The strange title of this review comes from the awareness that this particular edition of "Wuthering Heights" is, to say the least, "controversial". Just see the other review and also the comments attached to it. As somebody who has studied, compared, reviewed in the last ten years some forty-odd editions of this novel from 1900 (Haworth Edition) onwards, I will try to remain as cool as possible, not concealing my possible vested interests as an early-retired Roman Catholic priest.
This Ignatius Critical Edition, introduced and edited (?) by Joseph Pearce, is rather a text-oriented edition (and not a "study" or context-oriented one, like Norton's, Broadview's or Longman Cultural, to name only the very best of them). Besides the text itself and copious footnotes, we are left only with the twenty page Introduction by Pearce and three critical essays at the end which are not at all bad nor overly controversial: they can even add to our never-ending understanding of this most deep and poetical of all texts (a slight overstatement).
The second essay is particularly good, the other two rather
Thus, this edition should be compared to the Oxford's and Penguin's ones (to name the best and best-known of them),
or the Wordsworth Edition or the Oneworld's one.
We begin with the real STRENGHTS of Ignatius Edition:
1) THE TEXT itself, that is deadly accurate (with the unavoidable corrections) on the 1847 first edition. This, of course, doesn't happen as a miracle of Pearce's own: it's only a matter of copying (and that means perhaps typesetting) from the Clarendon reference edition and not getting involved in a legal suit over copyright (something that I surmise ended abruptly the way of the excellent Heather Glen's edition for Routledge
--and it remains a very good option to get one of the very few copies still extant of that ill-fated effort, for the Introduction and the Afterthought by Glen are most valuable and imppressive, and the annotation is good enough. You may try Amazon Canada or abebooks.com, but it's not easy to get a good-condition copy, and paper has not stood well the test of the time, although Oxford or Penguin or Wordsworth do far worse as regards paper ageing).
Returning to the Ignatius Critical Edition, its text is deadly accurate to the point of fastidiousness (as it happens with other Oxford look-alikes), for example in the funny and nonsensical "two volume" division, with its separate chapter numbering, or the rather heavy and most un-American punctuation.
2)THE ANNOTATON, is -arguably- the VERY BEST on the market for accuracy and completeness (with only one gross blunder, easily detectable, but just now I can't find the page). The lexical and dialectal helps are sufficient and user-friendly, although of course nothing is as user friendly as the full Standard English glosses of the dialectal tirades as footnotes, that began with the Franklin Mint editions (for example the 1979 one, with the Alan Reingold illustrations, one good and not so expensive item to own), and continue nowadays with Norton Fourth, Broadview, or Longman Cultural. These last editions offer also reliable
1847-like texts (especially Booth's for Longman), although not so deadly accurate, with a more sensible modern punctuation (especially Norton, but also Broadview), and even dropping the "two volume" division altogether in the case of Norton and Broadview, or softening it in Longman's (with a double chapter numbering in the "second volume", like the old Macdonald edition of 1955 with the very suggesting Dame Daphne du Maurier Introduction, some good illustrations, and a reliable Garrod/Page text--another interesting buy).
3)MATERIAL PRODUCTION. A good trade paperback (albeit without flaps) in the line of -again- Broadview, Norton and Booth (Oneworld Classics edition, with a less reliable eclectic text with some errors and too many of 1850 Charlotte's "improvements" does better in this respect, with flaps, slightly better paper and it looks like signature-sewn instead of all-glue "perfect binding". I'm not so sure about Broadview, Longman and Norton, for I would have to tear them apart for ascertaining that, and my scientific curiosity doesn't get so far).
Ignatius Edition, for its part, IS signature-sewn (no doubt about it), with good paper and near perfect printing quality in Goudy Old Style typeface (not my favorite, but who minds!) set to 11,5/13,5 points. That is much easier on the eyes than the Sabon 10/12,5 of Longman, with a perfect print quality, or the Plantin 10/11,5 of Broadview with a similar printing quality, not to mention the Fairfield 9/11 of Norton Fourth, with worse printing quality. In summary, Ignatius Critical Edition is the most legible and best produced of this bunch. As far as material production is concerned, Oxford World's Classics and Penguin Classics, let alone Wordsworth Classics, are genuine TRASH (i.e."mass market paperback") that look like they had a
Top Secret label of "Destroy BEFORE reading" and, in any case, will not last long enough to be read again.
To speak now of the WEAKNESSES, there is only ONE, but almost a deadly one.
