Death in Nineteenth-Century British Literature

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Feminist Perspectives

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Elisabeth Bronfen (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: "Necromancy, or Closing the Crack on the Gravestone," in Over Her Dead Body: Death, Feminity, and the Aesthetic, Manchester University Press, 1992, pp. 291-323.

[In the following excerpt, focusing on Wilkie Collins ' The Woman in White and Emily Brontë 's Wuthering Heights, Bronfen explores how the disrupting presence of the revenantone who returns from death—poses questions concerning identity and the nature of death.]

If we could be sure of the difference between the determinable and the undeterminable, the undeterminable would be comprehended within the determinable. What is undecidable is whether a thing is decidable or not. Barbara Johnson

Certainly one of the more perturbing Victorian examples of the interstice between feminine speech and death is Robert Browning's poetic rendition of the Roman trial and execution in 1698 of Guido Franchescini, The Ring and the Book (1869). The accused nobleman had stabbed his wife's adoptive mother and father and then inflicted twenty-two dagger wounds on his wife Pompilia herself, five of them deadly. He claimed she had committed adultery with the priest Caponsacchi, who had assisted her in her unsuccessful flight from his house eight months earlier. The Roman court had allowed Pompilia to return to her parents' house, where she gave birth to a son two weeks prior to the event of her husband's assault, though it had left the verdict dangerously unclear, with neither party guilty nor a divorce granted. On her dying bed Pompilia, about to fall completely silent, articulates her lack of a public voice by accusing the court as it documents her testimony, 'Oh yes, patient this long while / Listening and Understanding, I am sure! / Four days ago, when I was sound and well / And like to live, no one would understand' (VII, 906-9). If Guido's fatal assault on his wife's body signifies an effort to put an end to a case the court left undecided, death also produces a moment of transition in which everything is called into question. The sheer materiality of Pompilia's body liminally suspended between life and death, the threat of its irrevocable absence, lets her pose as a hermeneutic task and serve as the site of its truth.1

Browning's text records the way this dying body provokes discrepant explanatory narratives before its actual death for although the facts of the case are clear, closure can be put on the disruption death causes only when the right interpretation engenders the establishment of a new order; when the somatic closure, the body safely interred beneath the earth, corresponds to a semiotic closure, the case's 'truth . . . grasped and gained' (I, 471). Browning records narratives that defend Guido for having saved his honour, fought for his property and executed his husband's rights along with those that defend Pompilia's purity, invoking her despair due to her husband's cruelty and due to her own motherhood. These recounts hover between reading the husband's murder as 'vindictive jealousy' or 'justified revenge' and the wife's flight as the gesture of 'a saint, a martyr' or 'an adulteress'. They also use her murder to debate the status of marriage, the deficiency of the Roman legal system and the crisis in belief into which Christianity had fallen.

Leaving aside issues I have already discussed—Pompilia as the object of a financial exchange between parents and husband, her marriage as a form of death with real death her desired apotheosis, her sacrificial death as the sign of her purity with her blood 'washing the parchment white' (VII, 1781), her union with her forbidden beloved Caponsacchi in...

(This entire section contains 13448 words.)

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heaven—I point to the representation of the dying Pompilia as a structural paragon of the themes to be discussed in this chapter. For the 'one beauty more' of her story is that on the fatal night she 'simulated death . . . obtained herself a respite, four days' grace / Whereby she told her story to the world' (IX, 1421-2), embodied 'the miracle of continued life'. Not only does the public listen to her precisely because she is dying, not only does her impending death imbue the search for the correct representation of her death with urgency, but death restrained authorises the truthfulness of her speech and the idea that truth can be found even if only over a dying feminine body. The public claims, 'Confession of the moribund is true' (IV, 1478). Pompilia seeks time not simply 'to confess and get her own soul saved—/ But time to make the truth apparent . . . lest men should believe a lie' (IV, 1428-30). She uses the knowledge of impending death to fashion her story into its final version and in so doing she can control her public representation after her death, even if she could not design her existence as a living woman.

Pompilia's dying body and its generation of solutions to the 'mystery of the murder' is paradigmatic in two ways. The disruption that death incites must be resolved in a semiotic as well as a physical sense; the deceased and her story must receive a stable meaning even as the grave is closed to assure that the process of mourning is complete. But narratives aimed at solving the ambivalence death poses also emerge from the site of liminality, emerge precisely because Pompilia is a kind of revenant, so that representations seem inextricable from the resurrection of the dead. Guido in fact emphasises that Pompilia speaks as her own uncanny double: 'she too must shimmer through the gloom o'the grave . . . o'the death-bed . . . Tell her own story her own way, and turn / My plausibility to nothingness! . . . Four whole extravagant impossible days . . . Had she been found dead as I left her dead / I should have told a tale brooked no reply' (XI, 1680-703).

Resurrection is also a stake on the narrative level of Browning's poem. Though Pope Innocent XII closes the case by affixing to Guido the signifier 'guilty,' and to Pompilia the signifiers 'perfect in whiteness', he admits that 'truth, nowhere, lies yet everywhere . . . evolvable from the whole' (X, 228-30). A fixed representation, though grounded on disjunctions, emerges from their elimination. Browning's narrator supports the Pope's verdict that while each individual testimony contains falsehood the synthesis art presents 'may tell a truth obliquely' (XII, 856), yet his text is also explicitly uncanny. For at the start of the narration Browning describes his poetic gesture as a reopening of the exchange between the living and the dead, 'the life in me abolished the death of things . . . as then and there acted itself over again once more / The tragic piece' (I, 520-3). Not only does this imply an analogy between Pompilia's desire to speak as a means of abolishing her death for four days. It also suggests that with the resurrected dead, the narrative discrepancies, which the Pope's final reading buried along with the bodies of the husband and wife, return as well. This raises the question whether symbolic replacement of the dead body in the form of gravestone inscriptions and narrative documentation truly produces a canny representation or whether the representational process doesn't irrevocably return to uncanny difference, by returning the dead back to the living.

Pompilia is the crux of a mystery story precisely because she is a revenant and as such figures as a nodal point in two distinct though enmeshed plots—that of detection and that of mourning. If the living woman is unstable because ambivalent in her meaning, seemingly dissimulating (adulteress, saint, both, neither), her death affords somatic fixture, resolves the lies and intrigues with which her existence was inscribed. It figures as an enigma whose solution implies a second semiotic fixture, the binding of a univocal signifer to the signified body. If the living woman threatens that truth is nowhere, a reading of her death allows truth obliquely to emerge at the hands of the survivors. Dressed in the solution imposed from outside (the Pope's, the poet's), the dead Pompilia confirms that in a world of disjunctions and lies, truth can be found. Her dying body is in fact transmitted as its incarnated emblem, the martyred saint whose death speaks her truth and thus truth per se.

Yet the explanation of her murder not only solves the meaning of her story retrospectively by translating the disjunction her femininity traced into a stable figure, 'perfect in whiteness'. Rather, in that the detective story traces the uncovering of hidden facts about an event of death, hidden truths about characters' motivations in relation to death, what it in fact must solve is death itself.2 The dead woman who remains and in so doing engenders narratives, functions as a body at which death is once again coupled to the other central enigma of western cultural representation—femininity. The solution of her death is a form of documenting both of these unknowns. The dead woman, embodying a secret, harbours a truth others want and since the dead body is feminine, with death and femininity metonymies of each other, the condensation of the two allows one and the same gesture to uncover a stable, determinate answer for this double enigma.

As Todorov notes, detective fiction tells two stories, the story of the crime and the story of the investigation. As such it depicts two murders, the first committed by the actual murderer, the second by the pure and unpunishable murderer, the detective.3 In the texts to be discussed—Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White (1859-60), Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (1847) and Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897)—the duality of these two plots is such that two events collapse. Unearthing the answer posed by a woman's death becomes coterminous with placing the dead feminine body into the earth. A corpse spurs on the urge to detect missing facts with death explained by virtue of a reconstruction of the events—the doubled narrative imitating the uncanny position of the dead / remaining woman. Once her death has been explained the corpse can lie peacefully, the end of the narrative double plot equal to the end of her revenant position. The divided woman poses questions which are resolved as her division is undone, as the uncanny double is transformed into the canny division between buried corpse and transmitted emblem. By solving the murder, the detecting survivors can re-establish the illusory belief that they have expelled the uncanny difference that woman's duplicity and death's disjunction traced in their lives. If in the last chapter I discussed the feminine position as one posed between bride and dead girl, I will now turn to the masculine position as that of the mourner as detective.

