggle, Rodney contributed powerfully to the conviction that Africa’s underdevelopment was not an inherent quality of destiny and geographic, but of social and historical forces that could and should be overcome or overthrown.

A range of other books are in the tradition that Rodney established, even those coming from a very different intellectual direction like Dambisa Moyo’s Dead Aid, and more aligned to Rodney, Ha Joon Chang’s 23 Things they don’t tell you about Capitalism.