There are many ghosts to fear at Wuthering Heights, that remote farmhouse situated on the moors in Yorkshire. Those who have read Emily Bronte’s extraordinary tale of love and hatred will remember one restless spirit who frightens a guest sleeping in her bedroom. During his harrowing visit, Nelly Dean told Mr. Lockwood what she remembered about life with the Earnshaws, but there were pieces of the story she left out, pieces that bother her. While Lockwood moves to Italy for the improvement of his health, Alison Case brings to life what might have happened to the faithful servant who was once called the salvation of the Earnshaw family.
Nelly Dean is the debut novel of Alison Case, a professor at Williams College in Massachusetts and author of two books on
19th-century British literature. The novel is written in the form of a letter to Mr. Lockwood after he inquires about the residents at the Heights. Nelly explains to him that the story she told him was but a half-told tale because no one can tell everything they’ve seen, and heard and felt, “See, that’s how it is when you tell a story. You can’t help changing things, seeing the future lying curled in the past like a half-grown chick in an egg.”
Nelly’s mother was a nurse to Hindley Earnshaw, which meant that Nelly grew up in the nursery with Hindley and his sister, Cathy. Aware that she was only permitted at the house because of her mother’s friendship with Mrs. Earnshaw, Nelly grows close to her foster brother and sister. But when the master returns home from Liverpool with an orphan boy who will become his favorite child, everything changes. The arrival of Heathcliff, named after a deceased infant, presses Nelly from playmate into the role of servant.
Much to his father’s disappointment, Hindley is a talented musician but a poor student. His lessons are a struggle, which leads his father to believe his son is a dunce. Nelly knows the value of an education and offers to help Hindley with his lessons, until a trip to Gimmerton shows her how he has really been spending his time in the classroom. When Mr. Earnshaw learns about the deception, he punishes his son by forcing him to live and work with the laborers.
Case introduces new characters into the story, Elspeth and Bodkin. Feared by the gentlefolk, Elspeth is an herbalist believed by some to be a witch, and Bodkin is Dr. Kenneth’s son. Both of them are likeable characters who add comic relief to the drama of the rest of the story.
Case would like us to believe that we don’t always get the perfect childhood and we have to make the best of it. Nelly’s mother married when she was
40 years old and pregnant with Nelly. It was a marriage of convenience for both parties trying to make the best of it. As a father, Thomas Dean is rough with his daughter to the point that she believes he hates her.
Nelly Dean is a riveting tale of passion, family secrets, and forbearance whose lively prose echoes Emily Bronte’s original novel.