In that each of these women, in the guise of the double, preserves a corpse (literally as vampire woman or phantom, figurally by virtue of resemblance), each stages the uncanny. As harbingers of death the double incarnates the end of bodily existence, figures ephemerality and contradicts notions of wholeness and uniqueness due to the division of the self it traces, even as the double also incarnates the notion of endless preservation of the body, the beginning of immaterial existence. The revenant, occupying the interstice between two forms of existence—a celebration and a triumph over death—calls forth two forms of anxiety, i.e. the anxiety that death is finitude and the anxiety that death may not be the end. Because the heroines are revenants of sorts, because their appearance deceives, they function as living tropes for the notion that a secret, a truth, lies hidden beneath the surface of the body. They embody the site of two disjunctions—a dead body remaining in the guise of a living one, a feminine body dissimulating an identity which hides her true being—and both ambivalences are brought to rest when, in the instance of their second death, ambivalent doubleness is brought into a transparent relation of signifier and signified (the dead body no longer remains, the woman's appearance no longer dissimulates a false identity). The logic these narratives unfold is that to attribute a fixed meaning to a woman, to solve the mystery of her duplicity is coterminous with killing her, so that her death can be read in part as a trope for the fatality with which any hermeneutic enterprise is inscribed. The achievement of a stable semiotic meaning, which excludes semantic difference and ambivalence, is debated over the establishment of another stable division—that between the living and the dead.

Precisely because it involves two deaths, however, the detective plot can be seen analogous to another plot beginning in death—the trajectory of the mourning process. For the purpose of mourning is to kill the dead by ceasing to reanimate psychically a body physically absent; by withdrawing one's libidinal investment in a lost love object, forgetting or preserving it as dead.4 While the solution of the detective plot is to kill the 'dead' woman twice by virtue of deciphering and affixing a truth to her duplicitous body, the solution of a successful mourning plot is to kill the lost woman psychically preserved as a phantom, by virtue of decathexis. The solution of death that both detection and mourning provide in part serves to avert the idea that the death of another in fact threateningly signifies the presence of death in oneself. Mourning is a way to repress the threatening realisation that death can never be solved except in the form of one's own demise. Mourning allows one to retrieve those parts of the investment made in the lost object.5

Before the detection plot has found its end, however, those related to the murdered body are like mourners, the corpse not yet safely beneath the graveplate, the survivors not yet severed from the dead, the detecting survivors like the revenant in liminality. Only the psychic solution (successful disinvestment of the dead beloved) and the hermeneutic solution (successful deciphering of the enigma) arrests an uncanny body into a recuperated stable division between living and dead, between fluidity of appearance and fixed answer. Mourning requires a participation of the living in the mortuary state of the deceased. A process of mental disintegration precipitates the closure of the case which occurs when society triumphs over death and recovers its peace by assuring itself that the dead are univocally beyond or beneath the worldly realm.6

The newly dead are conceived of as double, simultaneously present in the tomb and in some spiritual realms.7 In this liminal position they are regarded as dangerous and polluted because they appear between all pure classifications and unambiguous concepts.8 The social group has a vested interest in hastening along the liberation of the soul from the corpse in order to eliminate the impurity and duplicity of the decomposing body. Mourning and funeral rites were originally determined by decomposition and by the desire to protect the living and assure the double's liberation. They aimed at preserving of the corpse only the bones or replacing it by a symbolic substitute—in the form of an effigy or a gravestone.

Vampires in turn were understood as doubles that were not successfully delivered from the corpse, as animated corpses preserved in the dangerous liminal realm, as moments of failed decomposition that consequently also meant an arrestation of decathexis on the part of the mourners.9 The intact corpse of the revenant, artificially reanimated, has a correlative in the Christian saint, immune to decay. A rational explanation for the image of the vampire in folklore is that it was merely an exhumed dead body, monstrously threatening because still undergoing a process of decomposition. The killing of the revenant, a second killing of a corpse, a second burial, indicates the end of mourning and marks an attempt to bind the corpse in place, so as to protect the living from the dead. Revenant tales feed off the notion that after death the body has a second destructive life, that while it is decomposing, it is still changing, and still involved in the world. If they remain, the dead are a potential source of danger because death is thought to come from the dead body. The second killing puts an end to this double's life by holding the dead body in one place and rendering it inert, incapable of undergoing further changes.

Paul Barber reads the revenant as a trope for the fear of contagion transmitted by the corpse and the destabilisation of notions of the intact body that decomposition figures.10 He distinguishes between two versions of the corpse—the monster or bad corpse (the body in the early stages of decomposition), and the good corpse (the body successfully decayed into harmless bones). In that the first body is in the liminal position, it corresponds to that of the premarital bride, dangerous due to her indefinite state, while the good corpse implies the canny rigidity of mature femininity. The fear of the somatically contagious and semiotically indeterminate revenant provokes a desire to neutralise the corpse; to 'kill' it a second time; to solve its death and preserve not the body but its appearance; to replace the dead body double (the revenant that in decomposing keeps changing, the phantom that inhabits the mourner's mental realm), with a fixed, unchanging form of double, a grave inscription, unambiguous, marking a clear distinction between living and dead. A protection of the living from the dead requires repetition not on the indexic/somatic but on the arbitrary/symbolic level. It prescribes a translation from body to skeleton, from unconscious memory representations to culturally controlled ones.

The deceased is no longer dangerous when its body stops undergoing change, stabilised into its last ossified state and when its image has receded and stops entering the survivor's dreams and memories, stabilised into a commemorative representation. To delineate how the feminine revenant serves as a trope for the conceptual enmeshment of mourning, detection and representation, I will problematise the notion that a stable closure of the crack the revenant opens is achieved through the second killing. Though the dangerously fluid revenant's body which dissimulates death may find some stability in the written documentation and gravestone ornaments meant to replace it, the rhetoric of any pictorial or textual representation is also based on difference and semantic indeterminacy or duplicity and transforms into a disturbing double in its own right. Finally, one can define the vampire as 'a dead body that appears to be dead except that it doesn't decay' so as to conjoin it to my definition of the hysteric as being someone whose appearance or self-representation is other than she in fact truly is. In these texts the heroine's chosen or induced duplicity is such that she appears as dead, but without a body to prove her death, so that the revenant emerges as yet another aspect of the hysteric's rhetoric of dissimulation.

The exposition of The Woman in White presents a woman bearing a secret, socially dead because buried alive in an insane asylum to procure her silence, literally dying of a heart disease, as she escapes her confinement and returns to the world of the living. As Walter Hartright walks home along the lonely road to London at the 'dead of the night', about to embark for Cumberland to begin work as a drawing master for the daughters of Mr Fairlie, the 'touch of a hand laid lightly and suddenly' on his shoulder from behind petrifies him 'from head to foot' (47). What he sees as he turns instantly, 'with my fingers tightening round the handle of my stick', is an apparition which 'seriously startled' him because of the suddenness of its appearance, 'as if it had sprung out of the earth or dropped from the heaven' and because of its extraordinary guise—'a solitary Woman, dressed from head to foot in white garments'. Like Medusa, she fascinates and terrifies, because her femininity is not only doubly encoded but also resonates death. She is thought to emerge from the beyond (angel) or beneath (demon), while the whiteness of her clothes refers simultaneously to a bridal gown or a shroud. The touch of her hand laid with 'a sudden gentle stealthiness' elicits a sexual response. He notes it was a 'cold hand' when he 'removed it with mine', and excuses himself by claiming 'I was young . . . the hand which touched me was a woman's' (50). The woman's touch, however, also effects a death-like experience in the touched masculine body—'in one moment every drop of blood in my body was brought to a stop'.11

The feminine figure appears at precisely the moment when Walter wonders 'what the Cumberland young ladies would look like.' Her uncanny touch initiates a first enigma, which in turn generates a plethora of secrets and detections that propel this tale of sensation and mystery but which itself remains undecided even after the diverse plots and conspiracies have been resolved. This nocturnal walk towards London with a woman 'whose name, whose character, whose story, whose objects in life, whose very presence by my side, at that moment, were fathomless mysteries to me', arouses a sensation in Walter which is so perturbing because strangely undefined. An erotic desire is displaced on to a curiosity to penetrate her social identity, 'to lift the veil that hung between this woman and me' (52). Yet the eroticised form of detective desire further displaces the fact that the initial sensation was one of death. What is left open is whether the plot of detection arising from this uncanny encounter is erotically encoded merely to displace the anxiety of death her touch produced or precisely to occlude a forbidden desire for the death this woman seemingly incarnates.

