The Printed Image: Wuthering Heights
Bleak, haunted moors. Doomed lovers and fiery passions. Wuthering Heights, the sole novel written by Emily Brontë, still stands as a remarkable work of Gothic fiction, as it chronicles the tangled lives of the Earnshaw and Linton families, at the center of which is Heathcliff, the Byronic anti-hero who is adopted by the Earnshaws but who is slighted and seeks a long revenge against the families.
One of the more unique visual adaptations of the book is an edition in Falvey’s Special Collections, illustrated by German-American printmaker Fritz Eichenberg. The black-and-white illustrations, created originally through wood engraving, are stark, bold, and capture the tumultuous and haunted atmosphere of Brontë’s story.
In a previous post, I wrote about metal engraving in the illustrations of Felix Darley, and while there are similarities between wood and metal engraving processes, there are some key differences which give Eichenberg’s illustrations their unique style. Wood engraving is a relief method of printmaking, where ink is rolled onto the surface of a carved block of end-grain wood, unlike metal engraving where ink is pressed into carved lines. So, the white lines or areas of negative space we see in Eichenberg’s illustrations are areas that have been carved away in the actual block of wood, using fine-tipped burins.
Eichenberg is adept at using his tools to create the atmosphere of Brontë’s world. In one illustration of young Catherine Earnshaw, the fine lines in the background can be interpreted as both the rolling hills and the clouds covering the Yorkshire moors. In another, these fine lines mimic fog while also defining the features of Heathcliff’s face, representing a feverish, internal obsession weighing upon Catherine’s mind. Finally, this doubling nature appears in an illustration where Heathcliff and Catherine embrace, the lines in the background defining both the folds of the curtain and the wind from the open window, defining the lifelong companions and would-be lovers.
One of Eichenberg’s most striking illustrations in the book shows the external environment expressing the internal turmoil of its subject, as Heathcliff digs up Catherine’s grave late in the novel. Harsh hatch marks and stipples cover both the cold night sky and Catherine’s headstone, as Heathcliff’s face is contorted into a mixture of rage, madness, and grief.
This would not be Eichenberg’s only encounter with the Brontës; an illustrated edition of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre would be published the same year as Wuthering Heights. Other illustrated books by Eichenberg include Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, Gulliver’s Travels, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold, and Anna Karenina. He also contributed numerous illustrations to the Catholic Worker after befriending Dorothy Day in 1949.
On a final technical note, an editor’s description at the beginning of this edition states that the illustrations were reproduced using electrotype. This is a process where a metal plate reproduces the original wood engraving, making it easier to fit in with the type when the book is put into production. This process still maintains the relief quality of the wood engraving, so what we see on the printed page remains true to Eichenberg’s work.
Wuthering Heights may be viewed in the Rare Book Room during walk-in hours (Wednesday 9:30-11:30am, Thursday 2-4pm) or by appointment. Books illustrated by Fritz Eichenberg in Falvey’s circulating collection include Gulliver’s Travels, Fathers & Sons, The Long Loneliness: The Autobiography of Dorothy Day, and Works of Mercy.
To learn more about wood engraving, please visit The Wood Engravers’ Network. To learn more about electrotyping, please visit Wikipedia.