Emily Bronte’s Birthday

July 30, 2018 marks the bicentennial of the birth of Emily Bronte, best known as the Victorian novelist who wrote Wuthering Heights. That novel, aside from occupying an eternal place in the literary canon, still has the power to captivate the modern reader. This 200th anniversary gives me the excuse to revisit that novel and explore what was so special and original about it as well as celebrate Bronte’s equally powerful and original poetry that takes the Romantic ethos into new regions of narration, form, and theme, as one might expect if a master story teller also happened to be a spiritual Romantic poet.

Emily Bronte was known by very few people during her life, and she did not write letters or keep a journal. As a result, there is a dearth of biographical sources about her. The information provided by her surviving sister, Charlotte, is colored by Charlotte’s own personality, revisionism, and remorse. The best way to know Emily Bronte is through her work: Wuthering Heights and her poetry.

My favorite scenes in Wuthering Heights are Heathcliff digging up Catherine’s grave and Isabella arriving at the Heights as the newly wedded Mrs. Heathcliff. Both scenes combine the strange yet real that permeate the novel and add to its originality. Even if I named twenty favorite scenes, however, none of them would be familiar to anyone who knows the novel as the great love story between Catherine and Heathcliff because not only is the novel so much more than that love story, it is in fact not that love story at all. Rather, it is a generational tale of dependence, addiction, early childhood experience, death, and grief so far ahead of its time that readers in its era and after generally missed its meaning.

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Wuthering Heights takes place over thirty-years, starting in 1774 (not Emily’s generation, but that of her grandparents) in a contained world of two houses, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, situated on the moors of Northern England and within three miles of each other. A saga of sorts, it covers two generations, with certain characters — Heathcliff, Ellen Dean, and Joseph — spanning both generations. The Earnshaws inhabit the Heights, the Lintons the Grange. The story begins in medias res and is told as a long look back mostly through two principal first-person narrators: Lockwood and Nelly Dean (there are other first-person voices heard though letters, but we will leave those aside). Mostly the story is told by Ellen Dean aka Nelly and Mrs. Dean, the longstanding family servant. The frame of her tale is Lockwood’s illness, which keeps him idle, isolated, and bored at Thrushcross Grange for many long weeks; he is curious about what he has seen during his two pre-illness visits to Wuthering Heights and invites Mrs. Dean to tell all. She complies to narrate the story of how Heathcliff came to live at the Heights and the many events that followed throughout the years.  As she tells us, Mr. Earnshaw finds Heathcliff in Liverpool as a little, lost child and brings him home, to the dismay of all in his household.  Everyone dislikes him, including the children, Catherine and Hindley, until Catherine, herself not much liked in the household, befriends him, and they become confederates in mischief making and the resulting punishments. When Mr. Earnshaw dies, Hindley inherits the Heights and takes revenge on Heathcliff for having entered his life and for having supplanted him in the affection of his father.  Hindley marries and sets himself up as the new master of the place. Catherine and Heathcliff escape Hindley’s domination from time to time by running around on the moors, and, on one such excursion, going to Thrushcross Grange, where Edgar and Isabella Linton reside with their parents. Heathcliff and Catherine glimpse through the windows how the other half lives, seeing refinement, warmth, and comfort unknown at the Heights. The peeping Toms are attacked by watch dogs, one of which mangles Catherine’s foot.  She must stay at the Grange to recuperate and finds favor with the Lintons as the daughter of the Earnshaw family, while Heathcliff is reviled and thrown out of the house. Edgar has thus entered the picture and, from this point on, rivals Heathcliff in Catherine’s attention, although Catherine’s affections for Heathcliff have always been as a sister, friend, and playmate. As the relationship between Edgar and Catherine, which is not just fraternal, builds, Heathcliff runs away after overhearing that Catherine has decided to marry Edgar. Catherine and Edgar eventually marry, although Ellen Dean tells us that Edgar is foolishly infatuated to do so and ignorant of Catherine’s real nature.  A few years pass peacefully at Thrushcross Grange, while at Wuthering Heights, Hindley runs riot, drinking and gambling and endangering the life of his son, Hareton;  Hindley’s wife Francis has died shortly after Hareton’s birth, leaving Hindley as bereft a mourner as Heathcliff will prove to be in due course, but in Hindley’s case, he succumbs to the consolation of “reckless dissipation.” Heathcliff returns after several years, having somehow made a sort of gentleman of himself. He has acquired money; having “gone for a soldier” seems the most likely explanation. Heathcliff intends to get a glimpse of old acquaintances and kill himself, but on receiving an effusively warm welcome from Catherine decides to stay and make trouble.  He plots revenge on Hindley by encouraging his drinking and gambling, in particular by lending him money against the ownership of Wuthering Heights, eventually taking title to the place. Heathcliff hangs around the Grange too much and when he is suspected of wooing Isabella, a tense situation between Edgar and Heathcliff comes to a head. As Edgar declares once and for all that Heathcliff’s visits to the Grange and all association with his family must end, Catherine becomes enraged and suffers a relapse of brain fever, which, after causing her to deliver some Shakespearean quality soliloquies, ends her life. Her death sets Heathcliff on his course as the greatest mourner in literature: he twice goes to her grave to unearth her corpse, and the second time, years after her death, opens the coffin to see her again; his grief torments him undiminished. In poetic lines, Heathcliff describes his sorrow to Nelly Dean during various moments of reminiscence. Back to the chronology. While Catherine is ill, Isabella elopes with Heathcliff, as a further example of how silly romantic love can be.  She soon finds out that he is not a dashing hero, but a cruel and hateful demon.  She finally flees the region and has a son named Linton. Right before Catherine dies, she gives birth to a daughter named Catherine, which gives Edgar a reason to carry on, or else he, like Hindley and Heathcliff, would have been consumed by his grief on a life-long basis. Years later, once Isabella dies, Edgar fetches his nephew, young Linton; however, Heathcliff demands him and takes him to Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff intends that his son will marry Edgar’s daughter, securing to him the ownership of Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff orchestrates their meetings, aided by the foolish emotions of love that Catherine imagines she feels for her cousin Linton — the third instance of how foolish and misguided romantic love is.  Linton just does what his father tells him to do because otherwise Heathcliff will torture him. Heathcliff finally succeeds in trapping Catherine at Wuthering Heights and forces her to marry Linton; he also seeks to prevent her from being at her father’s bedside, for Edgar is on the verge of death and has no idea that Catherine is a prisoner at Wuthering Heights. Edgar dies, and Heathcliff forces young Catherine to live at Wuthering Heights. Linton who has been grievously ill from consumption for years, finally dies, opening up the way for Catherine to appreciate her other cousin, Hareton, who has been at the Heights this whole time working as a farm hand.  Heathcliff has raised him as an ignorant, hardworking servant, but has also given free rein to any vice, which has served to endear Heathcliff to Hareton. Catherine and Hareton gradually develop an affection for each other and plan to marry and live at Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff dies, a smile upon his face as if the rapture of joining Catherine in death has descended upon him. Lockwood (our original narrator) assures his listener that all the dead are slumbering peacefully.

