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Kathy Lette: “After years of loveless sex, Emily Brontë taught me what I really wanted in bed”

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For Kathy Lette, the boys she grew up with in Australia left a lot to be desired in the way of passion. After a series of unfortunate sexual encounters, she discovered the words of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights - and her view of romance changed forever. 


kathy lette

We all remember the first book we read which utterly absorbed us – absorbed us to the point where the world between those book covers became more real than your own life.

For me, it was Cathy and Heathcliff’s tragic passion played out on the misty moors.

Wuthering Heights was a book that taught me about desire and devotion. It was also a desperately needed literary antidote to my unromantic teenage years.

I came of age as a surfie girl on Sydney’s golden beaches. The boys I grew up with disproved the theory of evolution – they were evolving into apes. As proof of how sexist they were, they used to make us cut their names out in paper, sticky tape them to our stomachs, then sunbake - so we’d get a tan tattoo in the shape of their names.

And so, if ever I get skin cancer, I’ll have a melanoma called Bruce. I’ll have to undergo a Bruce-ectomy to get rid of it.

They also thought that ‘sex drive’ meant doing it in the car. Although I think I’ve finally worked out why. I suspect it’s to do with that little sign on the rear vision mirror which reads, “Objects in this mirror may appear larger than they are.”

For surfie girls sexual initiation began at age 13. And it was about as relaxing as amateur ovarian cyst removal. The terms the boys used for sex were “rooting”, “stabbing”, “plugging”, “poking” and “meat injecting”.

Not quite a Shakespearean love sonnet now, is it?

The surfie terms for women were “bush pigs”, “swamp hogs”, “dogs”, or “hogs” (a cross between a pig and a dog) or a “maggot”. If you were good-looking, they called you a “glamour maggot”.

kathy lette

Kathy with her surfie gang in 1972

In other words, passion was not the fashion and romance was an R-rated word.

I remember lying underneath my boyfriend, who was prodding away at my clitoris as though it was an elevator button and he was running late for a meeting (believe me, all I wanted to say was “TAKE THE STAIRS”).

I glanced up at him and beseeched, “Bruce, darling, you do love me don’t you?” To which he replied, “Jeez Kath, I’m rootin’ ya aren’t I?”

I thought love was in the air but it turned out to be just the smell of Bruce’s exhaust as he zoomed off into the sunset.

These surfie boys were gorgeous looking, don’t get me wrong. They were bronzed love gods with chiseled abs, serious pecs appeal, and shoulders broad enough to house an entire library of book... but they also had love-bites on their mirrors. 

Put it this way – when they came, they called out their own names.

Fed up with this surfie sexism, aged 16, I ran away from school. (The only examination I’ve ever passed is my cervical smear test.)

I hitch hiked 500 miles west and got a job working on a sheep station as a jillaroo, rounding up sheep on horseback. But the men out in the Wild West were even tougher and rougher than the surfie boys I’d tried to escape. Their version of foreplay was shearing. It gave a very new meaning to ‘animal magnetism’…

Kathy at summer camp with friends

Kathy at summer camp with her sisters in 1972

The only reading material on offer at the sheep station were old battered cowboy paperbacks. After the shearing season was over, I was clearing out the huts one day when I found a small, tattered hardback of Wuthering Heights tucked under a weathered mattress. 

It was a stinking hot day - it was so hot that the trees were positively whistling for dogs and the chooks were laying hard-boiled eggs.

And so, I squashed a few poisonous spiders, chased away a brown snake, swatted a squadron of flies, then lay down on the dusty old bunk, cracked the book’s spine - and disappeared into the fervent embrace of literature’s most tortured romantic hero, the ruggedly handsome Heathcliff.

In reality, I couldn’t have been living in a more opposite landscape – the red earth, the big, blue, cloudless skies, the searing sun of the Aussie outback, yet I was instantly transported to the misty moors.

The weather may have been wet and wild, but Cathy and Heathcliff’s desires ran hot - and I was over-awed by their ardor.  

“If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn to a mighty stranger,” I read with astonishment.

Wuthering Heights kick-started my own lifelong passion too – for reading. And kindled my obsession with those two extraordinary Yorkshire sisters. I’m now an expert on the Brontës. I’m a walking Brontë thesaurus; a Brontë-saurus, if you will.

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Kathy with one of her surfie boyfriends, 1974

In my surfie gang, there was such pressure to become sexual. But being sexually liberated can be very oppressive.

My salty clique and I were so busy being laid, we’d mislaid the essential ingredients of adoration and devotion. We were so experienced, yet sheltered from intimacy. 

Reading Wuthering Heights taught me that it’s great emotion and not an all-night gymnastic performance, that makes sex truly sensational.

Heathcliff and Cathy showed me that love is the greatest aphrodisiac.

Discovering Wuthering Heights that dusty day also inspired me to pen my first novel, aged 18, called Puberty Blues - a savage little satire on those surfie boys I grew up with.

From the Brontës I learned that ‘poetic justice’ is the only true justice in the world – you can always impale enemies on the end of your pen. (The book became an Aussie icon and was made into a movie and a mini-series).

The Brontës taught me what women really want in bed – breakfast, and a really good book. 


Kathy Lette's latest book, Courting Trouble, is published by Black Swan. She suggests you slip between her covers - satisfaction guaranteed. 

@kathylette www.kathylette.com

Images: iStock

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