Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Wuthering Heights is a classic gothic novel written by Emily Brontë, first published in 1847 under the pseudonym Ellis Bell and edited by Charlotte Brontë. However, during its time, reviews were deeply polarised; it was controversial due to its unusual depiction of cruelty. It challenged Victorian ideologies, views, values and morals. Dante Rossetti referred to the novel as “an incredible monster” that was “laid in hell.”
The narrative takes place on the wild, stormy and isolated English moors, between two families and two dwellings. It is an elaborately designed story, constructed as a series of tales told by Heathcliff’s housekeeper, Nelly Dean, and recorded by Lockwood in his diary.
Although there is more than one beginning behind what happened at Wuthering Heights and the Grange, personally, it begins with the introduction of Heathcliff. Brontë is challenging society from the outset as, like the moors, Heathcliff is wild and lost. Brontë therefore, places him in the role of the antihero. Catherine later states that it would “degrade” her to marry Heathcliff, despite the fact she loves him and he continues to be a tool that Brontë uses to question Victorian society. This stands as an interesting plot design when considering the controversy a character like Heathcliff would have caused in the 1800s. The introduction of Heathcliff also pulls together most of the integral characters throughout the novel.
Catherine and Heathcliff’s destructive love and passion for one another is what really seems to become the centre of Wuthering Heights, as the toxicity of their relationship leaks into its walls, and out onto its moors. Nelly condemns Catherine and Heathcliff for their passion as she tells their story, but their passion is one of the most compelling narratives of the novel. Their love is entwined in layers of toxic behaviour; a theme that seems to be timeless as their relationship is still idealised, picked apart and criticised to this day.
One particularly strong motif of the novel is that Brontë relentlessly presents the reader with the contrast of nature and culture. The Earnshaw family, particularly Catherine and Heathcliff, represent nature; their wildness, like that of the moors, is part of who they are. The Linton family, however, represent culture: they uphold the traditional norms and values of Victorian society, for the most part.
The symbolism of the moors and representation of ghosts in the narrative are some of the biggest aspects of the gothic nature of Wuthering Heights. The moors are wide, wild landscapes, high but soggy, and infertile. They represent the wild threat posed by nature; they are hard to navigate and therefore hard to tame. This is especially haunting when Catherine and Heathcliff initially bond as the two play on the moors during childhood and seem to absorb all aspects of them into their relationship. In terms of the ghosts in Wuthering Heights, Brontë always seems to present them in a way that leaves the reader questioning whether they really exist or not. Despite this, they remind the reader of another toxic layer to the novel which is that memory stays with places and the people there, permeating their day-to-day lives.
In its entirety, Wuthering Heights is an elegant, timeless and compelling novel. Its themes are still relevant, unfortunately, to the state of today’s society. The haunting and gothic aspects of the novel are still just as effective as they were initially perceived to be, confirming the status of Wuthering Heights as a timeless classic that deserves to be read by everyone.
© 2019 Kirsty Louise Farley
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Kirsty-Louise is a published author and poet with a BA hons in English Literature. Working as a Secondary English Teacher, dog walks on the coast, and reading books pass her time in Ramsgate & Margate.