To lay to rest “twelve feet under” (as Catherine says about the depth of her grave) the idea that Wuthering Heights is a love story is the first step for revealing the truth about it. A romantic love story view of the novel willfully indulges a proclivity for that kind of tale; if you want a love story, there are many to cozy up to, but this is not one of them. How is there no great romance between Catherine and Heathcliff?  Let me count the ways: they are not lovers; they have been raised from earliest childhood as brother and sister; there is never any incident in the narrative of any physical contact until Catherine is dying and the two finally kiss; when Catherine considers in a childish way the possibility of marriage, she shows a complete lack of understanding of what it entails, and opts for Edgar, foolishly thinking he will make a willing third party in a ménage that includes Heathcliff.  Once Heathcliff is gone, she lives quite happily with Edgar, except for a sigh or two.  Even when Heathcliff returns there is no physical contact or plan for Catherine to run off with Heathcliff, and Heathcliff marries Isabella (although admittedly for revenge).  Obviously Heathcliff has an obsession with Catherine, but something other than romantic love is at work to create the utter dependence this unloved soul has for the only person who has ever been close to him in his orphaned and abused life.  After Catherine dies he becomes not the greatest lover in literature, but the greatest mourner. Incidentally, Edgar and Hindley rival Heathcliff in his attachment to the dead; the presence of three characters in one novel who, respectively, mourn themselves into isolation, dissipation, or obsession suggests the author is trying to express something about death and grief, not romance. The only little bit of Victorian-style romance appears between young Catherine and Hareton; they are two young people who face impediments to their union, but seem suited for each other, and, at the end, their wedding day is set.

Another misconception is that Wuthering Heights is to some degree a Gothic novel.  It is not known whether Emily Bronte ever read one of the gothic tales popular during the turn of the century (the 18th into the 19th), which Jane Austen satirizes in Northanger Abbey.  Even if she had read them, gothic conventions appear Wuthering Heights only in the mind of a reader who insists on finding them. There are no ghosts in the novel, just nightmares and grief; there are no castles with secret passage ways, only a farm house with a garret where Joseph sleeps; there is no stylized heroine frightened by specters, only idiosyncratic and suffering three dimensional characters, dealing with abuse, isolation, addiction, and grief. The moors of the setting are not gothic wilds, but Emily Brontë’s own backyard.

So, what is it really about if not the love story of Heathcliff and Catherine? Next time you read Wuthering Heights, which easily bears numerous readings, lookout for the development of the following topics: death, alcoholism, the lasting effect of childhood experiences, revenge, dependence, and, did I mention, death and more death. Note the number of characters who die and how an attitude toward death and the dead defines all of the major characters. Appreciate the realistic depiction of Hindley as an alcoholic and the psychological prescience of Bronte with regard to the lifelong importance of childhood experiences. Revenge is Heathcliff’s raison d’etre after Catherine dies, and most of the book takes place post-Catherine; the centrality of revenge is seen by the fact that the resolution of his quest for vengeance heralds the end of the entire tale. Revenge is also at work to motivate other characters, Hindley, at various stages in his life, and Isabella.

Misunderstood or not, Wuthering Heights almost failed to attract any notice at all. It was not well received by critics or the public in a spectacular example of just how wrong those two segments of readers can be. It was saved only by extraordinary circumstances: the publication and success of Jane Eyre by Emily’s sister Charlotte.  Charlotte Bronte had written Jane Eyre after Emily had completed Wuthering Heights, but Charlotte succeeded in getting her novel published before Wuthering Heights appeared, having a reputable and diligent publisher, something that Emily and her novel did not have. Both works, as well as Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte, were published under the pen name Bell. Critics and the public suspected that Wuthering Heights by Ellis Bell could also have been the work of Currer Bell, Charlotte’s pen name. That marketable suspicion spurred Emily’s publisher to finally bring the novel to print. One year later, after Emily died, Charlotte, who was on the road to becoming a writer of great renown promoted Wuthering Heights, saving it from oblivion.

One can surmise that the lack of appeal of Wuthering Heights in its day came from the absence of the literarily familiar.  It was ahead of its time and original in every literary particular — character, setting, thematic content, and plot. A housekeeper in a farmhouse is a major character; although ostensibly the narrator, Ellen Dean is a central character who appears in most scenes throughout the novel.  The most prominent character, arguably, is Heathcliff; marred by an abusive childhood, he becomes a callous and even evil presence. He, most notably, has, seriatim, a quasi-incestuous affection, an obsession with a dead woman, and a thirst for vengeance. Catherine, his erstwhile confederate, is a pill: self-indulgent and unappreciative of her patient husband, Edgar.  The characters of the second generation, Catherine (the second) and Linton Heathcliff, far from pursuing a typical romance, marry not from love, but under coercion. The setting is confined to two houses and the moors between in a self-contained world of late 18th Century seclusion.  The novel lacks Christian virtue and contains scenes of alcoholic ravings, degradation, domestic violence, and child abuse.  Brontë’s original and strange blend of stark realism and poetry did not hook the early-Victorian reader. Even today, when readers are not put off by alcoholism, degradation, and domestic violence, many still turn the pages of the novel overlooking her prescient thematic statements on topics such as childhood and death, searching for a love story – one that simply is not there, as I have taken pains to establish above. Whether ahead of its time or in a time warp, the novel defied expectations of early Victorian readers: lacking a protagonist, peopled with reprobates and the irreligious, the novel left readers nonplussed or repelled. Considering the novels that preceded Wuthering Heights, it is clear that there was simply nothing comparable that had been gone before — or after for that matter. The moralistic novels of Richardson or Burney, the picaresque tales of De Foe, the gothic romances, the philosophical treatise of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein do not approach the verisimilitude of psychological portrayal in Wuthering Heights. And indeed, modern readers would immediately feel the lack of psychological truth in those works.  Jane Austen captures the realities of a segment of upper middle-class society, focusing on courtship and marriage, with themes within bounds of acceptable society and language of a non-poetic nature. By contrast, in Wuthering Heights, actions and emotions range far out of established bounds and the language veers into the poetic, especially when death is the topic, making it, for the alert reader, a poetic-prose narrative.

