HEATHCLIFF by Jeffrey Caine


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Remember in Wuthering Heights when ferocious but sensitive Heathcliff fled Yorkshire after hearing Cathy say it would degrade her to marry him--returning three years later rich, foul, and vindictive? Well, here's what happened during the intermission, mostly told in a lively letter from the spurned suitor to the object of his obsession. Resolving ""to embark on a holy war"" against the gentry who've abused him, illiterate Heathcliff sets out for Leeds but winds up in London, an eager participant in the anti-Papist riots of 1780 and then a less eager servant-accomplice to slimy Alexander Durrant, alias Mr. Sherall, Georgian England's answer to Vito Corleone. When not collecting protection/brothel money or amputating enemy limbs for the Boss, Heathcliff is guarding the Boss' comely, unloving wife, who trades him book-learning and bed-learning for a little freedom. The cuckolded Durrant takes revenge by fingering Heathcliff for that rioting back in 1780, and Heathcliff's letter ends as he awaits hanging at Newgate. Heathcliff dead Worry not--a now-faded, still-in-love Mrs. Durrant finishes the story: how she saved Heathcliff from the rope with a canny device (a metal neck brace covered with human skin), how they fled penniless to the Continent, how Heathcliff won his fortune at quinze and faro and hazards, how he became more churlish and depraved with each Cathy-less month (especially when learning of her marriage). Caine is a taut, sly craftsman, so there's no excess verbiage or tedium here, but, strangely enough, the Wuthering connection adds not a jot of resonance to the familiar goings-on; dark, wild Heathcliff has been recycled too often for too many years to make a fresh comeback. What remains is a high-class, slightly tongue-in-cheek rehash of all the picaresque-romance turns--and quite a disappointment for admirers of Caine's truly grabbing 1976 debut, The Cold Room.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Knopf