On Kate Bush’s Radical Interpretation of Wuthering Heights

  • 2020-07-07
  • Literary Hub

The first few seconds of the video are usually enough to stun the classroom into silence. Some students will shift uncomfortably in their seats. Some may be counting the minutes until this digression ends. Some will laugh. One or two may be transfixed. One might even be transformed.

On the screen in the front of the classroom, a teenage Kate Bush stares goggle-eyed, her arms like wings. She dances. She cartwheels. She sings, in a high trilling voice, “Heathcliff, it’s me! I’m Kathy!”

I teach literature and creative writing at a small college in New England, and every time I’ve taught Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, I show the video for Kate Bush’s 1978 song of the same name (there are two versions: one features Bush indoors in a white dress, another has her outdoors in a red dress). The video is more than a digression—and more, I hope, than a professor’s attempt to impress his musical tastes on his justifiably skeptical students. But if every syllabus participates in the construction of a canon, and in doing so defines the terms of cultural literacy, then I want my students to participate in building a culture that highly values Emily Bronte and Kate Bush, and that recognizes the ways in which Bush has spent decades defining a space for women artists as visionary creators.