Why has Wuthering Heights suffered the distinction of being so great a subject of distortion in modern times? First, Hollywood and television (even PBS) get a great deal of the blame. What does it matter? First the novel as intended by its author is so much better — original, complex, strange, and prescient — than the diluted and distorted ideas about it. Readers, even those who might well miss much of the book’s idiosyncratic greatness — the thorough treatment of the topic of death and grief, the poetry of the language, the humor of Joseph’s character, the cynical view of romantic love — still found plenty to enthrall, such as the present-as-life characters, the intensity of emotion and the fast-passed and original storytelling that makes this novel not only great literature, but a true page-turner. I hate to think that for many people today, their concept of the novel comes from some movie or television versions (which no doubt have made the title part of modern culture) because there is not one that has ever depicted the entire narrative, remained true to the characters, or that in any way does justice to any part of the novel.

Also, such interpretations traduce the author; to know Emily Brontë is to know that a love story — boy and girl meet, fall in love, face impediments, overcome them, to a typical and satisfying end – would not fit with her actual view of romantic love as revealed to the careful reader of Wuthering Heights and of her poetry (note the foreshadowing — there are other literary works by Emily Brontë we will consider).  The thematic statements in the novel about romantic love are mostly cynical or derogatory.  Real passion comes with grief, following the observation of Byron, “. . . what are a thousand living loves to that which will not quit the dead.”

Aside from surviving a very negative reception to take its place as one of the most recognized novels in the English language, there is more to marvel at: Emily Brontë did not just write an immortal work, she broke new literary ground in doing so. The novel was a fairly new genre at the time and there had been nothing like her novel.  In plotting the history of the novel as a genre, Wuthering Heights makes a sharp spike on the chart.  There had never existed anything of its level of temporal complexity, its range of characters, its realism of scene, sensation, and dialogue, including Yorkshire dialect so authentically reproduced it takes reading out loud with careful attention to get it. How does a semi-educated young woman living in near isolation produce such a thing?  Quests commence to find such answers.

 

Although there is no way to know when Emily Brontë first envisioned the plot or characters of Wuthering Heights, she began committing the tale to paper with the goal of publication ______.  What was her background as a writer that led to producing this groundbreaking, enduring, poetic, prose tale? Since childhood she had immersed herself in an imaginary world called Gondal that she and her sister Anne had created. They invented stories in an ongoing tale that brings to mind a type of Game of Thrones, where bloody battles are won and lost between rival kingdoms, lovers betray one another, and the dungeons are full. From a few extant written statements by Emily, Gondolians and their affairs mattered as much to her as what went on in reality.  Emily and Anne talked about the characters and playacted their episodic plot events rather than necessarily writing about them; in any event, no prose Gondal stories survive. The Gondal characters do turn up in her poems, as many of them are the monologues and dialogues attributed to Gondal princes, lovers, or mourners, blending the poetic and the dramatic. This habitual exercise of the imagination prepared her to create her long prose story; however, for WH, she left behind the exotic and by-gone realms of Gonadal and its noble princes for her own English moorland, in an era a few decades earlier than her own time, inhabited by characters from ordinary walks of life. Also, in considering inspiration for creativity, the storytelling of her father and family servants might have played a part. Creative imagination is crucial to great literature, but so are the writing skills, which Emily had in super abundance without much cultivation. There is no evidence of Emily having done much writing as part of her “eccentric” education, as her father termed it, which took place mostly at home from her father, a little from Charlotte, her slightly older sister, and a lot from herself. She and her sisters (charlotte and Anne)  read poetry and other literary works, the Bible, and the journals and newspapers of the day.  She did write essays at the age of ——during her nine months at the Pensionnat Heger in Brussels, albeit in French, a language that she scarcely knew before arriving in Brussels. She and Charlotte left Haworth in ——-to spend a year at a girl’s boarding school in Brussels, pursuant to Charlotte’s scheme to perfect the French language to add to their qualifications as teachers. It was considered a great accomplishment that Emily did not develop debilitating homesickness and leave before their time was up.  They did in fact leave before the year ended, but only because their Aunt, who had lived with them for twenty-two years since their mother’s death, had died and they returned to mourn with the family. Emily’s French homework exercises, or some of them, do survive and reflect a tone and outlook that is not alien to her personality and other writing, even given the foreign language and forced element of a homework assignment. What else did she write? She had not been practicing her writing through letters or journals, as she did not correspond with anyone, other than a few terse notes. In these, she seems determined to expend as few words as possible, as if she were texting. Aside from a few scraps of paper, she kept no accounts of life around the parsonage and certainly nothing that delved into her own state of mind as a diary or letter would do. Last, her penchant for and practice at writing poetry, discussed later, must not be overlooked as influential on her abilities and style as a novelist.

Of course Emily was not alone in deciding she could and would write a novel, as her sisters, Charlotte and Anne, at the same time undertook their respective works: Charlotte, The Professor and Anne, Agnes Grey. For all three, a literary career at this juncture in their lives represented a desperate attempt to make a living, and during the period of writing and seeking publication it is hard to talk about Emily alone as much as about “the three sisters.”  Early Victorian England offered women few options: marry, live as a dependent on family members, or work as a governess or school teacher. None of those choices were attractive to any of the three sisters.  Emily particularly, with her reclusive nature and need for personal and artistic freedom, would not have survived in the subservient role of governess surrounded by strangers. The Brontë family was genteel, but poor.  Emily’s father, the Reverend Patrick Brontë was a priest in the Church of England. He had only managed to attend       _college by admission as a sizar (a student receiving a scholarship based on need and merit that supported a very ascetic lifestyle.) His curacy in Haworth, a small town in Yorkshire, yielded a very small income to support his family, which at one time included a wife and six children. Aside from his salary as a curate, Patrick Brontë had no family wealth, having been born into abject poverty in Ireland. As an aside at this point, we can take note that two of England’s greatest novelists (Emily and Charlotte Brontë) were as much Irish as English by birth.

