Good grief. Just to be clear, if you're the Prime Minister and some hack puts it to you, idiotically, that "Some women say you remind them of Heathcliff"... you do not reply, even jokingly, "Absolutely. Well, maybe an older Heathcliff, a wiser Heathcliff."
Madness. Needless to say the papers are having some sport with this:
Andrew McCarthy, the acting director of the Bronte Parsonage Museum in Yorkshire, told The Daily Telegraph: "Heathcliff is a man prone to domestic violence, kidnapping, possibly murder, and digging up his dead lover. He is moody and unkind to animals. Is this really a good role model for a prime minister?"
Gerald Warner weighs in:
Are the other members of his government afflicted with similar delusions? Or will Labour's floundering spin doctors think it a cunning ploy to identify each of them with a literary character? Alistair Darling as Mr Micawber? David Miliband as Uriah Heep? Harriet Harridan as Madame Defarge? Where will it all end?
All good fun. But of course the reaction to Brown's little joke is itself instructive: the press has decided that he's finished, therefore everything becomes fair game. One the press decides the Prime Minister is a sucker and a loser, his chances of being given a sympathetic hearing or the benefit of the doubt are finished forever. His jokes will be treated as gaffes by the bovine but vindictive (and ravenous) press corps. Still, Downing Street must be furious: the New Statesman interview was a fauning, soft-focus puff-piece designed to "relaunch" or, gruesomely, "humanise" the beleaguered PM. And instead, this happens...
[Hat-tip: Mr Eugenides]