A second indeterminacy is maintained throughout Collins's text, namely the fact that along with Walter's motivation, the feminine object of his desire is not entirely clear. The entire narrative is constructed around the seeming coincidence that one of the Cumberland ladies, Laura Fairlie, looks like the mysterious woman in white, who withholds her identity, who preserves her secret—Anne Catherick. Even before Walter has seen the woman he will eventually marry and for whose sake he undertakes the dangerous and cumbersome task of detection, the other woman has inscribed herself in his imaginary register. She disturbs his drawing and his reading and is the object of his first conversation with Laura's companion Marion. Given the extraordinary physical and psychic similarity between Anne and Laura (who herself is 'rather nervous and sensitive' (63)), the question Collins raises is whether Walter doesn't in fact love Anne in Laura. Within such a scenario, his wife serves as the repetition and displacement of the startling woman, and the domestic happiness repeatedly invoked as the context from which he writes veils the fact that his initial object of desire was the death-like Anne not the bride Laura. Walter desires Laura precisely because she recalls the other woman who, insane and dying, is an impossible choice, with his choice of Laura denying even as it affirms that what initiated desire in him was this impossible woman on the edge of death. That the ambivalent desire for Laura veils the desire for Anne as she represents the trauma of a death sensation, finds implicit articulation in the first description Walter gives of Laura. He argues that the 'mystery which underlies the beauty of women', of which Laura's is the paragon, is such that it touches sympathies other than the charm the senses feel, that it is the 'visionary nurseling' of the viewer's 'fancy'. Yet his first sight of Laura is mingled with a sensation that 'troubled and perplexed' him, with the impression of 'something wanting'. Significantly the source of this lack is undetermined—'At one time it seemed like something wanting in her: at another, like something wanting in myself.' Like Georgiana's birthmark it articulates itself in a contradictory manner, a sense of incompleteness troubling the harmony and charm of her face, eluding his discovery (77).

Only when Marion reads the part of Mrs Fairlie's letter pertaining to the accidental resemblance between Anne and her daughter can Walter affix a signifier to the 'something wanting', namely that of 'ominous likeness'. More importantly, only when looking down at Laura from a window, while she, dressed in white, walks in the moonlight, when he sees her as 'the living image . . . of the woman in white', (the word living implying he fancied the original as a dead image), is Walter chilled again by a 'thrill of the same feeling which ran through me when the touch was laid upon my shoulder on the lonely high-road' (86). While Laura's type of beauty can claim kin with the 'deeper mystery in our souls' (76), in her function as Anne's double she induces those other charms which Walter feels with the senses.

Solving the uncanny relation of ominous likeness between these two women by cleanly severing the one from the other may as much involve a foreclosure of the necrophilic thrill of the senses that the one feminine figure of death evokes, as it involves the social restitution of the other. While Walter can allow himself to want woman as the visionary nurseling of his fancy, he must repress his desire for woman as an uncanny apparition, who thrills him even as she must be forbidden precisely because she evokes the presence of death in life, because she represents what lies beneath the veil of Laura's bright, innocent beauty, because she enacts the decaying body not the beautiful body masking its mortality. As Walter calls out 'let me lose the impression again as soon as possible. Call her in', he refers to the twofold threat this instance of uncanny doubling poses. He literally sees that Laura is divided, is more and other than her fair, sweet and simple appearance, and he figurally sees her as a double of Anne. If to see one's double is a harbinger of death, the twist Collins gives to this folklore motif is that Laura does indeed herald Anne's death. She will herself experience a form of death due to this duplicity, even as she will also be the living image that death has not taken place.

From the moment of her escape from the asylum Anne traces the figure of death in more than one sense. Given that she appears only to disappear and reappear again elsewhere, as the material bearer of a secret, as elusive in body as the truth she can not tell, incessantly receding from the grasp of those who seek her until death fixes her in place, she enacts the figure of aphanisis; a paragon of the rhetoric of death. She is also the image Walter compulsively returns to in his fantasies, whereby compulsive repetition functions as another sign of the death drive. She causes difference to emerge in Walter's imaginary relation with Laura because speaking of Miss Fairlie repeatedly raises the memory of Anne Catherick, 'setting her between us like a fatality that it was hopeless to avoid' (97). When Marion trusts Walter she does so because of his conduct towards 'that unhappy woman'; when she asks him to leave because Laura is engaged she appeals to the same honest, manly consideration for his pupil which he had once showed to 'the stranger and the outcast'. The mention of Sir Percival Glyde as Laura's betrothed reinvokes 'again, and yet again, the woman in white. There was fatality in it' (100). His farewell from his mother and sister are irrevocably connected with 'that other memory of the moonlight walk', and even as he leaves England with the image of Laura Fairlie 'a memory of the past', the name of Anne Catherick remains present, 'pronounced behind him as he got into the boat' (205).

In a less rhetorical and a more literal sense, Anne appears and fades in Laura's proximity as an overdetermined figure of death. She is literally dying and shows Laura what she will look like when death sets in. Her letter warning her of Sir Percival's fiendish nature beneath his fair appearance implies that Laura's 'beautiful white silk dress' and bridal veil could by virtue of marriage turn into a shroud, and in so doing confirms the bride's own nervous premonitions. Her proclivity toward Mrs Fairlie's grave and her choice to wear only white lets her appearance be interpreted by spectators such as the schoolboy Jacob Postlewaite as that not merely of a ghost but 't' ghaist of Mistress Fairlie'. The brilliant turn on which the other villain Count Fosco's masterful death plot hinges is that by turning the bride Laura into the dead girl Anne, the former will become her own ghost, will literally repeat at her own body what the schoolboy saw. As Laura's double, then, Anne is a figure of death in life on several scores—she literally signifies a dying body, her repeated appearance is a trope for fatality and, though she means to warn against danger, she will be the concrete instrument by which Laura's figurai burial succeeds, by which the trope becomes materialised reality.

Significantly this image of the 'ghost of Miss Fairlie' standing beside the marble cross over Mrs Fairlie's grave repeatedly draws Walter to the graveyard, first to meet Anne a second and last time and then, upon his return to England, to see her double, the 'dead' Laura. At the grave Walter himself consciously reverses the relation between the two half-sisters, sees not Anne in Laura, but 'Miss Fairlie's likeness in Anne Catherick'. Even more startling, analogous to the thrill he felt standing at the window, is the dissimilarity this likeness articulates, because it imposes the hateful thought that if 'ever sorrow and suffering set their profaning mark on the youth and beauty' of Laura, the two would be 'the living reflections of one another' (120). Given that he never fancies what Anne would look like in health, his interest is clearly in the common denominator he finds in the process of dying. What startles him is not merely the issue of likeness but the way likeness points to the figure of death. The effect of this body double is contrary to that of the gravestone. Rather than indicating the presence of the dead in the beyond she represents uncanny difference, as a figure of death, in the realm of the living.12

Anne's own desire for death articulates itself in her longing to clean Mrs Fairlie's grave, to whose memory she clings as the one kind person in her youth. Kissing the gravestone, she expresses the wish to die so as to 'be hidden and at rest with you' (127), with death understood as a closure of the gap, as the release from tension. It is precisely this desire which Fosco, having overheard Anne repeat it to Laura, will fulfil as he exchanges the identities of the two women, so that his plot merely materialises what the mentally unbalanced Anne enacts and fancies. Walter's and later Laura's attraction to Anne, nominally because she harbours the secret of Glyde's past which could destroy him, draws both towards the realm of the dead. Walter meets this woman a second time at an equally lonely, nocturnal site, 'a grave between us, the dead about us' (119). When Laura is faced with her double, with the 'sight of her own face in the glass after a long illness', she too experiences a death-like shock, incapable of speaking for the moment. What she elicits from Anne is, however, not the secret that would empower her against Glyde but rather the madwoman's fantasies about being buried with her mother, to 'wake at her side, when the angel's trumpet sounds, and the graves give up their dead at the resurrection' (302). Like Walter, Laura is startled not only at the likeness between herself and a dying woman but also because this sight is duplicated by a spoken representation of death and its encroachment on life—'I trembled from head to foot—it was so horrible to hear her.'