By the time of young adulthood, Emily’s mother had been long deceased as were her two oldest sisters. As Patrick Brontë advanced into old age, the harsh reality loomed: the three sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, would be out of their home, the parsonage, and entirely on their own once their father died.  Thus far, their lives reads like a Victorian novel: Motherless, genteel young ladies face the prospect of losing the family homestead and the company of each other as each will be forced to take up the weary life of a governess. Their plan to run a boarding school, which would allow them to remain together, fails miserably. And the plot thickens: the only boy of the family, Branwell, and the erstwhile focus of the hopes of the family, suffers from alcoholism, gambles recklessly, and finally becomes ill with tuberculosis.

The turning point in the narrative of Emily’s life comes when she decides to write WH. Although all three sisters took up writing a novel, judging from the situation at the time, it seems to me that it was initially Emily’s notion. Charlotte, who had been the main instigator of opening and running a boarding school, was still thinking along the lines of teaching and was pre-occupied with her experience in Belgium, including in particular her infatuation with her mentor in Brussels, Monsieur Heger. After a period of time at home, Charlotte returned to teach and continue her studies in Brussels on her own, as Emily opted to stay and take care of the parsonage. Anne had been working as a governess for a wealthy family named Robinson.  Her pupils became quite attached to her, and she would have continued with the family had not Branwell, who was also employed by the Robinsons as a tutor for the son of the family, been dismissed for impropriety with the lady of the house. Emily, however, had been at home with an unencumbered mind; given the role of imagination in her life, she was no doubt visualizing Heathcliff and Co. on the moors as she took her daily excursions. From a coincidence of circumstances, Charlotte returned from Brussels and Anne came back with Branwell in ignominy,  to find the three sisters, together again. They turned to their lifelong penchant for storytelling and writing. With no connections in the publishing or literary world, the move was bold, financially risky, and even quixotic. An earlier attempt at publication, in that case a volume of poetry, had not gone well; the sisters had paid to have the volume published and sold almost no copies. The attempt to produce three novels would also be expensive from the cost of paper, pens, ink, and mailing the manuscripts, and would be a great financial risk if they were again to pay to publish. The little money they had at their disposal for both current expenses and future savings was running low from paying Branwell’s gambling debts. Whether desperation galvanized genius or genius took the opportunity, Emily and her sisters had the courage of their conviction in their literary powers. They wrote mainly late at night after their father went to bed.  He knew they were up to something, but was a remarkably laissez-faire parent, and even supportive when called upon to be, certainly not the typical domineering and restrictive father one might imagine for the era. When it came time to submit their work to publishers, the sisters gave themselves the pseudonym “Bell” and, to disguise their gender, adopted male-sounding first names: Ellis, Currer, and Acton. Charlotte would give up after numerous rejections on publishing The Professor to write Jane Eyre and would succeed in seeing it published before the other two novels appeared in print. The delay for WH resulted from the dubious business practices of its publisher, who eventually fulfilled his obligations once Jane Eyre showed signs of success when he thought the name of Bell would be a selling point. It did not prove to be; the confusion (fostered by the unscrupulous or ignorant such as Emily’s publisher) about the authorship of WH and the possibility that it was by the same author as Jane Eyre, did not boost the popularity of WH.  Emily and Anne had paid their dilatory publisher fifty pounds for a deal that required their works to appear together as a three-volume work—the standard at the time for literary works in three volumes linked these two completely unrelated novels. WH finally appeared for sale in 1846 and was on the whole unappreciated by the public, critics, and even Charlotte and Anne.  At the time of Emily’s death, the novel showed no signs of enjoying a modest sale, much less of entering the literary canon. She had every reason to believe that she would take her characters with her to her grave.

If Emily Brontë started another novel after WH, she kept it a secret and destroyed the pages. I do not doubt that she was fully capable and inclined to keep secrets and destroy pages, but nonetheless I do not think that she did begin writing another novel.  Charlotte, jettisoned The Professor and penned Jane Eyre; Anne turned rather quickly to write The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.  The difference between Emily and her two sisters on this score is that she returned to writing poetry, as she was the true poet of the three.  Which brings us back to answering the question of what the novel is really all about. To really get the fullest understanding of her novel, one must realize that the novel shares its DNA with her poetry.

The canonical novelist was first and maybe one could even say foremost a poet.  She wrote poetry before, during, and after writing Wuthering Heights. Some of her poetic work was published in a volume containing poems by the three sisters, which they paid to publish. It did not launch the poetic career of any of the three sisters, although one lone critic found Emily’s poems, i.e. those by Ellis Bell, to have emotional power. Circumstances can certainly be blamed for her poetry not receiving its due, not only during her time, but also from later Victorian readers.  As for contemporary failure, she had no social or literary cliques to promote her.   For English poets, the status of an outsider, whether from class, location, or station in life, posed an impediment, such as for Thomas Chatterton and John Keats, who were not among the upper class.  Although as the daughter of a clergyman Emily was not lower-class, as Keats was, she had not attended Oxford or Cambridge or developed literary social circles. Above all, she could not have overcome her gender. Even later in the 19th Century, when the name of Brontë sparked an interest that might have compensated for Emily’s lack of literary connections, she would have faced a stalwart bias against women. Poetry was always a male bastion. Who was a woman poet from any period of English literature? The literary canon admits none for centuries. The mid to late Victorian poets, such as those who rescued John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley from near oblivion, were not going to take up and promote a woman poet. Women, such as Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Frances Burney, and the Brontë sisters, might write novels, but not poetry. I have heard that Emily Dickenson read Emily Brontë’s poetry, and I would love to know where I read that Henry James liked to chant Brontë’s poem “Cold in the Earth.” Whether those two writers valued her work or not, they did not do enough to promote it, and her poetry never did take off.  There might be someone, such as a university English professor, who would challenge the assertion that Emily’s poetry was marginalized, but I would reply with the question: who knows that Emily Brontë was as much a poet as a novelist or that she was a poet at all? Without a revival by later poets or critics, Emily’s poetry rested below the surface, but luckily did not disappear due to its shared authorship with WH.  Brontë scholars of the 20th and 21st Centuries get the credit for the availability of her poetry to the reading public  – many who write critically about WH and study the work and lives of the Brontës eventually find their way to her poetry and thereby do their little part by discussing it in scholarly journals or obscure books.

