Emily Brontë – Wuthering Heights (1847)

Lockwood moves to Thrushcross Grange as a tenant of Heathcliff. Nelly, his housekeeper, tells him the story of his landlord, Heathcliff. Already, to start, an imbedded narrative.

Three generations. Catherine and Hindley, children of first-generation Mr. Earnshaw, who finds Heathcliff in the city and resuces from poverty by taking him on as a son. Hindley grows jealous and treats Heathcliff poorly after his father dies, though Catherine remains faithful. Cathy “falls in love” with Edgar Linton (an ineffectual aesthete), who she marries despite loving Heathcliff like a brother. Hindley has a child, Hareton, with Frances (she dies off quickly). Heathcliff leaves and acquires a fortune mysteriously. He returns to Catherine, to find her married to Edgar and living at Thrishcross Grange. He returns to Wuthering Heights and slowly gains control over his enemy Hindley, and degrades Hareton to a savage servant, depriving him entirley of education. Heathcliff seduces Isabella Linton, Edgar’s sister, and retires to Wuthering Heights. He has a child with Isabella named “Linton.” Isabella runs away, dies, gives Linton to her brother, and Heathcliff soon claims his property. Catherine dies while giving birth to a daughter, named Cathy. Cathy grows up and Heathcliff encourages and later forces relations between her and Linton. Heathcliff eventually captures Cathy and Nelly, forces a marriage while Edgar dies. Hindley attempts to kill him, and Hindley eventually dies. Move to time of narration. Lockwood returns to Thrushcross to find Heathcliff dead, Catherine married to Hareton, and Nelly acting as servant. Jospeh, the seemingly deathless servant, is happy that the ancient stock has been restored. Lockwood leaves, wondering what would have happened had he married Cathy.

Space – Domestic, landscape, property lines: all are constantly expanding and contracting, at once permeable and impervious from scene to scene. When Isabel Linton moves to Wuthering Heights, she inhabits liminal spaces, like stairwells. They cannot accommodate her, but at other times, the house seems inordinately large, able to fit Lockwood when in need, etc. Also, Heathcliff can walk right into Thrushcross Grange. Catherine, once within the orbit of the Heights, seems to be inevitably swaloowed by it. Depsite Nelly’ capacity to move fluidly within any situation, she is disturbingly locked down in the end. In short, space is not articulated clearly, precisely or by any means definitively. Contrast to previous representations of space, such as Northanger Abbey, Barchester Towers—each of which include “tours” of old mansions.

Violence – the detailed violence. Blood, sweat, bestial characteristics are conveyed directly, neither by metaphor nor as metaphor.

Physical/Spiritual/Psychological – the three registers constantly combat for causal explication. Cathy’ hysteria could be explained by her pregnancy, which is never mentioned until she is dead. This allows Bronte to draw out the psychological distress, while not addressing biological change and flux..at other times, childhood (psychoanalytic) resources are forgotten and the spiritual, cosmic, demonic is emphasized. This competition can also be read with regard to incest taboo that lurks in Heathcliff and Catherine’s relations. Also, with regard to love (All children love their parents, etc…where the biological comes to stand in for social rupture, but cannot contain or patch up the tear)

Material metaphors – Bronte is constantly using soils, metals and minerals as metaphors for the living, rather than conceptual or spiritual, or anthropomorphic imagery.

Heathcliff as plotter – Heathcliff is constantly literally plotting, and representing the act of plotting to Nelly and others. The convention of the hidden plot is overturned, and rude mechanicals of narrative development is shown to be contrived but nevertheless vicious. Talk about in relation to Trollope’s denigration of plot (a different way of saying “plot” is not important, as well as Peter Brooks’ discussion of active “plotting” in Conan Doyle and other detective fiction. How is Wuthering Heights simply a failed detective story.

Negative Bildungsroman – the crucial development of Heathcliff is veiled. What spirals around this empty center is pure destruction, a portrait of the underbelly of the socially mobile protagonist.

Romanticism/Realism – Heathcliff as the hinge figure between these generic developments. Cf. Nancy Armstrong’s essay “Bronte In and Out of Her Time”: “Capitlaism replaces a bleated feudalism as the chief source of villainy, and competition is treated as a fact of life that converts sentient beings into objects in the marketplace” (371 in Norton edition). Juxtapose the noble savage plot with the socially destructive, dangerous middle class plot. Romantic “individualism” cedes to “collectivity” and tradition at the end, since it serves the interests of the rich (Linton). “If Heathcliff’s first metamorphosis tells us something cannot be spoken if the novel is to remain a novel, then the second uncovers the act of repression that has enabled Victorian fiction to emerge” (177).

Heather Glen argues in “Emily Brontë” (2005) that we should not read Wuthering Heights as an isolated work fo genius that somehow stand outside of all traditions, but rather as a sophisticated literary work that engages various traditions–especially the ballad form as inherited by Scott. Read this way means refusing the sort of carless construction that characterizes Ruskin’s gothic (Charlotte said that it was “wrought from no model…a colossal, dark, and frowning, half statue, half rock.” For instance, Nelly Dean recalls Scott’s servant-narrators (contrast with Thackeray and Collins servant-narrators), but she is put into tension with Lockwood, the urban “tourist” whose latinate interest in the conventionally romantic contrasts with Nelly’s direct and matter-of-fact of spoken words. Glen contrasts the novel with both Agnes Grey and the Professor (with which it was supposed to be published in three volumes): the others focus on subjectivity in terms of self-help and autobiography, whereas Wuthering Heights takes on the larger stakes of primitive violence and the shared conditions of romantic disappointment. Further, rather than charting out memory’s relation to the construction of the subject, WH registers the past as a shock that cannot be fully sublimated or represented. Thus not so much interested in “the vagaries of individual subjectivity” but in a condition “we all share” (188). Nature itself seems to participate in this condition: birth, death, renewal, spring, decay, all happen with an objective vividness unmatched in the other Brontë novels.

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One response to “Emily Brontë – Wuthering Heights (1847)

  1. This is one of my favorite novels.

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