‘You're fit for a prince in disguise,’ Nelly Dean kindly tells the gloomy young Heathcliff, trying to cheer him. ‘And you were kidnapped by wicked sailors and brought to England. Were I in your place, I would frame high notions of my birth; and the thoughts of what I was should give me courage and dignity.’ Emily Brontë got it exactly right: this is how children nearly always face the problems that arise when they lose parents early or have no idea of their background. It is no criticism of Anna Swan's Statues Without Shadows that it follows the pattern suggested by Nelly Dean: the tendency to romanticise, exaggerate, make the most of what is known, find satisfying patterns in the past and try to make order out of what seems haphazard; to find grandeur and glamour in what to others seems ordinary. It is probably the only way to face the truth.
Anna Swan was twenty-eight when she discovered that neither of her parents had died of illness, as she had been told by the grandmother who mostly brought her up, but that, separately and with a gap of about six years between their deaths, they had both committed suicide. Why, how,