There are few novelists who are also great poets — so few that it is hard to name any who truly have equal fictional and poetic talents, but Emily Brontë was such a writer.  Continuing in the tradition of Romantic poetry, her work shows traces of George Gordon Lord Byron in theme and diction, but she enthralls with her own vigorous, arresting statements, with no half measures in sentiment or realism. At times the thematic statements make a reader do a double take—“is she really saying that?” one must ask on a first reading of certain poems. For example, her advocacy for suicide  in Death that struck when I was most confiding in a certain faith of joy to be…..

She seemed to have taken John Keats’s advice to Percy Bysshe Shelly to “load every rift with ore.”  Take this poem for example packed full to the brim:

Where, writhing ‘neath the strokes of Fate,
The mangled wretch was forced to smile;
To match his patience ‘gainst her hate,
His heart rebellious all the while.
Where Pleasure still will lead to wrong,
And helpless Reason warn in vain;
And Truth is weak, and Treachery strong;
And Joy the surest path to Pain;
And Peace, the lethargy of Grief;
And Hope, a phantom of the soul;
And life, a labour, void and brief;
And Death, the despot of the whole!

;The impassioned portrayal of love that is erroneously attributed to WH does appear in one of her poems,-“At such a time in such a spot.” She wrote more poems about love in all its phases, but only that one describes requited romantic love.  The rest explore other potential emotions accompanying or following a romance—disappointment, weariness, nostalgia, and love turned to hate.

Her poetry lends an understanding of Wuthering Heights that can be achieved in no other way, as two works share themes, diction, tone, and characterization. It also serves an important biographical purpose, as it reveals her personality and thoughts that are unknowable otherwise, since Emily hardly left a scrap of a letter, journal entry, or other writing to give us clues about what was going on in her unusual mind. Taking the novel and her poetic work together there is little doubt that she was obsessed with death and that she had decided views on love, childhood, traditional religion, and an after-life.

Insights into her novel and her life aside, the real reason to read her poetry is because it offers the arresting and lyrical expression of ideas on nature, love, death, imagination, spirituality, freedom, hope, despair and such topics that express the woes of humanity and give what consolation there might be.

Observations of a Poet

They (nonhuman animals) are called into existence by human artifice that they may drag out a short and miserable existence of slavery and disease, that their bodies may be mutilated, their social feelings outraged. It were much better that a sentient being should never have existed, than that it should have existed only to endure unmitigated misery.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1815

Stoicism: No Guarantee of Logic or Morality

I have on several occasions questioned certain authors, typically ones who write about nonhuman animals, about whether their discovery that non-humans are  intelligent, social, and emotional has led to the ineluctable conclusion that those creatures should not be abused, killed, and eaten. In response, I have encountered illogic and ersatz ethics to support the insensate continuation of culturally ingrained practices. I wasn’t expecting to come across yet another specious justification for participating in the meat machine when I picked up a book on Stoicism, but, as you will see from the letter I wrote to the author, he raised the topic, exhibiting  willful ignorance.  I have not included his response, but, like the others mentioned above, he has not yet found the courage to face facts.

Dear Mr. Pigliucci,

I have been reading your book How to be A Stoic. I consider myself a practicing Stoic, having got my start several years ago by reading William Irvine.  Then, I read Seneca, the Enchiridion, and Marcus Aurelius.  I was curious to see what practical application you were making of Stoicism. On that topic of ways in which Stoicism plays out in our daily lives, you raised the question of food.

On page 68, you say that one cannot calculate “just how many animals suffer and die when you take up a vegetarian diet, because large scale cultivation radically alters the environment of the planet depriving a number of wild animal species of ecological space.”   One underlying assumption is simply inaccurate: that a vegetarian diet would necessarily require more plant farming.  To the contrary, the existing footprint of cultivation would not become larger (maybe it would become smaller) because currently plants are cultivated for the consumption of animals that could be given to humans. Frances Moore Lappe in Diet for a Small Planet established many years ago that, if humans ate the plants under cultivation for animals, world hunger would cease. However, even if we imagine that more land would be cultivated with some effect on some species of wildlife, such effect could not approach the current suffering of farmed animals. To conclude otherwise suggests a lack of awareness of the suffering caused to produce all of the meat and dairy that is consumed: thousands of animals on a daily basis suffer and face terrifying and violent deaths.  That is simply the truth that you can discover for yourself if you choose to look into how chickens, turkeys, pigs and cattle are raised.  If you would care to take a look at the experience of animals put on a stock trailer and unloaded at the slaughterhouse and then look and listen to what goes on there and then magnify that into the millions, you could not question that, whatever else might result from “a vegetarian diet,” that spectacle should end.

Production of food like all human activities has an environmental impact, and, although my concern is mainly with ending suffering and killing of animals, there is no question scientifically that meat production is one of the worst producers of greenhouse gasses. (See https://www.chathamhouse.org/publication/livestock-climate-change-forgotten-sector-global-public-opinion-meat-and-dairy).

As a philosopher, you seem to have determined that morality extends only to humans. I assume you are familiar with Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation. After Seneca, that book was the most influential I have ever read. There is no moral justification for cruelty to animals except the maxim “might makes right.”  Intuitively that rule strikes me as wrong; deontologically, it is a poor rule to serve as a universal maxim; my experience indicates it is not conducive to the general welfare.

I have found that Stoicism supports morality that includes nonhumans. Just as Stoicism made you think about not wanting to be part of a bank that had engaged in disreputable practices, it has influenced me to conclude that, despite the way I was raised or what my culture dictates, I can and should make the reasoned decision to not be part of a process that inflicts suffering and death—whatever other options might exist, easy or not, that one is clear.

Sincerely,

Laura Inman

Dinner with an Animal Lover

I had dinner with a long-lost friend a few years ago. As I have experienced before and since, such reunions are exciting in anticipation and satisfying in the shared memories but do not typically demand a sequel.  The lack of further dinners is relevant to explain why I never got the chance to follow up on the most salient point in the evening, which arose from the following anecdote.  Why exactly she related this story to me, I can’t remember, but she told me that her daughter was on the verge of buying a house in the northwest, where she resides, but absolutely could not do so because there were some cows that lived very close by on the other side of a shared fence.  The rural nature of the property appealed, but the problem was that she knew that inevitably the cows would be taken for slaughter and would no longer be there.  Her daughter would find the daily reminder posed by their absence disturbing. I was quite impressed that her daughter was sensitive to the realities of farmed animals –that even those who live in the best of bucolic settings exist as a commodity and face the stock truck ride to the slaughterhouse, complete with all the terror that hell could ever hope to mimic.

