Heathcliff: The Lost Years
In Emily Brontë’s classic novel, speculation swirls around what its hero did in his three years away from Wuthering Heights, and how he made his fortune. Drum’s novel fills in those early years from Heathcliff’s point of view, beginning with Old Earnshaw finding the orphaned boy in the streets of Liverpool. The first part of Drum’s novel sketches in the brief account Brontë’s Nellie Dean gives of Heathcliff’s early life at the Heights: how he and Cathy ran feral over the moors, how he fought with Hindley Earnshaw, and how, overhearing Cathy spurn him, Heathcliff escaped into the stormy night.
Thereafter, Drum tells a vivid, fast-paced story of danger, adventure, and hard living. Back in Liverpool, Heathcliff becomes a sailor on a slave ship sailing to Africa’s Gold Coast, then Jamaica. Drum depicts in colorful detail the rough life of a sailor, the prevailing prejudices, and their repugnant work. After being cheated out of his pay, Heathcliff gets his revenge and heads to London, where he joins a gunpowder production business, falls for a beautiful French pickpocket named Agnes Sorel, and gets caught up in her dangerous intrigues.
This is not Brontë’s character, nor is this Brontë’s florid 19th-century prose; Drum’s Heathcliff possesses emotional depths, compassion, and integrity as well as a ruthless streak, and the action is swift and eventful. Drum’s Heathcliff is haunted by Cathy but does not live solely for her, and staunch fans may find it hard to reconcile the sober adventurer at the end of Drum’s book, turning his eyes to his unfinished business at Wuthering Heights, with the passionate, vengeful hero of Brontë’s tortured drama. Still, for those who love adventure, conflict, and a palpable 18th-century setting, this is a terrific read.