As Walter's later investigation shows, Anne serves as the embodiment of two enigmas—of dying and of Sir Percival's secret. Yet while she has a true knowledge of dying, the truth of Glyde's illegitimacy is only in her mother's possession and inaccessible to her. In a manner fatal to her, she mimicks possessing the truth of his past, has the signifier (her mother's threat to expose Sir Percival's secret) but not the signified. Given that the answers Walter and Laura receive from her only pertain to her fantasies of death and resurrection, Collins's narrative implies that the search for a truth to the mystery of a man's past as it relates to a woman's future materialises another desire—the search for a contact with those on the edge of death, with the fantasy of Christian resurrection as a counter-image to that of the socially-dead returned, the revenant. Under the influence of Walter and Laura's contact with Anne even the reasonable Marion, supposedly beyond superstition, repeatedly dreams of death in the form of the representation of Walter 'kneeling by a tomb of white marble', and the shadow of a veiled woman, or 'the veiled woman rising out of the grave and waiting by his side' (296, 310). This dream representation connects the schoolboy's fanciful vision with Anne's fantasies of resurrection and will, owing to Fosco's brilliant creation of death and resurrection, find a materialised representative in Laura's body. In the figure of the woman in white, haunting the fantasies of all those involved with her, death is given a representation before its occurrence and preserved even after the event, because the revenant remains in a double guise—in the body of the living-dead Laura and in the survivors' memory of Anne.

Though the narrative privileges Walter's relation to this revenant, Anne continues to appear and disappear even after he has left England. By dissimulating that she could disclose a powerful secret she poses as a threat to Glyde and Fosco while figuring the sign of hope for the two sisters. By simulating a form of living death, she serves as a source of inspiration for the villains and a source of anxiety for Laura and Marion. For the two sisters, catching Anne's incessantly eluding body means disclosing the secret it bears, while for the two villains tracing Anne means preserving the secret. While she haunts in the double guise of a harbinger of death and a bearer of a secret, her detection offers Fosco the possibility of yet another form of double plot, in which mourning hides an economic speculation. Because Laura's sole heir is her husband, the conspiracy he devises is such that Glyde can pay his bills with his wife's fictional death.

For the three detectives in the narrative, Marion, Walter and Fosco, disclosure is meant either to ward off death, to distance death from life or to create it in life. Marion writes in her diary, spurred on by 'a fear beyond all other fears', the fear of impending death. Walter collects written narratives from all those involved owing to the desire to put closure on the event of death that has occurred. Fosco traces Anne in order to create a death artificially, to give a fatal fixture to the doubleness her body staged. Having been tricked into entering his London home, Anne dies of a heart attack under the false name Laura Glyde and is buried ironically where she wished, in the grave with Mrs Fairlie, while Laura, passed off as Anne Catterick, is returned to the asylum. Although the enigma she falsely signified, Glyde's past, seems to be buried with her body, the other, death, is precisely what does not remain under ground, for in the body of Laura, Anne continues to haunt until the headstone inscription has been undone, fixing the ghost of Anne in place and separating a living from a dead woman.

There are, then, two sets of doubles. Firstly, the somatic double of one woman by another resulting in a fatal exchange which leaves Laura socially dead, psychically numb and without a will of her own. Secondly, two semiotic doubles, the gravestone inscribed 'Sacred to the memory of Laura, Lady Glyde', which restitutes her in the beyond as well as Walter's collection of narratives meant to undo the false inscription and give Laura a second symbolic birth. While the first leaves death present in life, the second marks an effort to sever death from life cleanly.

Upon his hearing of Laura's death Walter is drawn to her grave, yet as he approaches he recalls not only his lost beloved but also that this was the site where he watched 'for the coming of the woman in white', so that once again the one woman covers the other, the knowledge of the disappearance of the former recalling the uncanny apparition of the latter. The headstone inscription is the sema replacing the absent soma, a form of biography 'which told the story of her life and death', meant to preserve the individual in the collective memory. Michel Serres notes that the designation of the gravestone ci-gît, 'here lies', generalises and combines two other designations of place—'subject' (subjacere) as something lying or thrown beneath and 'object' (objacere) as something thrown before. While the designation 'here lies' is self-reflexive, designs and stabilises the sense of place in that the tombstone has death define the concept of 'here', the other two designations demand a missing reference. They raise questions such as, placed before or beneath whom, beneath what, in relation to whom, to what, to where? The object before and the subject beneath are non-referential, insisting on, requiring spacial fixture. In the form of the revenant this triadic issue of placement in reference to the site death marks is given a curious figuration, for the resuscitated dead body lies here, beneath the ground and is thrown before the founding mark of death, the tombstone; the subject (beneath) becomes the object (before). In relation to their reference to death, object and subject can be substituted for one another. The object (the double as image) becomes equivalent with the body returned, the subject resuscitated (the double as apparition or revenant).13

It is this triadic relation—an inscription of death marking the here, with a body split beneath and before this reference to death—which Collins represents in the peripeteia of his narrative. As Walter kneels by the tomb, wearily recalling his lost love—'I . . . closed my weary eyes on the earth around, on the light above. I let her come back to me'—a veiled woman-approaches him. Analogously to the apparition at the crossroads, she takes possession of him 'body and soul'. Standing 'close to the inscription on the side of the pedestal .. . the black letters' she lifts her veil. Walter is faced with a superlatively uncanny moment, a multipled love object collapsing all points of reference into one site—Laura recalled in his memory, a headstone inscription 'Sacred to the memory of Laura, Lady Glyde' assuring her doubled restitution in the beyond; i.e. the same body beneath and thrown before him (subject collapsing with object), for 'Laura, Lady Glyde . . . was standing by the inscription, and was looking at me over the grave' (430f.). Like the apparition that initiated the plot, 'sprung out of the earth or dropped from the heaven', this Laura as figure of death in life marks the site where the two half-sisters can stand in for each other perfectly; where in an uncanny sense their difference collapses; where Laura as social subject/heiress and Anne as desired object/madwoman merge; where Walter can have both, just as, in reference to death, object/revenant (before) and subject/corpse (beneath) merge.

While Anne as Laura's double served as a harbinger of death, signified what Laura would look like dying, Laura as Anne's double signifies that death has only taken place in an uncanny sense, with a body beneath connected to its double before rather than beyond. By virtue of death exchangeable with Anne, Laura is forced to retrace the social and psychic death of her double, must duplicate the socially hidden, mad and dying Anne in the guise of the symbolically dead Laura, with a confused and weakened memory, without strength, without any will of her own, her mental faculties shaken and weakened. The fatal resemblance that had thrilled Walter earlier, as an idea only, is now by virtue of death realised—now 'a real and living resemblance which asserted itself before my own eyes' (454)—the subject become object.

Because Laura is symbolically designated as dead, none of her community will recognise her. Because she wears Anne's clothes, the director of the asylum accepts her back. Once she has, like her double, escaped, she strikes all others as a mad impostress who is dissimulating 'the living personality of the dead Lady Glyde' (434); an excessive figure of duplicity in that she dissimulates herself as dead and living alike. Though Walter claims that, unlike all the others who refuse to recognise Laura, no suspicion crossed his mind from the moment she lifed her veil, the scene of recognition can be interpreted in a more complex manner. If to lift the veil is understood as a cultural sign for the disclosure of truth, the truth Walter sees is not only that Laura is alive, in contradiction to the headstone, but that the beloved he invoked, with his head on the grave, and that means in relation to death, is precisely the uncanny merger of the two—the figure of fatality that had initially thrilled him; the feminine body which merges object (thrown before) and subject (thrown beneath) in its relation to death; the revenant. For significantly he affixes his claim of possession 'mine at last' to the description of a woman more like Anne than Miss Fairlie, 'Forlorn and disowned, sorely tried and sadly changed—her beauty faded, her mind clouded—robbed of her station in the world, of her place among living creatures' (435).