The waiter appeared as if on cue after the conclusion of this story and took our order. With god as my witness, and I would not have the nerve to make this up, she ordered steak.  First, she asked if I minded. I did not eat meat and must have expressed that to her or else she would not have asked my permission, but I was so flabbergasted that I did not know what to say, other than to mumble something about ordering what she wanted.  Now, I would react differently.  Now, I would suggest that her ordering steak was incongruous with the concern for the cow, which, by the way, was not just her daughter’s sentiment but also her own. I would ask with genuine interest how someone could care for one cow and eat another. I missed an opportunity to encourage a meat eater to face her food.

She is not the worst offender when it comes to the hypocrisy of “loving animals” on the one hand and eating them on the other (the culmination of much suffering to the animal and in many cases its companions, not to mention loss of life). The category of the worst hypocrite goes to those who hold themselves out as scientists of some sort, who have studied animals and have concluded with much fanfare that lo and behold animals too have thoughts, social bonds, emotions, and are way smarter than “we” ever thought, yet they still relish a good piece of animal flesh to chew. Such scientists have found yet another way to exploit animals—this time for their professional aggrandizement. When called out on the disconnect, they reveal a stunning lack of thought, responding like robots programmed with certain data:  we eat animals, that is what we do. If they are uncomfortable with a mindless answer like that, then, even worse, they indulge in a pseudo-scientific response: “I have seen a lot of predation in nature, so I am part of that circle of life.”  How facile is this statement, let me count the ways: not all animals are predators, so if you are looking to nature for an example, why choose the lion over the giraffe? And if you align yourself with the lion, please don’t insult that creature who has to kill in order to survive by comparing it to yourself or the mighty modern-day hunter.  No one could say with any honesty that he has to kill deer to survive; probably step one of a hunting we go is a stop off at McDonald’s to maintain that paunch. Now let us strain our credulity to the max and consider how  predation in nature bears any resemblance to the farm — to the crates of confined chickens, the cruelly immobilized pigs, the mutilated turkeys, the transport truck to the slaughter house. I think the pseudo-scientists next area of study should be animal behavior when animals are separated from their young prematurely, when they lose their mind from overcrowding and confinement, when they confront the confusion of suddenly finding themselves crammed onto a truck, and when they hear, smell, and see death.

 

 

Happy Birthday Mary’s Son

As the bumper stickers clamor at this time of year (and actually year-round) to keep the Christ in Christmas, I will do so by pondering a question that no doubt Christian theologians have explored and probably argued about, and, if other differences of arcane matters are any indication, such arguments might have been the basis for several years of righteous religious war. The question is about the baby Jesus.  Is he to be considered half human because his mother was mortal, or was he a divine creature planted in Mary, who was merely a vessel, like a woman who has had the eggs of another woman fertilized extra-utero and then implanted in her.  Both positions, and I can’t come up with any other options, lead to curious questions.

The first view that Mary was actually a mother, in the sense that she gave Jesus half of his genetic material, means that god impregnated her with god-sperm. A mortal woman visited by a god is of course very common in Greek mythology whether the woman was willing or raped. In those cases, the baby is clearly only half immortal –a very special human certainly but not an Olympian.  Jesus is called the son of god, but Mary is also called his mother — but is he ever called the son of Mary?  I have never heard that phrase. In favor of the position that Jesus was indeed Mary’s son and inherited half her genetic material is that Jesus appeared very mortal. Even though he is purported to have done a few miraculous things, still he is not godlike during his life. His non-godlike status is after all a large part of his appeal: he was one of us in a sense and could suffer; there is no question he suffered and gods do not suffer.

As for the second explanation –that Jesus was all god, nonhuman planted in Mary — the most obvious question is why go to all that trouble? Mary and Joseph could have found an infant alongside the path to Bethlehem and simply acted as his adoptive parents.  One might counter that assertion though – since anything is possible, without regard to any biological reality — that god planted an entire organism in the earliest fetal stages to miraculously (yes that’s the operative word) grow to term inside the woman’s body in order to have a birth; a birth was necessary. A finding under a bush or elsewhere would not do because of the obvious symbolism of a birth: newness and the opportunity for redemption by that new life. We would have to celebrate the day Jesus was found by the side of the road and brought to live with Joseph and Mary, and that is just not as definitive and inspiring as the day of a birth. Odd in a way that this birth story wasn’t syncretized with the spring-time pagan rituals celebrating fertility and birth — someone wanted the celebration of birth near the advent of winter maybe as an archetypal-juxtaposition of birth with death, the latter of which is represented by the cold and dormant time of the year. To what end such an archetypal device might serve, god knows. Oh, I forgot, though, for springtime we have a sort of rebirth with the resurrection.

Of course, both story lines are unfettered by reality, and since one impossible story is no more or less impossible than another, we can feel free to pick one. I think that (for non-theologians at least),  the choice is a matter of esthetics. I would be strongly in favor of the first version, but I can see it suggests a kind of sexual act (or at least fertilizing of a female egg) that the Greeks didn’t mind but seem inappropriate in the Christian context. Nonetheless, in favor of this view is the following: if Jesus acquired, naturally, half of his genetic makeup from Mary, then, given the new research on genetics, Jesus’s humanness means that much of humanity has some relationship to him, just as we also on the flip side might have some relation to Nero or Attila the Hun. (See Adam Rutherford and A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived.)

Either way, patriarchy is lurking here. Mary goes to the trouble of pregnancy, gives birth in the cold, puts up with strangers who drop in, bringing nothing of use for a newborn (incense and myrrh), but her baby is “the son of god.”

Civics Quiz

Here is a civics quiz: which is the wording of the Second Amendment:

  1. In order for the people to feel secure in their homes, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
  2. A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
  3. The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

The answer is B.

Given that the American colonies had relied on a militia to overthrow the British government, having a militia would have seemed pretty important at the time.  Also, it was not at all clear that the new government would not be subject to tyrants whom the people would also have to depose in order to keep the State free: for example, there was a fear that the office of the president was the first step to establishing another form of monarchy. (Even now, I have felt a fear of the office of the president lately, so it is easy to imagine that the fear was reasonable at the time).

