Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Chill November Winds Give Warning; Heathcliff is Coming!

Heathcliff is coming!
“I believe--I know that ghosts have wandered the earth. Be with me always--take any form--drive me mad. Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you! Oh, God! It is unutterable! I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul! [Lily’s note: his ‘life & soul’ being Cathy!]” Heathcliff, Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.

Sir Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff
I’ve always loved the Gothic Romance genre. My first taste and probably most people’s first brush with Gothic Romance was Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte. It’s been around a long time, as it was written in 1847. The old black and white movie starring Sir Laurence Olivier as Heathcliff was my first taste of the dark, twisted, beautiful yet sad tale. The black and white version is visually stunning and has the haunting atmosphere of the book.  Whether it’s Heathcliff served up as Olivier in black & white or as Ralph Fiennes in the 1990’s A & E television version, it’s an equally compelling in its desolate splendor.

Every November, it seems, there is a new version of the classic available in movie form. My husband and I first discovered Heathcliff and Cathy’s sad tale on a cold, stormy night in November. The rain was horrendous, branches were creaking outside and the wind battered the windows as we sat huddled together on the sofa watching the old B&W classic movie. To this day, when the wind is whistling eerily through the bare tree branches in November, my husband will turn to me with a creepy grin and say “Heathcliff is coming!” 

The old movie version with Olivier is romantic and sad, while the newer version with Fiennes is a disturbing tale that adheres more closely to the storyline in the book. For those who are not familiar with the tale, Wuthering Heights tells the story of Heathcliff and Cathy. They are both under the power of Cathy’s brother and they are in love. Heathcliff silently and stoically endures the cruelty of Cathy’s brother and pines for Cathy as he seeks to be with her. Cathy, on the other hand, loves Heathcliff but flippantly decides to marry another man, a rich man who can give her social prestige and luxury. Heathcliff is heartbroken. He vows to wreak revenge on everyone in the story who wronged him and displays an alarming penchant for cruelty as he torments even the children of his enemies. 

Heathcliff begins as a wounded lover in the story and changes into the villain--or the monster by the end of the book. Lucky for him, even though he’s the bad guy who has made everyone suffer, he finally is reunited with Cathy in the afterlife as they haunt the moors together. The quote above from Heathcliff is spoken when he’s given news of her death. He’d rather be haunted and driven mad by her then live without her.  
The question: Can Heathcliff be redeemed as a romance hero by today’s standards?
Answer: Probably not. We’d damn him as the villain for his innate cruelty and also label him as psychotic, and rightly so. No hero by today’s standards could get away with hanging his fiancee’s dog from a tree and survive to remain a hero. It’s just sick, sad and creepy.
Still, the icon of the Gothic Romance Hero survives. It’s Halloween today, we’re celebrating Dark Things. Dark love, dark kisses, dark magic, dark embrace . . . you name it and we’ve probably had a gothic romance novel with the word Dark emblazoned on the cover. The haunting November winds are upon us and I have to warn you, Heathcliff is coming. 

A sort of kinder, gentler cousin of Heathcliff. My version of a Gothic Romance Hero is not a bully or a psychopath. In Dark Hero, A Gothic Romance  Donovan Beaumont is a scientist, a former pirate and pure alpha male. He escaped France at the onset of the French Revolution after being tortured for a crime he didn’t commit. He mistrusts those about him and wants only to live in peace on his isolated island estate in the West Indies. As an adult he has physical scars yet his childhood was not dark and tragic like Heathcliff’s. Donovan was the only son of a wealthy nobleman, much beloved. This gives him the depth of character to be able to give and receive love from a worthy heroine; something I think Heathcliff missed out on growing up. Heathcliff knows only how to manipulate and control, not to give real love. 

Donovan, A Dark Hero

My Gothic Hero, Donovan, also has a dark side. He mistrusts people so he uses disguises and false identities to keep people at a distance. He’s damaged, and may seem a little too close to crazy at times. He’s a scientist, an anatomist to be exact. He studies disease but in order to do that he dissects corpses that he buys from the hangman. He doesn’t believe in the supernatural. As a product of the Enlightenment he’s a stickler for logic and reason. And yet, his home is infested with ghosts. Others can see them, others have told him, but he just won’t believe them. 

Elizabeth, the heroine in the story, is Donovan’s opposite. It’s sort of like Heathcliff meets the Ghost Whisperer, they fall in love and get married. Elizabeth is a child of nature, a descendant of Druids. She can see and speak with the dead. She’s not happy about it, and would rather just ignore the gift and try to pretend to be normal like everyone else. She can’t. Once her grandmother dies, the gift of the seer passes t her. It’s as if she suddenly has a sign on her that says to ghosts ‘hey, want to speak with the living, talk to me!’ This creates a serious problem for her as she’s married to Mr. Logic and Reason and those pesky ghosts just won’t leave her alone.

 Elizabeth is afraid to let Donovan know she has this gift, and with good reason as he might just think she’s crazy and pack her off to the nearest asylum. They did those things to women back in 1798. Elizabeth spends a lot of time trying to hide the gift. It would be easy, except there is one ghost in particular who is trying to harm her. This ghost won’t let her ignore it and the more she tries, the more violent the ghost becomes. So, Elizabeth has a problem, a big one. A ghost trying to hurt her, and its getting harder to hide the bruises from her husband.

It seems Donovan is her worst nightmare at times as Elizabeth struggles to understand him. Like Heathcliff, Donovan can not only be dark and brooding but also scary, manipulative and controlling.  And yet, Donovan is just what Elizabeth’s Druid Granny ordered. You see, before Elizabeth’s grandmother died she cast a spell to summon a champion from the mists to protect Elizabeth, a Dark Hero based on the heroes in the Gothic Novels Elizabeth devoured as an adolescent girl.
So the question that begs answering is this; was Granny Sheila senile when she cast the spell or perfectly lucid?

Will Donovan win Elizabeth’s heart or drive her away from him? Will Elizabeth trust him with her secret? Can she trust him?

There’s an old saying. Be Careful What You Wish For.
I’ve reworked it a little for the tagline of Dark Hero: Guard Your Dreams, Lest They Emerge from the Mists to Embrace You . . . 

Like Heathcliff, Donovan emerges from the mists . . . embrace him at your own risk!
Happy Halloween, everyone. May all your hauntings chill you to the bone and your heroes be dark, sultry, passionate but ultimately redeemable.

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Chills to You, 

Lilith Bloodrose