The mourning and the detection plot merge in such a way that the object of mourning must be exchanged, Anne's death acknowledged and Laura's life reconfirmed. Death is in this case literally solved when it is proved that it did not occur. The trajectory of the investigation is twofold. Firstly, there is the investigation of the conspiracy, discovering and convicting the guilty. Secondly, there is the denial that death has occurred by healing Laura's psychic/physical feebleness and by symbolically healing her social loss of place produced by the false headstone inscription. The veil Laura lifts to expose an uncanny figure, the 'dead-alive', the Laura-Anne now united at one and the same body, must fall again. The dead girl once again becomes a bride, Mrs Hartright socially reaggregated. In the course of a dual social ritual, a second burial/birth and second marriage, the revenant is undone, the doubled body cleanly split into two separate beings. Until this solution has been found, however, the twofold revenant remains in the form of Laura impersonating Anne, and Anne mentally reanimated as the woman in white through whose mystery the way to the secret lies (475). The urgency to restore the one to the living is coterminous with restoring the other to death and both acts hinge on solving the secret that her first appearance in their midst heralded. The doubled bride/dead girl engenders two plots. The one an economic speculation of a husband fulfilled by virtue of dissimulating death, the other the spectacle of an uncanny resemblance transformed into a living trope for fatality. Both plots, however, use the likeness achieved by the double to articulate death in a manner where the literal and the rhetorical merge. The literal death of Anne evokes a conspiracy of dissimulation, where the dead body serves as instrument to victimise a second body into living death, while the rhetoric of the double as harbinger of death finds a 'living resemblance' when Laura equals the dead Anne.

In that sense Fosco's conspiracy is the acme of the chain of uncanny double events, a masterful creation of death in life, with the gravestone precisely not dividing the two. Indeed his plot uncannily blurs another opposition, that between life and art, when he compares his grand scheme to 'the modern Rembrandt' and suggests in his narrative testimony that the situation he created in life—the resurrection of the woman who was dead in the person of the woman who was living—might serve as model for the 'rising romance writers of England' (630). He takes particular pride in his function as the resurrectionist of the dead Anne in Laura and privileges this part of the conspiracy over the production, even if accidental, of Anne's real death. Solving Laura's fictional death also means resolving what was intertwined with her by Fosco's plot and by Walter's eroticised fancy, the ghostly figure of Anne, which, in Walter's words, 'has haunted these pages, as it haunted by life' (576). If Fosco turns death into an artwork, Anne even before her entanglement with Laura's story, served as a living emblem of death, so that her second burial implicitly buries the body that thrills as a figure of death in life.

The final opposition, then, is between two forms of creating signs out of death, between Fosco's creation of death in life and life out of death, with women's bodies his instruments, and Walter's retracing of events in the form of collecting and combining documents that are meant to double the absent like the headstone, and to restitute the absent not here but beyond. Both men represent themselves in relation to death with women's bodies as the site of this exchange. Fosco, the creator of a fatal conspiracy plot, employs the indexic/iconic mode of semiosis when he uses two women's bodies as his material, and turns his written confession of the crime into a remarkable creation meant to represent 'my own ingenuity, my own humanity' (632). Walter represents himself in the collection of testimonies as the one who resuscitated Laura, as the one who repeats and surpasses the maternal by giving a symbolic rebirth to his wife.

Installing the ritual of second burial, Walter calls together Laura's community before which he leads her back into the home from which she had left as bride and was later expelled as a madwoman. Before the collected audience he presents a public disclosure of the funereal conspiracy, outlines its course and the motives behind it, only to close the proceeding by informing those present of Sir Percival's death and his own marriage. Once the symbolic recognition has occurred, Laura is socially reaggregated. Raised by her husband's arm 'so that she was plainly visible to everyone in the room' the community responds by declaring her regained identity—'there she is, alive and hearty'. Though the grave is not reopened, the disjunction it signified is obliterated, the false inscription erased and replaced with Anne Catherick's name and date of death. This socially sanctioned burial of Anne resolves the uncanny likeness between the two half-sisters, and with it one aspect of death's rhetoric in life. It also fixes the ghost which had haunted Walter independently of Fosco's conspiracy plot, and resolves the uncanny desire for/anxiety about death, puts closure on his compulsive return to Anne as the figure whose sudden appearance had initially brought every drop of blood in his body to a stop. In the end he has successfully decathected Anne, by symbolically severing the woman whose appearance thrills from the innocent beauty of his restored wife. Second burial puts an end to the bad corpse of Anne's ghostly haunting figure and Laura's simulation of a revenant, by disjoining the bride's name from the tombstone and inscribing it so that it truly doubles a woman restituted in the beyond. In an analogous manner, Fosco's bad art, using women's bodies to materialise death and resurrection, to produce uncanny representations is exchanged for the stable art of narrative documentation that results in a recuperation of canny division.

Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights also revolves around an imperfectly closed grave, owing to which the buried woman remains among the living. Though Catherine Earnshaw-Linton's body lies beneath the headstone bearing her name, she is repeatedly resurrected imaginarily by two survivors—by her lover Heathcliff and by her servant Nelly Dean. The former preserves her as a libidinal revenant, as part of his process of mourning, in fact literally loosens one side of her coffin to keep the borders of her burial site open. The latter preserves her as a representational revenant, with her narrative of the past events meant as a strategy by which to find a husband for her mistress's daughter Cathy Heathcliff. Because he is both the spectator of Heathcliff s mourning and the chosen addressee of Nelly's tale, Lockwood, the tenant at Thrushcross Grange, not only offers the narrative frame of the text but is also the interstice between these two processes of resuscitation.

Visiting his landlord at Wuthering Heights he encounters two women liminally positioned and doubles of each other in so far as the daughter Cathy has exactly the same eyes and the same appearance of haughtiness as her mother Catherine. This daughter, left a disinherited widow by her husband's death, strikes Lockwood as 'being buried alive' (55) and herself remarks that she is locked in, forbidden to go beyond the garden wall. The mother, in turn, appears to him first in the form of a triple signature scratched repeatedly onto the ledge of a couch window where he is to spend the night, so that as he closes his eyes, 'white letters . . . as vivid as spectres' haunt him—'the air swarmed with Catherines' (61). Finding her writing covering the white blanks of nearly all the books stored in this bed-couch, an interest for the 'unknown Catherine's is kindled in Lockwood, and he reads bits of her autobiographical sketches until he falls asleep and is befallen by the intense horror of nightmare. The touch of a child's 'little, ice-cold hand' as it tries to get in through the window, wailing to be let in, complaining of its twenty-year waifdom, so maddens him with fear that he yells out in 'a frenzy of fright' (67). He had rubbed the ghost's wrist on the broken glass pane to keep it out, for the fancied touch is implicitly understood as a threat of death.

To Heathcliff, who responds to his cry, he describes her as a spectre 'who probably would have strangled me' (69). Yet not only the true nature of this ancestor but also Heathcliff s agony—he tears open the lattice, calls the absent Catherine to come in—leaves Lockwood faced with an enigma. While the daughter appears to him locked in and buried alive in her widowhood, the mother appears as an unburied ghost, locked out yet resuscitable over her signature and her diary. She further returns as the object of anxiety in Lockwood's nightmare visions and as the object of desire in Heathcliff s anguished mourning. While Lockwood tries to partition off the ghost and with it the presence of death, Heathcliff desires precisely to undo this division; with a desire for the return of his lost beloved and for death interchangeable.

Though it does not bring him death, Catherine's spectral appearance is one of the causes for Lockwood's five weeks of 'torture, tossing and sickness' (130). During this period of confinement she returns yet again, in Nelly's relation of the past, in which the plot of the spectral bride is used uncannily by the narrator to foster her listener's interest in 'that pretty girl-widow', accompanied by hanging her picture over his fireplace, hoping her story will induce him to 'win Mrs Heathcliff s heart' (346). Yet the opposite occurs, for in the same manner that he locked out the ghost of Catherine Linton, Lockwood shields himself from the 'fascination that lurks in Catherine Heathcliff s brilliant eyes', fearing an uncanny repetition, 'the daughter .. . a second edition of the mother' (191).