One of the mysteries is how the Supreme Court found in that wording, so precise and such a product of the time, a general right to keep guns, semi-automatic rifles, unlimited ammunition for any and all purposes: hunting, recreation, protection, delusions, and just for fun. The mystery is not dispelled by reading the Supreme Court decision, a  piece of work that gives the legal profession its due as capable of constructing an argument that effectively dispenses with common sense. Suffice it to say, the Supreme Court has blood on its hands; it missed an opportunity to establish the simple truth behind simple words, an exercise in responsibility that would have saved countless lives, prevented untold suffering and grief, and would prevent all the deaths and suffering still to come –because of course there will be so many more shootings.

What is as bad as the tortured arguments of the Supreme Court wrung out of a legal mind to achieve a desired goal in the guise of stare decisis analysis, are the puny and pointless measures proposed to address the misinterpretation of the Second Amendment and address the gun culture: background checks, limits of rounds of ammunition; banning a piece that turns a killing machine into a bit better killing machine. I heard on NPR, by a proponent of gun ownership, that not one measure that has been proposed would have had any effect on the shootings that have occurred. He is right of course. Just like Trump’s travel ban has no relevance to any terrorist attack we have ever known, those measures will not stop the carnage. Only dispensing with the Second Amendment, as erroneously and absurdly interpreted, will achieve the goal. Gasp!! Overturn something the founders wrote?  It has happened before that some 18th Century notions do not stand the test of time and amendments are in order –and in this case, it defies logic to think that any one of them would have countenanced the current state of guns in this country — at least there is no evidence that they had a particular tolerance for the mass murder of children.

All rights are limited in a society to the degree they run up against other rights –old idea to which I refer you to John Stuart Mill.  Sorry, folks, you want to own guns –semi automatics, Saturday night specials, Glocks, rifles, and high powered scopes, whatever your killing toy — but your joy is at the base of hundreds of dead children, untold sorrow and a creeping rational fear that we are not free to live with safety in the “free State.”

And the Winner of the Most Valid Protest Award Is . . . .

If you have taken even little steps into the world of activism for animal rights, you might have experienced, and likely will if you persevere, the opponent who challenges your actions on the grounds that you should be fighting for a different cause. I suspect that argument only arises when the activist’s cause is not focused on humans. Do anti- abortion activists encounter foes who, rather than asserting that the fetus is a sui generis dependent on another individual and that the woman has the right to her own body, clamor that the abortion protester should be taking on the lack of prayer in school, or the protection of confederate monuments, or the right to carry semi-automatic weapons into Whole Foods. Likewise, do the “black lives matter” activists fend off challenges that they should be supporting the LGBT community protest on the other side of town rather than gathering to protest police brutality?  I doubt it. The “there are more important things to protest” argument is unique to opponents of animal rights protests because the argument comes from the speciesism that gives rise to the protests in the first place. (Speciesism is the view that humans and human affairs are all that matter because our species is the best and the only one to which morality applies). Thus, for example, in response to my sidewalk protest against the production of foie gras, naysayers (including the restaurateurs selling the stuff) did not challenge my protest on the merits by claiming,  hum . . . let’s say, that force feeding birds until their livers nearly burst isn’t really isn’t so bad, or that the birds have no feelings, or that torture is okay as long as the human with gets his “delicacy,”  but rather by asserting that  I should be concerned with something else. For heaven’s sake!! There were black people in the community!! and therefore the only valid protest was “black lives matter.” (For the record, that was certainly not the view of the great majority of the people whom I encountered in that community that I had “infiltrated”). This sideways argument is really one of the most satisfying for the animal activist’s opponent because it skirts the real issue and veers into the impossibility of justifying a moral act objectively, given that in reality all morality is subjective. All notions or right and wrong begin with personal emotion: a person will determine that something is “right” or “wrong” because of an emotional response.  From there, the thinking human will develop a system, either rule based (deontological) or utilitarian, for determining his moral code that all should follow because we like to have people around us whose actions comport with our ideas of right and wrong (for our safety and comfort).   Activism is the product of morality of course because the activist has determined within his or her system of morality whether a practice is wrong and immoral and should change. Therefore, one protest cannot be defended as more worthwhile because that assumes they have objective value, which they don’t.

If proving that morality is subjective is too much for the sidewalk confrontation, here are some points to counter the argument that there are more important things to protest. First, advocating for one cause does not mean a lack of concern for another; there is no relationship between causes such that one is diminished because I have raised my protest sign for the other. Hypothetically, there could be two protests going one in one place at the same time, such that the one I choose would actually benefit from the addition of my voice to the detriment of the other; however, hypothetical is the operative word—no such situation is going to occur. Even if that fictional construct were to occur, the person who joins one protest rather than the other is doing more than the person who doesn’t show up for either (that is assuming one believes that activism makes a difference—a different and troubling question beyond the current discussion). Second, putting causes in order of intrinsic importance is like creating a triage of horribles.  Elie Wiesel, whom I heard speak many years ago, when asked if the plight of certain peoples was not as bad as what happened to the Jews, simply responded that you can’t compare horribles. Similarly, if you campaign to raise money for research to defeat breast cancer what does that say about your lack of concern for prostate cancer, lung cancer, Alzheimer’s, or leukemia, or . . . I could keep going. Can you say breast cancer is more horrible than those afflictions and more deserving of your efforts?  Would anyone try to attempt the justification that breast cancer is “worse” objectively?  Of course, not.  Probably the answer to “why breast cancer” would be that so and so whom you loved had it or you fear getting it—pure emotion.

Third, always putting human concerns first in the list of things to protest is a species bias, just as racism and sexism is a bias that advances the interests of one more powerful group over those of a less powerful group, making the maxim “might makes right” a valid moral code, something I am not comfortable with for my own safety and welfare. Also, Suffering and death are as close to being objectively horrible as anything could be. Such suffering and death, inflicted to an unimaginable extent on nonhumans, are unnecessary in every way and the willingness to inflict such torment and deprivation clings to us as a vestige of an unquestioned barbarity in our culture. Last, the victims are among the most defenseless and helpless because they cannot speak; if I were defenseless and mute, I would want help—I am just doing what I would want done for me.

