Author: Alison Case
Let me start by saying that I LOVE Wuthering Heights, it is one of my all time favourite books. I have read it multiple times and have tried to catch all the movies if they happen to be on, I even love the Kate Bush song inspired by the tale. It should come as no surprise to learn that as soon as I heard about Nelly Dean I knew I had to read it, and as soon as possible.
I must say that I spent a lot of time debating whether or not I should reread Wuthering Heights and refamiliarise myself with the characters before starting Nelly Dean. In the end I couldn’t wait so I didn’t worry about it and it really wasn’t necessary, even those who haven’t read Wuthering Heights at all will not lack understanding of the storyline; it is a complete tale of its own. Having now finished Nelly Dean and loved it I am going to go back and reread Wuthering Heights just to mesh the two completely in my mind.
Having prefaced with all of that I am going to try and concentrate solely on Nelly Dean as I review, because it is a beautiful debut that will most definitely stand on its own merits.
Nelly Dean is written from the perspective of Ellen Dean the one time housekeeper at Wuthering Heights. She begins a letter to Mr Lockwood, the tenant of Thrushcross Grange she told the tale of Heathcliff and Cathy, talking of finding some things he left behind but also promising to finish telling the tale she began in front of the fire.
The story begins as a letter to Mr Lockwood and I think in the beginning she meant to send it along to him but the more she writes and the further into the tale, and her memories, she delves the less inclined she is to have it for anyone’s eyes. It becomes clear that she has addressed the tale to Mr Lockwood out of convenience, to give her a reason to put it all on paper but as all her secrets are laid bare she becomes less comfortable with having them seen; but not uncomfortable enough to stop writing them down and committing her whole story to paper.
Wuthering Heights was largely the story of Heathcliff and Cathy told by Nelly as an onlooker, Nelly Dean on the other hand is her story. This is the story of Nelly, all of her trials and triumphs. She takes the story back to the beginning with her early childhood growing up with the Earnshaw children when she was very nearly one of the family.
Nelly takes us from her early childhood through the arrival of Heathcliff and her beginning her life of service in the Earnshaw household and all of the things she faced that we never could have imagined.
Alison Case has taken a much loved classic and enriched it, unlike many others who have tried to add to the classics she hasn’t written a sequel to show what happens next and reimagined the leads futures. Case has walked into this classic and sat herself in the shoes of the housekeeper and given her depth, given her heart and certainly given her more than her fair share of suffering.
Much as I knew I had to read this book I was still a little hesitant, a little worried about how this might turn out. Wuthering Heights was an extremely atmospheric gothic historical novel and I was concerned about how another author may tamper with that atmosphere. I don’t think I had anything to worry about, Case kept the atmosphere intact even though she did add a much more mundane side to the story. In Nelly Dean we learn more about the everyday running of the house and the duties undertaken by each of the servants, we also see just where Nelly fits into the story and the parts she played in the drama; a lot of which we had never heard of previously.
Case has headed to the heart of the household and shown us a lot of the hows and the whys that we would never have begun to imagine. I feel the need to go back to Wuthering Heights with my newfound understanding and read it again, to watch things play out.
I love Nelly Dean, I have a new respect for the character and all that she went through to try and be the saviour of the family; for everything she put herself through from a sense of duty. I love her character but I also love this book. I love the new perspective, except that it isn’t really a new persepctive because Wuthering Heights was also told by Nelly Dean. I love the new depth added by learning Nelly’s story as it relates to the Earnshaw family. I am just in love with this book and I am thrilled to find that Case enriched the original story.
Nelly Dean is the debut novel of Alison Case, who has also published books and articles on 19th century British fiction and poetry. I look forward to seeing what more her career has in store for us, I will certainly be watching out for it.