THE INTRODUCTION ! These twenty pages, written to the glory of the great Joseph Pearce, who seems perfectly able to write a "scholarly" Introduction about goodness knows what, encompass all the sectarianism and bigotry and shortsightedness that one fears to find after reading the back cover statements
("a tradition-oriented approach", "many modern critical editions have succumbed to the fads of modernism[?] and
post-modernism", "this series concentrates on critical examinations informed by our[?] Judeo-Christian heritage", "meeting the authors in their element, instead of the currently popular method of deconstructing a classic to fit a modern[?] mindset", "the great works of Western Civilization[mind the capitals] ... in the company of some of the finest literature professors alive today[Joseph Pearce?]"),
all this back-cover bigotry and heavy-handedness, and then some.
To begin with the good news, the body of the Introduction, ably and clearly written, is perhaps the most unperceiving and conventional in the whole history of Wuthering Heights Introductions since 1900, although one is forced to admit that Pearce knows his trade and has done his homework well. The line follows that of Charlotte's 1850 vindication-domestication Preface, but overstating it grossly and missing all the
many-faceted suggesting subtleties of this "Victorian" Preface (and, of course, "Victorian" is not an adjective to put along Wuthering Heights nor Emily Jane Brontė's poems).
To make Nelly Dean a model of Christian virtue and faithfulness in three pages is certainly to overdo Charlotte's hint. There is no need to make her the villain of the plot, as some critic attempted too heavy-handedly, but, at her best, Nelly Dean is the wearisomest ever meddling and eavesdropper governess that be, too concerned to get her reputation right in re-telling her story as to notice her many contradictions and her all-too-pragmatic lies and double deals. She likes herself when she looks at the mirror, she is delighted to have made her own acquaintance (Spanish idioms, please excuse me), but her very conceitedness is telling of her other many weaknesses (as the saying goes,
"I used to be conceited, but now I'm perfect!"). Nelly Dean is an inexhaustible repository of conventional wisdom, moral hipocrisy (caring more for appearances than for substance), and unsensitiveness for the feelings and sufferings of anybody else. Above all, she is egoist, manipulating and
self-serving to the last. So much for Nelly Dean, acknowledging that some of her moral shortcomings stem from her serving double duty as character and narrator (one can argue that she is a meddler and an eavesdropper because she is to propel the plot and tell everything to that dunce of Lockwood).
And what about the pure, unfailing and orthodox Christian [Roman Catholic variety, perhaps?] faith and devotion of Emily J. Brontė herself? Pearce can put to double or triple duty some unforgettable verse, albeit rather ambivalent like "O God within my breast, | Almighty, ever-present Deity! [...] There is no room for Death, | Nor atom that his might could render void: | Thou, THOU art Being and Breath, | And what Thou art may never be destroyed." It will come as a surprise to nobody that he omits the intervening lines [...] in the selfsame well-known poem
"Vain are the thousand creeds, | That move men's hearts, unutterably vain, | worthless as withered weeds | or idlest froth amid the boundless main". Nor does one get shocked when Pearce seems to ignore that Emily never did duty at the Sunday school, like her sisters did. The subjects of Emily's faith, religious allegiance or hope in the afterlife are, to put it simply, very complex. Pearce strikes a sounder note when he speaks several times of Emily's virginity (but, what an obsession! Is he a
gynecologist-in-disguise?), and above all, when he speaks of her unfailing devotion for her father (and the other way round, too). So much for the good news.
The BAD news? They cover only two pages (second and third) of the worthless and unsuggesting Introduction, but they are a devastating example of sectarianism and bigotry, of malveillance and utter lack of academic courtesy (one most remember, after all, that Pearce -"one of the finest literature professors alive today"- is not a scholar, nor -it seems- does he want to become one-- goodness forbid!):"and many literary academics seem to be little more than gossips"; "In a shameful and shameless display of myth making, these "scholars" have taken"; "the virginal clergyman's daughter has been turned into a fulminating feminist, a miltant Marxist, a homosexual, an avowed atheist, a pantheist, an anti-Christian polemicist and a courageous heretic. In the hands of these latter-day Victor Frankensteins a monstrous Emily Brontė has been created. Taking off her virginity (posthumously!) and exorcising her Christianity..."; "Having exposed the naked shame of the emperors (and empresses) who have attempted to make of Emily Brontė a monster in their own image, we are left with the naked truth [...] a home-loving Victorian[!?] woman who was completely content living in the parsonage with his father, a faithful Christian minister. [...] As the virgin daughter of a country parson...";
"A lie is, however, a lie, however artfully constructed
(or deconstructed)."; "a soberly conventional[!] Victorian[!] lady". Be glad and rejoice for there are barely two pages of this kind of garbage, attacking the supposed foes before having begun the debate!
If you can put up with these two pages (and the back cover),
this edition has really much to offer: an accurate, magnificently annotated text, and a well cared for material production, the essays a little run-of-the mill material with one exception, but the three authors have full academic credentials and hold teaching posts at coresponding colleges, although they don't specialize in Brontė studies or even in Victoriana (again with the same exception).
If you have read so far, well, thank you. I probably would have lost the patience.