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cover of the book Theory's Empire

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

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The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

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Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

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Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bleg: Wolf-Child on the Heath

Posted by Bill Benzon on 11/29/09 at 10:17 AM

Does anyone know of historicist criticism relating Wuthering Heights to stories of feral children? Note that Heathcliff’s background is opaque and he is occasionally likened to a wolf, as in this passage from chapter 10 (see the penultimate word):

Nelly, help me to convince her of her madness.  Tell her what Heathcliff is: an unreclaimed creature, without refinement, without cultivation; an arid wilderness of furze and whinstone.  I’d as soon put that little canary into the park on a winter’s day, as recommend you to bestow your heart on him!  It is deplorable ignorance of his character, child, and nothing else, which makes that dream enter your head. Pray, don’t imagine that he conceals depths of benevolence and affection beneath a stern exterior!  He’s not a rough diamond--a pearl-containing oyster of a rustic: he’s a fierce, pitiless, wolfish man.

Further, dogs and their interactions with humans are a significant motif in the book. One of those dogs is named Wolf, and the canine-human interaction is often violent, e.g. Skulker biting Cathy Earnshaw in the ankle.*

On the other hand, wolf children do have a long-standing presence in the Western imagination, e.g. Romulus and Remus. Jean Itard’s The Wild Child of Averyron** was published in 1801, well before WH; and there were well over a dozen cases reported in Europe in the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries.*** I’d think Brontë would have known some of this lore.

*BTW, has anyone read this as menstrual symbolism? She seems to be about the right age and a signal consequence of this action is that, after several weeks in bed, she develops a romantic interest in Edgar Linton (and an unaccounted for aversion to Heathcliff).

**The basis for Truffaut’s The Wild Child.

***Lucien Malson, Wolf Children and the Problem of Human Nature, Monthly Review Press, 1972, pp. 80-81.


This is a very interesting angle: kind-of obvious, once you point it out, but I have to say I can’t think of any critical work that’s been done to make this case (I’m ready to be corrected by people who know the criticism better than I do).  Barbara Munson Goff’s ‘Between Natural Theology and Natural Selection: Breeding the Human Animal in Wuthering Heights’ (Victorian Studies, 27:4 (Summer, 1984), pp. 477-508) [if you have JSTOR access, it’s online here] thinks that Brontë ‘had animal breeding in mind’ when writing her characters, with Heathcliff as a proto-Darwninian ‘animal’ who proves well fitted to his environment.  But she doesn’t make the connection to feral children.

By Adam Roberts on 12/01/09 at 05:25 AM | Permanent link to this comment

Yes, it is kind of obvious. When you read about these children Heathcliff just comes to mind. I wonder how widely Itard’s book (which is included in Malson’s) circulated in France and whether or not it crossed the channel. Ah! I just looked. It was translated into English in 1802, and that’s the translation that Malson uses. The account of Victor’s adolescence is painful (pp. 175-76 in Malson):

I have seen the arrival--or rather, the explosion--of the long-desired puberty, seen our Savage consumed by desires of an extreme violence and a fearful continuity without once realizing their purpose or feeling any form of preference for any woman. Instead of that burst of enthusiasm which urges one sex towards theother, he has shown only a sort of blind instinct, a rather indistinct preference which makes the society of women more agreeable to him than the company of men, but without actually experiencing any true emotion in this connection.

There’s more, but I don’t have time to transcribe it. Perhaps it’s there in Google Books?

By Bill Benzon on 12/01/09 at 11:26 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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