The frame Brontë's text sets up revolves around two instabilities—Heathcliff s mourning which preserves Catherine's ghost on earth and the daughter Cathy's widowhood, which has her liminally positioned between two marriages. The mourning and the detective plot are enmeshed in such a way that Heathcliff seeks to retain Catherine's ghost, seeks to view her corpse, to preserve the dead woman and with it death's presence in life. Lockwood seeks Nelly's narrative to decipher the fascination that the girl-widow, and the horror that the spectral-mother provoked. By not choosing the beautiful Cathy he also rejects the notion of death's presence in life. At the end of the plot, Heathcliff s death and Cathy's betrothal to her cousin affords fixture to these diametrically opposed responses to death. Heathcliff, who has "a strong faith in ghosts", designs his funeral in such a way that his partly opened coffin will face the opening he made on Catherine's, so that he can walk the earth after death united with his spectral bride. Lockwood's solution is to exclude all belief in ghosts, to divide death from life. He not only rejects the daughter but also denies, in the presence of the graves, that 'anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth' (367).

Before the resolution of these two plots—of mourning and of marriage—the dead Catherine Linton remains present, however, in the shape of two doubles. On the one hand, she returns as the ghost her forbidden lover clings to, since he conceives of the dead woman as holding his soul. Their relation is that of a symbiotic imaginary duality, where the beloved other is the same as the self, present as long as the survivor exists, absent or lost only over his absence. Their love embodies a notion of oneness that allows for difference only in the sense of annihilation. On the other hand, the mother returns in the shape of her daughter who repeats her, but with a life-sustaining difference.14 The fatality of repetition traced by the plot occurs not at the site of the body double but rather of the mourner. Heathcliff s death puts closure on the disruption or gap engendered by the mother's death. He severs the maternal revenant from the daughter by reuniting him with her instead. In that death is repeated at Heathcliff s body, Cathy is prevented from repeating her mother's self-destructive fate. Not unlike Laura, Cathy's possible identity with a dead girl is foreclosed by virtue of a second burial, which lets her in turn re-emerge as a bride. In contrast to Nelly's uncanny narration—in which both the ghost of the dead mother and the daughter as its double are invoked—the bride of Hareton Earnshaw can dispel any fear that fatality may be inscribed in her life because an arrestation of repetition has occured. With her second social birth (her second marriage) occurring over the mourning lover and the maternal spectres' expulsion, her new life will be undisturbed by revenants. Like Lockwood she can reject the uncanny double and with it the rhetoric death traces in life.15

The story Brontë frames with Lockwood's detective and Cathy's marriage plots, and which like these finds its resolution in Heathcliff s death, traces the diametrically opposed articulation of death's rhetoric in life: a symbiotic love which cannot be sustained within the 'castrative' subjugation and prohibitions that the social order requires but rather must annihilate itself. While Catherine enacts the hysteric's choice of self-destruction against the fear of being divided from her lover, shows the bride becoming a dead girl rather than dividing herself in childbirth, Heathcliff desires death as an undoing of the divisions and differences that sustain life and invokes the dead girl as his revenant bride. The teller of this uncanny tale, Nelly, hesitates between both attitudes—the expulsion of death from life and the embrace of death against life. Though her common sense assures her that the 'dead are at peace' she fears to be out at night. Though her aim is the closure marriage puts on death, her tale uncannily raises the dead to contradict the 'three headstones on the slope next the moor', whose sight so reassures Lockwood.

From the start she depicts Catherine's relation to Heathcliff as one placing them beyond the social law—implicitly forbidden because incestuous, explicitly because a misalliance between a landowner's daughter and a servant. The fact that they resist any separation implies a narcissistic bond which tries to obliterate difference by insisting on an absolute oneness or an absolute non-existence. Catherine explains to Nelly, she loves Heathcliff 'because he's more myself than I am', because whatever 'souls are made of, his and mine are the same,' because he is 'always in my mind . . . as my own being' (12If.). Though set against death as a force causing separations and divisions, Catherine sees her love in light of two other aspects of death—a notion of eternal fixture against temporality ('my love . . . resembles the eternal rocks beneath') and the uncanny lack of position belonging to the revenant. Equating a marriage to Edgar with being in heaven, she recounts a dream in which she wept to come back to earth and was flung back on to the heath by the angels.

Against the wound to her narcissism which a division from Heathcliff implies, she retaliates in the form of self-destruction, much as Heathcliff responds to loss by directing his aggressive energies against others. During the period Edgar woos Catherine, she threatens to go with her illict lover, should her brother send him away. Her immediate response to Heathcliff s departure is a psychosomatic enactment of the unconscious knowledge of her non-existence. She falls into a delirium that turns into a fever, abstains from eating and becomes suicidal. Because the presence of her lover, who gives her the sense that she is whole, sustains her life, his absence makes death the object of her desire.

The hysteric knows that she is inscribed by a lack and seeks an alternate ego or double as representative of herself. Catherine, however, designs this double not as a version of herself but precisely in the shape of another. The hysteric's knowledge that she is no-body means that she spends her life in proximity to symptomatisation and annihilation—histrionic when she tries to capture the masculine gaze, suicidal when she loses it. In moments of transition, where a position of security is disrupted and transformed, she is confronted with the knowledge that she signifies a lack of being, with the real void of death located beneath all gestures of dissimulation that keep her within the symbolic order. Transitional moments such as marriage and motherhood are dangerous, and it is precisely these that bring on Catherine's fevers and suicidal desires.

Her very first separation from Heathcliff had occurred when a wounded ankle forced her to stay with the Lintons, only to learn at Thrushcross Grange the prohibitions and restrictions of the cultured social world. Her first exposure to social prohibitions was concomitant with not only a somatic wound but also a wound to her narcissism, embodied in the absence of her companion. Their second separation brings her into a proximity of real death (her fever), turns her into an agent of death (she fatally infects the Linton parents), and encourages her marriage, which is later described as a form of living death, her body a 'corpse' because its soul (Heathcliff) has been severed from her. Heathcliff s response to the loss of his beloved is also 'violent exertions', but turned outward, a carefully designed strategy of getting 'levers and mattocks to demolish the two houses' (352). Whenever the two lovers reunite, this violence is abated.

In that the force of their love seeks a complete imaginary unity of total sameness or complete annihilation it disrupts social codes, transgresses taboos, disrupts family structures even as it destroys the lovers' bodies and as such can be seen as a trace of the semiotic chora. In that their love aims to attain the static union before and beyond social divisions and compromises, it transforms into a love for death. Because it resists the mitigated death drive embodied in the agency of the superego, of cultural laws, it transforms into an articulation of the unrestrained pure death drive, located in the primary processes, in the unconscious. Whenever the threat of division re-emerges, that of the real void of death reappears as well. Fearing a repeated disappearance of Heathcliff after a fight with Edgar, Cathy once again falls ill and this brain fever, which now cannot be deflected on to others, is the main cause of her subsequent death in childbirth. Her hysterical symptomatisation signifies the recognition of her non-existence, given that it is induced by the fear that she will lose her alternate ego. Her 'fit of frenzy', her rage, 'dashing her head against the arm of the sofa, and grinding her teeth' (156), her three-day confinement behind a barred door, her refusal of food, are in part consciously designed to direct aggressive passions against others. She wishes to frighten her husband and her lover by using her own destruction as punishment—'I'll try to break their hearts by breaking my own' (155). Forced by her husband to make a choice between him and her illicit lover, the former implying the irrevocable acknowledgment of a split within herself, Catherine chooses death, as a movement beyond divisions.

