Cassandra White has a Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing from the University of Melbourne in Australia. Her particular academic interests are the gothic and sisterhood in young adult fiction (despite her not having a sister). She loves reading anything that warps the everyday world. She tweets and she tumbles @CassandraFrance and http://storm-the-form-of-a-girl.tumblr.com/
Alison Croggon’s Black Spring: a reimagining of Wuthering Heights
What I love most about Black Spring is the importance of the sisterhood between Anna and Lina. Alison Croggon honours Emily Brontë’s story without it being a pastiche or a simple recasting of setting. The story turns it into a young adult gothic fantasy mirrors some of the darker aspects of adolescent experience.
Often when I read (and watch) retellings I find myself looking for the references the original, as if looking for in jokes or Easter eggs. It can be a distraction. By limiting the tropes and plot elements used from Wuthering Heights Croggon isn’t trapped by honouring the original too much. By choosing core elements and casting it in a new genre, the story becomes its own. And this is one of the story’s strengths; an original work that enjoyed on its own terms without any hindrance of its literary ancestry.
What is most striking in Black Spring is the sense of sisterhood between Lina and Anna at the heart of the story. In Black Spring sisterhood is a playground or a battlefield in which love can also malevolent. Gothic sisterhood contains much of what we want to look away from, but it is what we find ourselves drawn to. This sisterly relationship between Lina and Anna is interesting because one girl defines and controls the other. It is love, but also by something much more coercive than love.
It is uncomfortable watching these two sisters. But it is empowering for the reader to read through this abject nature of sisterhood, and through that, the abjection of adolescence. The adolescent stage is when we become aware of our potential strengths, but also come up against our failings. Contemplating our full worth as an adult fills us with horror.
Wuthering Heights is a spiteful book, and spite turns love to the malevolent in Black Spring. Lina is an object of desire for both Damek and Anna. Lina initially spurns and torments Damek, which intensifies his desire to be close and possess her. Lina seems less than human and more of an external force or will endured by those around her. Anna desires and admires Lina’s stubbornness and keen sense of justice, but it chills her when Lina mistreats those around her.
Anna is also compelled to obey Lina, not just because she is a servant, but out of this fearful love. The effect is that the reader also feels the need to love Lina and the desire to be her. This sets up the later revulsion that Anna has for Lina’s actions, because at one point she had desired the same qualities:
I was, you know, a most ordinary child, with no precocious abilities… Lina used to laugh at my equable nature, claiming I had all the sensibility of a stick, and as a little girl I did feel that I was a dim and shadowed lamp next to her brilliant flame’ (Croggon 72).
It is the twisting together of what is desirable and what is terrifying that creates a character such as Lina. She pulls everybody into the whirlpool of chaos that surrounds her. Other characters are aware that they should feel repugnance or disgust toward her, but they are unable to do so until it is too late. Because of the closeness between Anna and Lina, her wildness feels more visceral than Catherine’s in Wuthering Heights.
Lina and Anna, much like Lina and Damek are torn apart and left to feel incomplete. This idea of the self being torn asunder speaks to the quest for identity fundamental to YA fiction.
As a reader, especially a YA fiction reader, watching this chaotic woman and her relationships spiral out of control, we can identify with Anna. We also feel envious of Lina, who casts off much of what the society in Black Spring expects of her. Ultimately, the reader is left with a sense of the abject nature of sisterhood where one deprives the other of full individuation and they come to be defined by the relationship with one another.
I believe that the Gothic has a special place in young adult fiction. Gothic fiction plays out societal anxieties through characters and young adult fiction most often concerns itself with the metaphorical fears and anxieties made literal. In Black Spring, desire comes up against knowledge as sisters battle for a sense of belonging and identity in a hostile world. Adolescent readers in particular, may start to have more power over themselves and surroundings, but simultaneously become much more aware of the limitations of the power they have over their own lives. Responding to Wuthering Heights in a young adult fiction text, Croggon illuminates these elements in Black Spring that may not apparent in the original. It is this that keeps pulling me back into the world of Black Spring over and over again.
Black Spring is available for purchase at all good bookstores.