Review – Nelly Dean: A Return to Wuthering Heights by Alison Case


Authentically voiced retelling of Wuthering Heights

About the Book

(Courtesy of Goodreads):  Nelly Dean is a wonderment of storytelling and an inspired accompaniment to Emily Bronte’s adored work. It is the story of a woman who is fated to bear the pain of a family she is unable to leave, and unable to save.

My Review

I started reading this book back in November and the fact that I’ve only just finished it but have read over a dozen other books in the meantime, tells you I didn’t find it as compelling as I hoped or the author deserves given the obvious craft put into it. The book expands on the narration by Nelly Dean, the housekeeper at Wuthering Heights, in Emily Bronte’s original book and introduces imagined back stories for some of the characters, notably Hindley, Hareton and Nelly herself .

However, although it magnifies some aspects of Wuthering Heights (in some instances, quite exhaustively) it glosses over large parts of others, in particular the core relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy and the tragic events that surround them. For this reason, I don’t really see it as a standalone novel for a reader who is unfamiliar with Wuthering Heights.   For example, Alison Case devotes a substantial section to Nelly’s attempts to care for the infant Hareton that are encapsulated in a few sentences in the original book. But on the other hand, leaps forward at points so that key events from Wuthering Heights are merely alluded to.

So I found myself on the one hand thinking, “I know all this from Wuthering Heights” and on the other, “Wait a minute, we’ve skipped several years here – what happened to so-and-so”.  Plus, occasionally thinking, “Whoa, I bet Emily Bronte never had that in mind!”. Having said all this, the author has created a really authentic period voice for all her characters and if it wasn’t that Emily Bronte’s masterpiece is a persistent and relentless echo, this would be a really successful piece of historical fiction.

But…it has made me determined to go back and re-read Wuthering Heights!

Book facts: 456 pages, published February 2016

My rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

In three words: Authentic, descriptive, inventive

Try something similar…Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, tour-de-force reimagining of Jane Eyre

About the Author

Alison Case is a Professor at Williams College in Massachusetts and her academic background has focused on Victorian Studies, Narrative Theory, and Gender Studies. Her first book, Plotting Women: Gender and Narration in the 18th and 19th-Century British Novel, is well-known and well respected. With these interests, it’s not a surprise that Case’s first novel focuses on a well-known literary character from Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.