By Clare B. Dunkle
Available now from Henry Holt
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THE HOUSE OF DEAD MAIDS acts as a prelude to WUTHERING HEIGHTS. Though THE HOUSE OF DEAD MAIDS may draw new readers to WUTHERING HEIGHTS, the audiences are somewhat different. The storyline is less complex and the language simpler. (I am truly thankful that Clare B. Dunkle used no dialect, even though the book is set in Yorkshire.)
Tabby Aykroyd has been brought to Seldom House as a maid and a young boy she calls Himself has been brought as the new master. They live there with the old maid, Mrs. Winter, and old master, Jack Ketch. Tabby is haunted by the former maid, a girl she new, and Himself is haunted by a former master, an old man with eyes like windows. As the ghosts close in, the devout Tabby knows that she must save herself and the boy.
Emily Brontë employed a clever framing device to tell the stories of WUTHERING HEIGHTS. While Dunkle does not imitate that feat, she does tie fantasy and reality together. Tabby Aykroyd was, after all, the maid who told the Brontë siblings stories. Though the reportage is mostly implied, it's still fun. (By the way, please read about the Brontës. They're terribly odd and fascinating. If you've ever seen the little books they wrote stories in . . . some are archived at the Harry Ransom Center.)
There are other connections in THE HOUSE OF DEAD MAIDS that will excite fans of WUTHERING HEIGHTS. I loved the scene wherein Himself destroys a book, since my high school project on WUTHERING HEIGHTS was all about the importance of literacy in the novel. But considering the book also draws from renewal myths and such, readers unfamiliar with the classic novel will still enjoy the ghost story.
Of course, the ghosts aren't the creepiest thing in the novel. Heathcliff, as Himself, is still utterly insane and not healthy to be around. Dunkle encompasses his character quite well in this line: "There was a savage innocence in his gaze, an indifference to the vey notion of suffering."
I enjoyed THE HOUSE OF DEAD MAIDS, although I feel like I was a little too old for the story. (Although I think young children who aren't given to nightmares will enjoy the novel, 'slut' and other sexually charged terms are, briefly, used as perjoratives spoken by one child to another.) I must give kudos to Henry Holt's design team. The cover and interior illustrations will haunt me as surely as the images Dunkle conjures with her prose.