June 18, 2019

Book Review: Nelly Dean by Alison Case

Nelly Dean: A Return to Wuthering Heights

by Alison Case

Genres: Historical Fiction, Retelling
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Length: 474 pages
Published: February 8, 2106
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

Official Book Summary:

"Young Nelly Dean has been Hindley’s closest companion for as long as she can remember, living freely at the great house, Wuthering Heights. But when the benevolence of the master brings a wild child into the house, Nelly learns she must follow in her mother’s footsteps, be called 'servant' and give herself over completely to the demands of the Earnshaw family.

But Nelly is not the only one who finds her life disrupted by this strange newcomer. As death, illness, and passion sweep through the house, Nelly suffers heartache and betrayals at the hands of those she cherishes most, tempting her to leave it all behind. But when a new heir is born, a reign of violence begins that will test even Nelly’s formidable spirit as she finds out what it is to know true sacrifice.

Nelly Dean is a wonderment of storytelling and an inspired accompaniment to Emily Bronte’s adored work. It is the story of a woman who is fated to bear the pain of a family she is unable to leave, and unable to save."


"See, that's how it is when you tell a story. You can't help changing things, seeing the future lying curled in the past like a half-grown chick in an egg. But it's not so."

Excerpt (from Chapter One):

"It's that I'm writing to you about, Mr. Lockwood: The story I told you over those long, dark nights. And about the story I didn't tell. Don't mistake me, please, I told you no lies, or not what you would call lies. Or at least--well, we'll come to that. But there were things I didn't say, things I couldn't say, then, and perhaps shouldn't now. But they've weighed on me since, and my mind has kept returning to you listening, and me talking, and I've imagined myself again and again telling you all those other things, and you taking an interest in them, as a story, you know, as you did that other tale I told. I have fancied that you might pass this way again, to pay a visit and see for yourself how Hareton and Cathy were coming on, and perhaps you might sit with me by the fire in the sitting room, and I would tell you another story altogether, a homespun grey yarn woven in among the bright-dyed and glossy dark threads of the Earnshaws and Lintons."

My Book Review:

I loved every moment of reading this book.

To fans of the Brontë sisters, Wuthering Heights is twisted Gothic passion at its finest. I'm often intrigued by retellings, but I've learned to be wary of them. When you love a text, it's painful to see someone not capture what you love about the original. Alison Case does a masterful job staying true to the themes and emotions of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights.

It's evident that Alison Case is a Victorian scholar because numerous elements are accurate to the time period. Case is a professor of Victorian literature who has published numerous scholarly articles on British literature, gender issues, and female narrators (as a fellow 19th-century scholar, her work is very interesting). It's easy to see how Case's research informs her ability to recreate Nelly Dean's narration to stay true to her character, though she makes the purposeful choice not to fully adopt Nelly's original vernacular but to rather use a voice more accessible to modern-day readers.

Within moments of starting the story, I felt I was back on the moors. The narrative is Nelly's letter to Mr. Lockwood, the outsider who visits Wuthering Heights in Emily Brontë's original novel and finds himself drawn into the stories, ghosts, and nightmares that haunt the house and its residents. In Case's novel, Nelly discloses the full truth of her childhood, her life has a servant, and her emotional connection to the residents of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. I thoroughly enjoyed reading more about Nelly Dean as Case adeptly fills in the narrative gaps of the original novel without disrupting anything within that story. I believe that's a large part of why I loved this novel so much--it doesn't attempt to change the story readers love, but rather just adds to it.

If you're a fan of Wuthering Heights, I would highly recommend this book: if you love it, you'll likely love this. If your feelings are only lukewarm towards the original, I'd still give Nelly Dean a try as it's often the difficult dialect and confusing character doublings that make Brontë's novel difficult for modern readers to wade through. Since Case alters the voice in order to heighten its readability, this removes a hurdle that makes it increasingly accessible and readable.

I really hope Case writes more 19th-century historical fiction.

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