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  • Kate Went

Plot devices

A few years ago the chance discovery of Malcolm Pryce’s Aberystwyth novels was an event which has definitely enriched my life.

In these stories Malcolm takes all the clichés of seaside holidays and of Welshness, and plays with them. The result is six mad, engaging, ingenious tales of Louis Knight and his teenage sidekick, Calamity Jane. Beyond that, though, I have a hugely enjoyable email friendship with Malcolm which has, over the years, ranged from grounding as a means of solving back trouble to conspiracy theories. And, of course, taking in literary discussion on the way.

The latest focussed on A Streetcar Named Desire and Stanley’s rape of Blanche. Was it, I wondered, merely a plot device to inject a jolt into a kitchen sink drama? Malcolm considered it over the top and unnecessary. That led me to one of the most obvious, yet misinterpreted plot devices I’ve ever come across - In Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.

Early in the story Mr Earnshaw goes to Liverpool. No reason is given for this visit. He returns with Heathcliff who, he says, he found starving on the streets of the city. Out of this, literary analysts have deduced variously that Heathcliff was Mr Earnshaw’s illegitimate son, that he was black, and a slave or the child of a slave. Nothing in the novel supports any of these notions. Indeed, statements by two characters made it clear that Heathcliff is not black. Brontë’s only reason for the Liverpool visit was so that Heathcliff could be introduced as different, exotic.

Having Earnshaw going to Bradford or Leeds wouldn’t have worked simply because the starving urchin he may have found there wouldn’t have been at all exotic. In short, Liverpool is merely a plot device with nothing mysterious behind it.

Malcolm’s response was concise and straightforward: ‘I agree about Heathcliff. I find such ‘extra-textual’ speculation silly and betokens an ignorance about how fiction works.’

Well, Malcolm certainly knows how to make fiction work. And he shares his knowledge through his clever and funny YouTube videos. Look him up!

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