The scene describing the acme of her fit of frenzy, which Nelly and her doctor understand as a repetition of her 'former illness', is a return to consciousness after a near-death experience of 'utter blackness'. In a manner that will prove fatal, Nelly decides that Catherine 'acted a part of her disorder'. Because she does not comprehend that a hysterical simulation always also signifies real pain she remains blind to the 'true condition', which her mistress's 'ghastly countenance, and strange exaggerated manner', bespeaks (159). Catherine splits into various persons, vacillating between violent, feverish bewilderment and an absentminded return to childhood memories. She notes a division between herself and her mirrored image, asking 'Is that Catherine Linton'. Later she is unable to recognise her mirrored face and associates this image instead with a ghost haunting her, until she finally gasps at the realisation that what she sees is 'myself. This forced recognition of herself as being other than the image of the beautiful, loved and undivided self she has fashioned for herself articulates on several scores that the mirrored double signifies death. Rhetorically in the manner Blanchot describes, this distinction between self and self-designation evokes the absence of the speaker. Figurally the fact that she can't recognise herself can be seen as a trope for the alienation her married life entails, for the absence of her true self in the role of wife and mother. It can also be read as a trope for her desire to return to a symbiotic unity before the mirror stage, given that the latter always implies the division of the dyad by a third agency (father, language, absence). Literally the image she sees in the mirror is that of a dying woman, much as Laura saw an image of her dying self reflected in her double Anne's face.

The fact that she will not accept the split in herself, which every division form Heathcliff as her 'all in all' gives figure to, that she will prefer a real nonexistence over being no whole body in her social world, entertains an aspect of duplicity. Her madness is such that she hovers between her present condition of illness and memories of her youth; between being 'the wife of a stranger; an exile and outcast' and the recollection of the first time she 'laid alone', separated from Heathcliff by her brother's interdiction. Her hysterical simulation of death is brilliantly doubled, for not only does she alternate between raving and half-dreaming, but she is also simultaneously in two places, 'knows those about her' even as her mind is filled 'with all sorts of strange ideas and illusions' (167). Against these images of repeated experiences of the loss of the positive double and of her married self as an embodiment of a negative division, she posits an image of death as a return to the sense of total unity, as a return home. Its completion involves another aspect of the double in that a release from the psychic death becomes coterminous with the state of the revenant.

Opening the window, implicitly a call for death, she recalls her childhood games when she and her companion stood 'among the graves' and asked the ghosts to come. Calling Heathcliff, so as to undo the 'abyss' their separation draws, becomes a double call—she calls herself to death so as to call him to follow her—'I'll keep you . . . they may bury me twelve feet deep, and throw the church down over me; but I won't rest till you are with me' (164). This image of the restless deceased is a chiasmic reversal of her married existence, conceived by her as a separation of her body (belonging to her husband) and her soul (belonging to her lover). Threatening Edgar that she will 'spring from the window! What you touch at present, you may have; but my soul will be on that hill top before you lay hands on me again' (165) retrospectively implies that what he had all along was merely the 'corpse' of her body. Her death is merely the exchange of one form of revenant existence for another. The division her marriage signified not only finds an apotheosis in her hysterical fit, where with her body as medium she writes her sense of social non-existence and her proximity to death. Rather it is also chiasmically repeated in the division she imagines to embody after death. At the origin and the end of this divided or doubled existence stands the union with her alternate ego, the release of all tension possible only, in Freud's terminology, in the inanimation of the pre-organic state.

Even her actual death is divided in the sense that it has a dual cause—the brain fever, with the 'permanent alienation of intellect' it induces and the pregnancy from which a 'puny, seven month's child' is born over her dying body.16 The former responds to the fear that by losing Heathcliff a division of the self and a loss of her soul will be repeated yet again, and her madness duplicates this split in that her body is present while her mind wanders; her eyes with 'dreamy and melancholy softness,' vague, distant, always gazing beyond. The latter instead responds to the fear of literally splitting her body in two by giving birth, a somatic repetition and reinforcement of her psychic division. Her death also articulates that the perfect identity of two bodies is a form of love which transgresses social laws, outside marriage, even outside the realm of the living. Against the notions previously discussed that death reunites the lovers in heaven, this love can also not be restituted in the beyond, but must remain located in between, in the transgressive and liminal position of the ghost.

The scene initiating her death repeats and condenses these themes of duplicty and division into one final image. As the two lovers fall into their embrace, from which Catherine emerges 'a lifeless-looking form,' (199), she accuses him of murder ('You have killed me'), desires his death ('I wish I could hold you . . . till we were both dead'), invokes her postmortal unrest ('I shall not be at peace'), curses him to feel the same distress she will feel 'underground', even as she invokes death one last time as a form of liberation from the 'shattered prison' of her married existence. Death will fulfil her supreme desire, 'never to be parted', because once dead she can call him as she can't in life: 'my Heathcliff. I shall love mine yet, and take him with me—he's in my soul' (196). Her death is a doubly directed act of aggression. Though it destroys her, it also inflicts on her lover a renewal of the 'hell' of division, so that he conceives of his mourning as a slow form of being murdered by the ghost of the deceased, a 'strange way of killing' (321). Catherine's death-like loss of consciousness during her last embrace, from which she emerges bewildered—'she sighed, and moaned, and knew nobody'—significantly occurs as Edgar's approach threatens to break the symbiotic dyad and finalises her hysteric desire to repress all signs of division. She dies without recovering 'sufficient consciousness to miss Heathcliff and to know Edgar', without being forced to acknowledge that she is divided in the two senses discussed—lacking her lover and delivered of a daughter.

Nelly sees her corpse as the semblance of 'perfect peace' and tranquillity, her body an 'untroubled image of Divine rest.' Implicitly she misreads her mistress's belief that in death she would be 'incomparably beyond and above' her survivors, much as she misread her earlier fit of frenzy. In support of the double attitude toward death that the novel's frame exhibits, Brontë leaves the question undecided whether Nelly's view that 'her spirit is at home with God' is adequate, whether she fully condones Nelly's allegorisation of the corpse into a figure legitimising a belief in 'the endless and shadowless hereafter—the Eternity . . . when life is boundless in its duration and love in its sympathy, and joy in its fullness' (201). Or whether she also recognises Heathcliff s contrary assurance that the dead woman is not beyond, 'not there—not in heaven'.

While for Nelly a narcissistically informed desire for wholeness requires that the dead be fully restituted in the beyond, Heathcliff s same desire requires an obliteration of the division between the living and the dead. He calls to the absent to haunt him, to wander on earth, not to leave him alive alone. While Nelly sees the corpse as a figure whose peace assures the division of death from life and supports a canny notion of a peaceful existence after wordly strife,—Heathcliff wishes to see her corpse as a sign that death can uncannily be preserved in life, that the absence death causes is incomplete. While for Catherine death signifies the liberation from an enclosure, for Heathcliff the corpse remains a signifer of a gap. The ghost of his beloved tempts and recedes from his grasp, just as the forbidden wife of Edgar Linton had, and her death is not a release of tensions but merely a shift in its manner of articulation.

The first of several instances of tampering with her corpse so as to assure an exchange is that he places a lock of his hair into a locket around her neck to be buried with her. On the day of her burial he tries to undo the division that the grave affords by literally uncovering the coffin, wishing to have her in 'his arms again'. Yet his necrophilic desire turns into mourning because his 'strong faith in ghosts' lets him sense the spectral presence of Catherine 'there, not under me, but on the earth'. Relinquishing his initial desire to embrace the corpse initiates 'that strange feeling' which shapes the next eighteen years of mourning until he does indeed open the coffin. This uncanniness, spurred on by a refusal to see the corpse, lets her remain as an immaterial body, present though absent in body. In his psychic reanimation, she traces the figure of aphanisis, an 'intolerable torture', because constantly oscillating between fading from his view and returning in his sensation and imagination. At Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff 'felt her by me—I could almost see her, and yet I could not!' When he closes his eyes she is there—outside the window, entering the room, resting her head next to his, yet once he opens his eyes she is again gone. This uncanny preservation, the woman simultaneously da and fort, remaining yet receding from any concrete vision and grasp, keeping him alive yet in constant relation to death, is what Heathcliff ultimately calls 'a strange way of killing .. . to beguile me with the spectre of hope'. While he defines his mourning as a form of murder, with the revenant bringing him death by 'fractions of hair-breadths', what remains undecided is whether the hope he refers to is her complete resurrection in body or his complete physical annihilation. His mourning represents the lost beloved in the image of the female vampire, who returns to bring death to her bridegroom. The indeterminacies this motive is inscribed with are such that the relation of signifer to signified is opaque. Does death desire him because she desires him? Does he, by desiring her, desire death? Or does he desire her as a displaced desire for death?