 

Comfort Yourself

Many Stoic precepts have gained traction in our modern society, such as abandoning the quest for happiness through material goods, keeping in mind that each day could be your last, and valuing the present. However, the injunction in Stoicism against complaining and turning to others for solace finds no home in today’s world where, to the contrary, we are encouraged to visit mental health workers and share the vicissitudes of life with friends, both real and on Facebook.  Stoicism does not denounce unloading your emotional turmoil on others because it is in poor taste but rather because it does not help and indeed makes things worse.  Modern psychology has instilled in us the idea that “one must talk about it,” however, where is the proof that doing so helps?   In such a realm, anecdotal evidence reigns supreme, which does not count as proof.  I am as good of an anecdotal source as the next person, so I will not only describe how experience has taught that turning to others does not help but also explain why.

First, laying your troubles on others does not lead to getting over them; the talking constitutes rehearsing them and making them even more present in your life.  There is no real basis for concluding that by the act of talking you somehow expunge a sentiment from your life.  Of course, for psychologists, the idea of your talking to them is self-serving. I have talked to psychologists about various topics without one grain of improvement.  Instead, the fact that I was seeking professional help created righteous validation for my feelings and gave them more strength and traction. If you want to remember something and make it seem terribly important, rehearse it—go over it again and again.  Aside from the paid listeners, the same is true for friends, except they might grow weary and start to eventually resent hearing your hardship or decide that your complaining is an invitation to lay bare their grief, sadness, disappointment etc. After all, the person to whom you are unloading your parcel of trouble has his or her own hands full.  I must draw a distinction between seeking solace from others and seeking advice.  Asking someone for example:  should I take a trip to Italy this summer on my own after my spouse has just died.  I am concerned that I will feel lonely.  Any ideas?  To which your friend could suggest that you do or don’t go, or take a tour with others, or go with her to France instead. Or, you have suffered a severe setback and tell your spouse that you no longer find life to hold any joy.  He or she might be the kind to give you a helpful pep talk –just as likely he or she will pointlessly commiserate, or think “geez, I’m doing everything I can in this relationship.” If however, you seek advice on some proposal to improve your mood, then that gives the spouse something to work with.

With regard to grief, culture has recognized not the need to seek solace but the need to recognize the finality of death and bid farewell. After the ceremony has occurred, you are on your own to suffer your grief with your own resources simply because no one — no friend, no psychologist — will make it any better and reaching out for others is not only pointless for you but tiresome for them.  Does that mean that the suffering cannot be addressed?  Absolutely not.  There are ways that stem from bringing reason to bear. You can consider that your suffering is the common lot of all animals (and not just humans, mind you! Humans don’t even mate for life to a large extent, yet we like to think we have a monopoly on grief.) Consider grief as natural and loss as the way of things: you might as well shake your fist at the sun as rail against death. Second, meditation might quell anxiety.  Third, take action.  Even if you do something that you don’t enjoy, having it end and just getting back to home can bring solace whereas before the walls were closing in. Fourth, just give it up; just accept you don’t feel good; forgive yourself if that is part of the problem. In the end, a lot of sadness comes from expectations: turn down the dial on expectations and hoping. And, last, avoid people who foist their emotional narratives on others implicitly suggesting that they are special in their suffering.

Shame on Jane Smiley

John Keats criticized Lord Byron for treating serious things lightly and light things seriously. The latter is the lesser of the evils and not at issue here.  As to the former, Byron’s treatment of shipwrecked, starving sailors resorting to cannibalism in “Don Juan” is a good example.  There is nothing of the truth of the suffering, anguish, desperation, or horror of such a plight, but rather a jaunty rhyme with a humorous tone. The disunion of topic and style reminds me of certain songs where the lyrics address serious subjects like child abuse but are conveyed by a rollicking tune in a major key. There are two possible literary justifications for making light of horrible circumstances: satire and black humor. Serious and even horrible events are presented with humor fueled by exaggeration or understatement in order to expose human foibles, such as hypocrisy, ignorance, intolerance, and so many more. Candide comes to mind as the standout example of that.  Second, black humor has a deeper purpose than simply treating awful things in a funny manner. With a nihilistic bent, writers of black humor look at suffering as absurd rather than pitiful, purposefully turning away from the usual and natural emotional reaction to make a point about pointlessness. However, satire is not Byron’s objective or effect at least in those scenes such as the shipwreck, and Keats did not exculpate Bryon by considering him satirical rather than grossly insensitive. Not only does Byron not come across as a satirist, he does not qualify as a nihilist. He is too truly a Romantic to be a nihilist.

Keats’s criticism of Byron came to mind while I was reading a moderately engaging and alternately off-putting novel by Jane Smiley, Moo University, because I found myself reacting to her description of the life and death of a pig as Keats did to Byron’s shipwrecked sailors.  In this novel, horrible things are happening to a pig, but the author insists on treating the situation with levity suitable for outright comedy, tricking the uninitiated into thinking that there is nothing wrong with the treatment of the pig. The pig has a name and is taken out of commodity-status and made individual not only by having a name but by having thoughts that the omniscient narrator relates, just as she does the thoughts of the humans in the story.  Purportedly getting into the mind of nonhuman animals is something of a signature for Smiley but she betrays them at every turn in this novel and might not even be close to right about their thoughts in her other novels, such as Horse Heaven. In the novel in question, the pig is kept hidden in total isolation, inside, on a concrete floor without any contact except a student who shows up to clean out his stall and give him food, and such food is part of the abuse because he is overfed purposefully to the point of causing him pain throughout his legs and feet. A climax of one of the story lines occurs when the building in which the big has been imprisoned is bulldozed; the terrified creature runs across campus and drops dead. He then is butchered and eaten.  As I write those bare incidents, it would seem very difficult to portray any humor in that situation, so I suppose it is to Smiley’s credit as a writer that she can pull that off (assuming she does and readers join in the “fun”); but it is equally to her discredit if she does so succeed and that she uses her talents to that end. If Smiley thought that readers were insightful and thoughtful enough to see past her overtly light-hearted treatment of the pig to realize that she was actually encouraging readers to see the evil, she is wrong — there is no evidence to suggest she aimed at leading readers to conclude that treating pigs as commodities is cruel. If she intended some form of satire, she fails because most readers will take it at face value. In this novel, the abuse of the pig is nothing and it is merely mildly humorous how he gets free and runs despite how grossly fat he is and, hee! hee!, winds up as bacon!

Shame on you Jane Smiley. Anyone who has the ability to affect the way the ordinary person considers nonhuman animals has an opportunity—you not only missed it, you added to the ignorant immorality rife among us.