A debut historical novel fills a mysterious three-year gap in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.
As a young, Roma-looking orphan, Heathcliff is adopted by Old Earnshaw and taken to live with his family at their estate, Wuthering Heights. In this first section, Drum closely follows Brontë’s description of events: Heathcliff becomes nearly inseparable from Old Earnshaw’s daughter, Catherine, but is abused and eventually forced into a servant’s role by his son, Hindley. Years pass, and one night Heathcliff overhears Cathy claiming that it would “degrade” her to marry him; distraught, he flees the estate and vows that he’ll make himself into a rich gentleman worthy of the woman he loves. From there, the book imagines what might have occurred over the next three years, which remain curiously unexplored in the classic novel. The author offers the possibility that Heathcliff finds work as a sailor in the Atlantic triangle trade, voyaging from the western coast of Africa to Jamaica and back to England. Along the way, Heathcliff experiences the rough conditions of a life at sea, the allures and hazards of exotic cultures, and the horrors of the slave trade. He witnesses the greed and malice of powerful men and stays true to his own values as a consequence. But upon his return to England, he preoccupies himself with exterior matters, hoping to transform into a fashionable society man. It’s a credit to the author that direct lines and scenes from Wuthering Heights fit seamlessly into the overall narrative. Each locale is vibrantly rendered, from the ship’s tight quarters to the sprawl and seduction of Victorian London. Heathcliff himself appears somewhat less vivid, partly due to the tale’s detached tone and its focus on adventure over interiority. In some ways, the book openly depicts brutality, as in an effective scene where slaves are branded. But it also shies away from hints of Heathcliff’s personal cruelty, instead envisioning him as blandly compassionate, naïve, and heroic. As a result, 19th- and 21st-century framings coexist in ways both successful and distracting.
A diffident but ultimately entertaining exploration of a famous literary lacuna.