The liminal phase of mourning—in which he retains her on earth as the revenant who haunts him—finds closure when Heathcliff does indeed open the coffin, for the sight of the dead body affords 'some ease'. Concomitant with the invoked revenant theme, her body has not decomposed. Implicitly, because he has preserved her mentally, her body will begin to dissolve only when he too shares this process. The vampirisation is such that her uncanny presence strangely kills him, sucks his life even as his psychic clinging to her sustains her body, with his mental anguish serving as the blood that arrests her bodily dissolution and precludes any form of dissolution. The sight of the corpse, 'the distinct impression of her passionless features,' removes that 'strange feeling' of her intangible presence, assures him that she is indeed dead. The tranquillity he gains from this sight closes the uncertainty that the thwarted first disinterment provoked, because it discloses a repressed knowledge—the truth of her death. Had he initially aimed at literally lying with the corpse, disregarding whether she be cold or motionless, as an act of defying the gap death produced, he now imagines such a necrophilic embrace as a trope for his own demise—'I dreamt I was sleeping the last sleep, by the sleeper, with my heart stopped, and my cheek frozen against hers' (320).

Though Catherine's second burial does not put closure on her revenant status, but on the contrary fixes it (Heathcliff has used the opening of the grave to loosen one side of her coffin), it does terminate the spectrality that fed his mourning and introduces his dying. The second burial terminates his fetishistic position of mourning, his hesitation between a denial of her disappearance and the fact that the intangibility of her ghost forced him to acknowledge her bodily absence. Before he saw the corpse he could still conceive of his beloved in terms of the living, could sustain his life uncannily over her psychic reanimation. Once he has seen her corpse, her death is certain, and in his invocations he now does not ask her to return but rather to help him be gone as well. Because he can no longer focus his attention on the one image of her spectral body, he sees her everywhere, 'in every object... the entire world a dreadful collection of memoranda that she did exist and that I have lost her' (353). His form of death is a repetition of Catherine's—abstaining from food, he stares beyond into 'a vacant space'. All absorbed by the dead woman, he bars himself from the living, withdraws into the panelled bed of their childhood unity. Where she died so as not to 'miss Heathcliff, he hopes death will assuage this lived lack.

Though Heathcliff understands this death as an irrevocable obliteration of the division between himself and his other, Brontë's text ends on a note which embellishes the crack of duplicity—thematically and structurally. For the heaven Heathcliff has 'nearly attained' is their spectral reunion, their wandering between earth and heaven, not a fixture in a grave and in the beyond (the heaven of Christianity 'altogether unvalued, and uncoveted'). Rhetorically the doubled narrative, the frame and its embedded tale, remains split between a notion that the dead are cleanly severed from the living and one that locates the dead on their margins—in the room at Wuthering Heights closed to signify their absence but just as plausibly shut up 'for the use of such ghosts as choose to inhabit it' (366) and in the tome of their textual representation serving either as a repetition of the gravestone, assuring the quiet slumbers of the dead or as the correlative of the panel oak bed, to whose inhabitant Catherine's ghost so tauntingly will reappear. . . .


1 See N. Auerbach, 1982, who emphasises that Pompilia is perfect in whiteness and exemplifies truth because her death enables her to speak with purity.

2 M. Holquist, 1983.

3 T. Todorov, 1977.

4 J.B. Pontalis, 1978.

5 H. Cixous, 1981.

6 R. Hertz, 1960.

7 M. Eliade, 1977.

8 V. Turner, 1977.

9 E. Morin, 1970.

10 See P. Barber, 1988.

11 D. A. Miller, 1988, argues that this scene is the novel's 'primal scene which it obsessively repeats and remembers .. . as though this were the trauma it needed to work through,' p. 152. He emphasizes that the protagonist is nervous about the possibility of being contaminated by virtue of the unknown woman's touch, whereas I will argue that this touch elicits an uncanny desire for and anxiety about death.

12 J.-L. Vernant, 1988, argues that the gravestone holds the place of the deceased as a double, incarnating its life in the beyond. It marks a clear opposition between the world of the living and the world of the dead. As sign of an absence, it signifies that death reveals itself precisely as something which is not of this world. Though this double marks the site where the dead are present in the world of the living or the living project themselves on to the universe of the dead, it makes the invisible visible even as it reveals that death belongs to an inaccesible mysterious realm beyond, fundamentally Other.

13 M. Serres, 1987.

14 S. Gilbert and S. Gubar, 1979, argue that Heathcliff is Catherine's almost identical double, while Cathy is her mother's non-identical double, because a more genteel version, of her.

15 For a similar plot resolution see Daphne Du Maurier's modern gothic romance Rebecca (1938), where a second wife must 'kill' the revenant of a first wife, lest she be completely absorbed by the image of her predecessor. In my next chapter, the solution of the mourning process will be shown to resort to the [opposite] choice—the double sacrificed so as to preserve the mourner from death.

16 See also M. Homans, 1986, who discusses Brontë's novel as an example of how the mother's death is a prerequisite for the daughter's entrance into the social order. S. Gilbert and S. Gubar, 1979, read the novel as delineating the movement from nature to culture. J. Boone, 1987, discusses her death as the only liberation from a fragmented existence, found especially in manage. See also E. Lemoine-Luccione's, 1976, psychoanalytic discussion of pregnancy as one of the crucial moments of self-division in the feminine life cycle.

Works Cited

Primary literature

Brontë, Emily (1847). Wuthering Heights. Harmondsworth: Penguin (1965).

Browning, Robert (1869). The Ring and the Book. Harmondsworth: Penguin (1971).

Collins, Wilkie (1859-60). The Woman in White. Harmondsworth: Penguin (1974).

Stoker, Bram (1897). Dracula. Oxford: Oxford University Press (1983).

Secondary literature

Auerbach, Nina (1982). Woman and the Demon. The Life of a Victorian Myth. Cambridge, Harvard University Press.

Barber, Paul (1988). Vampires, Burial, and Death. Folklore and Reality. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Boone, Joseph Allen (1987). Tradition Counter Tradition. Love and the Form of Fiction. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Cixous, Hélène (1981). 'Castration or Decapitation'. Signs 7, pp. 41-55.

Eliade, Mircea (1977). 'Mythologies of Death: An Introduction'. Religious Encounters with Death ed. Frank E. Reynolds and Earle H. Waugh. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, pp. 13-23.

Gilbert, Sandra M. and Susan Gubar (1979). The Madwoman in the Attic. The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Hertz, Robert (1960). Death and The Right Hand. Glencoe: The Free Press.

Holquist, Michael (1983). 'Whodunit and Other Questions: Metaphysical Detective Stories in Postwar Fiction'. The Poetics of Murder. Detective Fiction and Literary Theory ed. Gleen W. Most and William W. Stowe. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, pp. 149-74.

Homans, Margaret (1986). Bearing the World. Language and Female Experience in Nineteenth-Century Women's Writing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Lemoine-Luccioni, Eugénie (1976). Partages des femmes. Paris: Seuil.

Miller, D. A. (1988). The Novel and the Police. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Morin, Edgar (1970). L'Homme et la Mort. Paris: Seuil.

Pontalis, J.-B. (1978). 'On Death-Work in Freud, in the Self, in Culture'. Psychoanalysis, Creativity and Literature ed. Alan Roland. New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 85-95.

Serres, Michel (1987). Statues. Le second livre des fondations. Paris: Éditions François Bourin.

Todorov, Tzvetan (1977). The Poetics of Prose. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Turner, Victor (1977a). 'Death and the Dead in the Pilgrimage Process'. Religious Encounters with Death ed. Frank E. Reynolds and Earle H. Waugh. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, pp. 24-39.

Vernant, Jean-Louis (1988). 'Figuration de l'invisible et catégoire psychologique du double: le colossos'. Mythes & pensée chez les Grecs. Paris: La Découverte, pp. 325-38.


Responses To Death


Striving For Immortality