For fans of my blog, I have to confide that unless I begin writing portrayals of my friends which they may regard as character assassinations, I’ve run out of funny true life stories for the time being. The posts you have enjoyed up till now will be found in my new collection of short stories, Throw Granny off the Balcony. Now, I’m thinking of trying something new and I want to see how you will react to it.
When I was a girl, I would always riff on the books I enjoyed, enhancing the story or imagining sequels or prequels in my mind. Once upon a time ago, I asked myself where Heathcliff was for the three years he went missing from Wuthering Heights and how did he manage to make his fortune? And though not all questions need to be answered, or all characters from beloved classics deconstructed, I nevertheless couldn’t let this story rest. Though, personally, I never saw the dark, tormented anti-hero as a particularly appealing subject of desire, a whole genre of romance fiction spins stories, all much the same in my opinion, around the type.
We know that Heathcliff had obscure beginnings, a miserable childhood and an obdurate nature. As an adult, finding his source, Cathy, removed to a different life which he could not share, he became bitter and twisted in his quest for revenge. The story is there. The question remains, where did his fortune come from? Bronte suggests his bearing indicated a stint in the military, but fortunes aren’t made so rapidly by foot soldiers. So where did he go between 1780 and 1783, when he reappeared at Wuthering Heights?
I decided to set the story in New Orleans and the vicinity which had and to this day has, an amazing melting pot of cultures. At that time the Louisiana Territory, which extended all the way to Canada, had traded hands from the French to the Spanish. Settlers included French planters, Spanish administrators, Black slaves, free Blacks, Native Americans and people of mixed racial background. Immigrant German merchants and Anglo colonials from the east had started moving into the territory as well. All of these nationalities brought their cultural ideals and prejudices into the mix.
Coincidentally, it was a time of the rise of great ideas of the Enlightenment, which swept through the new world as well as the old, inflaming creoles in Latin America and their counterparts in North America in their quest for freedom from tyranny. In Louisiana, Revolutionary War fighting touched the area before turning back south and east.
At the same time, the Mississippi River was beginning to be exploited, the steam boat was yet to be developed, as well as the great card game of poker which grew out of the gaming cultures which consumed Europe at the time and moved westward eventually taking over the saloons of the Wild West.
As you all know, unless I’m poking fun at myself and my family, I tend to concentrate on serious topics, and I neither expect this to be a romance in the colonial or Georgian mode, nor a historical novel. Instead it will be a small story of human motivation and error set within a time as turbulent as our own.
I’m going to serialize it in short readable chapters each week since I realize we all have busy lives. I won’t have much time for embellishment or correction and I don’t really know what meandering paths the story might take, though I’m certain of the end. I hope you’ll tune in to my new adventure: uncovering the secret behind Mr. Heathcliff’s Fortune.