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Page last updated at 12:41 GMT, Thursday, 10 July 2008 13:41 UK

Which Wuthering Heights character are you?

Ken Hutchison as Heathcliff in 1978 BBC production of Wuthering Heights
I wandered gloomy as a cloud...

By Megan Lane
BBC News Magazine

Gordon Brown sees himself as Heathcliff - perhaps for the brooding nature, rather than the kidnapping and cruelty. Why do we project ourselves onto fictional characters?

If Gordon Brown thinks he is Heathcliff, then who is his Cathy? A tormented ghost, tapping on a storm-lashed window, pleading to be let in. One hopes, for Sarah Brown's sake, that she hasn't cast herself in this role. Ditto deputy Labour leader, Harriet Harman.

Angela Scoular as Cathy and Ian McShane as Heathcliff
Foundling taken in by wealthy Mr Earnshaw, of Wuthering Heights
Falls for daughter Catherine
She later marries another - as does he, in revenge - then dies
A dark, brooding sort, he takes his wild grief out on others
And digs up Cathy's body. Twice

Commentators have long likened the Prime Minister to Emily Bronte's anti-hero, but for the first time he has agreed with the comparison in an interview with New Statesman magazine.

For fiction allows us to try someone else's life on for size. And sometimes the fit is all too comfortable.

"It seems as if he is floundering and is grabbing onto a strong, granite-jawed character that someone's suggested to him," says psychologist Angela Mansi, of Westminster Business School.

"People like to identify themselves with a character when they lack a sense of their core identity. This is happening more and more as we give too much away about ourselves and try too hard to please others."


It is also a staple of the pop psychology quiz. Magazines and social networking sites offer a myriad of multiple-choice questionnaires to identify which Jane Austen/Harry Potter/Winnie the Pooh character you are most like.

Grumpy orange cartoon cat, a forerunner of Garfield
But rather less of a commercial success
Fond of practical jokes and stealing fish from the market

While hardly a rigorous personality assessment, the outcome can still be disappointing if you see yourself as a Tigger-type - full of bounce - but turn out to be more of an Eyeore. Even more so if friends concur with the result.

"These quizzes are a fun party game but clearly no-one is a square peg in a square hole. People react differently in different situations and with different people. Your friends, your mum and dad, your child will see different parts of you."

Ronald Reagan liked to compare himself to Rambo, the action hero of 1985. Not long after the film's release, 39 American hostages were freed in Lebanon. "After seeing Rambo last night, I know what to do next time this happens," the president joked.

Several months later, he again invoked the spirit of the fictional avenger as he promised tax reform: "Let me tell you, in the spirit of Rambo, we're going to win this thing."

And Boris Johnson - something of a Billy Bunter figure - aims to emulate Pericles, "responsible for the rejuvenation of Athens".

Kate Bush sings in 1970s
You had a temper like my jealousy, too hot, too greedy. How could you leave me, when I needed to possess you? I hated you. I loved you, too
Kate Bush on Heathcliff

Perhaps it is the rather more sympathetic film version of Heathcliff that Mr Brown is thinking of - Timothy Dalton, perhaps, or Richard Burton - rather than the unpleasant piece of work in the novel. Or he is a fan of Kate Bush's passionate pleadings.

To see oneself as a favourite character is quite childlike, says Ms Mansi, and role-play is a valuable part of a small child's development.

"Children try out who they are and what values they like. A four-year-old pretending to be Angelina Ballerina is thinking 'I want to be like her'.

"But if she's still doing that by age 12, you might worry. To be doing it as an adult shows a lack of a sense of self."

Below is a selection of your comments.

People know that he was joking, right? He agreed with the preposterous suggestion put to him with good humour and a little sarcasm. Do let's move on.
Caroline, London

Despite his brooding and cruel qualities, Healthcliff was, nevertheless, a very powerful and charismatic character. That is hardly a description of Gordon Brown. Sometimes we are drawn to fictional characters precisely because of the qualities we don't have but wished we had.
Eileen Kennedy, Oxford

It's odd to say that role-play shows a "lack of a sense of self" in an adult. In fact, role play scenarios have formed some of the most effective methods in job training that I've done, and have also featured prominently in graduate interviews. I genuinely enjoy role-playing as a hobby. I've found it to be an excellent way to develop feelings of empathy for others, not to mention to challenge myself to combat scenarios I'd never meet in real life. I find that by challenging myself in this way and by developing stronger understanding of other characters, I actually help develop a stronger sense of self, rather than exposing a lack. Besides, you don't have to stop enjoying yourself when you hit age 12.
Joanna McKenzie, Glasgow, UK

Who would want to be compared with any Wuthering Heights character? Although I count the book as one of my favourites, every character is pretty unlikeable in some way, shape or form.
Emma, Milton Keynes

Identifying with others is a key part of being human and interacting well in society. Identifying does not mean trying to emulate - if it did, Gordon Brown would presumably spend his days digging up dead people. It means seeing a similarity between yourself and someone else, and using that similarity to learn from their experiences (fictional or otherwise). I don't believe it shows a lack of sense of self, or immaturity - why should we not constantly reassess our values and monitor our strengths and weaknesses throughout life? It is down to ourselves to choose the right role models, the ones who can teach us how to improve our own behaviour. Heathcliff may have his flaws, but I think of far worse role models. How many women's magazines teach us to try to emulate Victoria Beckham, Jade Goody or Jordan?
Susannah, Northampton

Personally I'd prefer to be Tigger than Heathcliff, he seems to have more fun.
Andrew, Malvern, UK

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