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Posts Tagged ‘literary tourism’

Examining This

Well the State exams are always a good laugh, aren’t they? Last year letting the second English paper out of the bag, this year giving out accountancy papers with missing pages. I was passing through a secondary school at the weekend and picked up someone’s discarded English Higher Level Paper 2. A nasty, shiny, slippy pink paper it is too, with some of the dullest questions imaginable. 

“Emily Brontë explores extremes of passion and reason in interesting ways in the novel Wuthering Heights.”
Respond to this statement supporting your answer with suitable reference to the text.

I “did” Wuthering Heights for my own Leaving Certificate twenty-one years ago and was swept away by its power. But how I would hate to be answering that question. I can’t remember what it was in my day – something similar, no doubt, perhaps something on light and dark, civilisation and nature, storm and calm. 

I’ve reread it every two or three years since, I’ve approved of or tutted at film and television adaptations. I don’t think I am still in love with Heathcliff, these days, but it’s their love – his and Cathy’s –  that knocks the breath from your lungs, anyway. I’m sorry to admit I’m sucker for literary tourism of a kind the Brontës would have loathed (I photographed the beer-sticky spot in Jamaica Inn where Joss Merlyn could have died – yes I am aware he is a fictional character), so I’ve supported the Brontë industry at Haworth, and walked a tame bit of the moors. I’ve slipped between the mossy headstones and oohed at Charlotte’s tiny clothes behind glass at the Parsonage, muttered “Come, Anne, pillapotato” in the kitchen, scrutinised miniature manuscripts, delighted in their Irish blood, gobbled biographies, pondered authorship mysteries, but I delight in the knowledge that I will never again answer an exam question on the text. Did anyone sitting the Leaving Certificate answer that Emily Brontë explored extremes of passion and reason in rather humdrum ways? I suppose if anyone’s going to hack at the shins of (yes, arguably) the world’s greatest novelist it will be a pouty teenager. 

Imagining the setters of questions inevitably made me think of Yeats:

Lord, what would they say
Did their Catullus walk that way?

Emily’s father used to fire a pistol into the air for effect, and she herself is supposed to have been a crack shot. I know. She might have felt just as much like aiming at me, shamefacedly touching Branwell’s chair at the Black Bull, as at exam setters innocently writing questions.

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