Sometimes, the darkest of tragedies has the brightest reawakening. We often think that our lives are defined by our tragedies. In a sense, they are. But with every dark day comes a day filled with light. That is inherent in two particular scenes from Allison Case’s novel Nelly Dean.
In Chapter 12 of the novel, we see the unfortunate death of Nelly and Hindley’s baby after Nelly’s mother gives her a purgative from Elspeth. In a harrowing scene, Nelly gives birth to a dead child that is only the size of her palm. Stricken by grief with the secret and the death, Nelly takes the child out to the garden and buries it.
“I crawled a little distance away, wrapped the cloak tightly around me, lay down in the heather, and sobbed. Even through my pain and grief, I felt sleep hovering near. I knew I should get up and go to the house…but I was past caring. I closed my eyes and let sleep take me.”
With this passage and scene, Case explains Nelly’s virtual stoicism in Wuthering Heights – including why she keeps her distance and why she does not do anything more than what a servant’s job is supposed to do. Her grief prevented her from moving forward and from accepting love from anyone else. This is a common response to tragedy; we shut people out in order to keep ourselves intact. The moment someone comes in to tell us how to feel, it becomes a case of what you’re doing instead of how you are feeling. Unlike the parent book, Wuthering Heights, this places Nelly Dean right in a modern context with modern responses to tragic events. In addition to the response to tragedy, Allison Case gives us a modern sensibility to another major event: the birth of Hareton, the son of Hindley and Frances.
Hindley eventually moved on by returning from his trip with Frances in tow. With a rift between him and Nelly, Hindley eventually slept with Frances and the two conceived a child. After Frances is diagnosed with consumption (tuberculosis), Nelly is asked to be the child’s nurse. In a slightly humorous scene, Nelly describes her experiences being Hareton’s nurse, saying:
“I don’t know how I can describe to you what that first week or two was like. He was with me both day and night, and I never had more than a couple of hours when he did not need my care, so of course I slept but little.”
A little later, she visits Elspeth, the “witch,” and brings Hareton with her. As she changes him, Nelly describes her words to him:
“I chattered and crooned to him an ever-lengthening string of pet names: my bonnie nurseling, my wee little laddie, my beautiful boy…Hareton, my little hare, my leveret, my love.”
Doesn’t this sound familiar?
The irony is that Nelly would have taken care of a child like this anyway and that in another world, he too would have also been called Hareton. The blessing for her is that she is virtually Hareton’s mother, and it’s touching to see that Nelly’s love and affection did not die with the loss of her child. For the readers, Nelly Dean reaches all the way into the modern age to show us that there is light at the end of every dark tunnel. Nelly lost a child and lost her love for Hindley, but ultimately gained it back in the form of his second son. Sometimes, you have to take the good with the bad and take the light with the darkness.