The Victorian Elements in Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontё Essay
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The Victorian Era, in which Brontё composed Wuthering Heights, receives its name from the reign of Queen Victoria of England. The era was a great age of the English novel, which was the ideal form to descibe contemporary life and to entertain the middle class. Emily, born in 1818, lived in a household in the countryside in Yorkshire, locates her fiction in the worlds she knows personally. In addition, she makes the novel even more personal by reflecting her own life and experiences in both characters and action of Wuthering Heights.
In fact, many characters in the novel grow up motherless, reflecting Emily’s own childhood, as her mother died when Emily was three years old. Similarly, the vast majority of the novel takes place in two households, which probably is a reflection of author’s own comfort at home as whenever she was away from home she grew homesick. Emily Brontё’s single novel is a unique masterpiece propelled by a vision of elemental passions but controlled by an uncompromising artistic sense.
However, despite the relative invisibility of Victorian influence in the plot and content, the attitudes of the Victorian Era make some impact on the story, and the novel is considered not only a form of entertainment but also a means of analyzing and offering solutions to social and political problems. Brontё may not highlight the social aspects in the novel, nevertheless the indications of Victorian society’s problems are significant. By provinding characters such as Heathcliff, Lockwood, and Catherine, she communicates various aspects of homelessness. The life of the Ernshaw family changes for good the night an orphan child arrives at Wuthering Heights. The boy is being named Heathcliff, “the name thus signifies his acceptance but also his difference and implied inferiority; in lacking the family name, he lacks full membership in the family” (Lamonica 98). He is a nameless, parentless street urchin whom Nelly calls a “gipsy brat” (Bronё 36). However, Heathcliff’s origin is not an obstacle for a Victorian family to foster him, in spite of class differences.
The homelessness in Wuthering heights is also symbolized by Mr. Lockwood’s arrival. Without a roof over his head, aware of a risk of potential loss of life, he seeks a shelter from storm. The shelter he finds at Wuthering Heights is not a home, though. “As soon as he enters Wuthering Heights, Lockwood senses his exile. The return home is impossible without a guide, and Wuthering Heights, of course, can offer him none” (Jacobs 108). The entire episode of Lockwood’s visit is an allegory of homelessness and excommunication. When he enters the chamber, he has a horrible vision of Catherine as achild, appearing at the window, begging to be allowed in. “ ‘Let me in – let me in’ ’Who are you?’ I asked, struggling, meanwhile, to disengage myself. ‘Catherine Linton’ replied, shiverringly (…) I’m come home, I’d lost my way on the moor!” (Brontё 24) Her ghost visits Wuthering Heights, as this is the house she considers to be her heaven, the place she really belongs. Thrushcross Grange become her place of exile, and she finds herself an outcast from her true home. She is the ultimate figure of homelessness because she is the one who creates her exile as a conscious act of the imagination.
The homelessness in Wuthering Heights appears in different ways. In addition to the vagrant ghost trying to come back to the real home, the fact of Lockwood temporarily having no place to stay, we also have the litertal homelessness as an aspect of social problems represented by Heathcliff living on the streets. In the beginning, the homeless child, Heathcliff, was treated equally as a member of the family, but after Mr. Ernshaw’s death, everybody, except for Catherine, abused him in any manner or regard they wanted. Because Mr. Ernshaw favoures Heathcliff over his own son, Hindley, the latter becomes jealous of the former, and decides to make Heathcliff’s life a nightmare. Hindley’s jealousy becomes evident when he says: “…be damned you beggarly interloper! And wheedle my father out of all he has; only afterwards show him what you are, imp of Satan. And take that! I hope he’ll kick out your brains!” (Brontё 39). Hindley mistreats Heathcliff as he is aware of having power over the Mr.Earnshaw’s non natural-born son. As the punishment for not obeying the Hindley’s will, both Catherine and Heathcliff are being taken into the custody. Hindley “refuses him the familial spaces of Wuthering Heights, and asserts his power to render the younger boy homeless” (Steinitz).
According to Catherine, “Hindley calls him a vagabond, and won’t let him sit with us, nor eat with us anymore, and, he and I must not play together, and threatens, to turn him out of the house if we break his orders” (Brontё 21). As the result of this treatment, Heathcliff grows up to be the most selfish person in the family. He was hateful, spiteful and very vengeful. As Hindley tormentes Heathcliff, Heathcliff later torments Heraton. He forces him to work in the house as a common servant, belittles him, and psychologically abuses by constantly badgering him. Heathcliff becomes an uncaring parent enacting a part of his revenge. He takes revenge on Hareton by ensuring that the boy is raised in ignorance, with loutish manners, so that he will never escape his situation. Heathcliff tries to make Heraton’s childhood at least as miserable as his own, wishing that Heraton would become someone alike him; “And we’ll see if one tree won’t grow as crooked as another, with the same wind to twist it” (Brontё 187). Heathcliff doesn’t make any effort to be a caring parent ever for his own son, Linton, who is clearly scared of his father as he When Linton is about to die, and Heathcliff no longer sees any use in him, he doesn’t even bother to send for a doctor. Linton is scared of his father, he even says: “… my father threatened me, and I dread him – I dread him!” (Brontё 268).
However, the readers of Victorian literature are to be barely surprised as victimized children is the common motif in nineteenth-century literature. (Mcknight). Victorian novel frequently reveals not only the mistreatment of children, but also the abuse women, as it puts emphasis on treatment of women as well as their role in society. In Wuthering Heights Heathcliff marries Isabella for no other reason than he would use his son for – to take the revenge, and become in possession of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. There is to say that under common law, all of a woman’s property becomes her husband’s at marriage. “Marriage, then, as Heathcliff seems fully aware, is the quickest way to usurp a woman’s positioning the line of inheritance and thereby claim her inherited property.” (Lamonica 115). However Heathcliff succeeds to make Isabella fall in love with him and want to marry him, he has to coerce young cathy to marry his son Linton, in order to fulfill his own greedy agenda of acquiring Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff imprisones Cathy and refuses to let her go back to her dying father until she marries his son. Both Isabella and Cathy are being physically abused by Heathcliff if they opposes his will. He throws knife at his own wife, starves her, tries to strangle her dog, then he savagely slaps young Cathy right before he imprisons her.
Heathcliff destroys Isabella and drives her away, he treats his wife so badly that she asks Nelly whether he is a devil: “Is Heathcliff a man? If so, is he mad? And if not is he a devil? I shan’t tell my reasons for making this inquiry; but I beseech you to explain, if you can, what I have married…” (Brontё 137). On the other hand Brontë shows the examples of loving and caring attitudes towards women; by marring Catherine, Edgar provides her with affluent and wealthy life, expecting nothing in return, also when Catherine falls ill, he takes a proper care of her. Hareton is another character who treats women with respect, whitnessing what Cathy is going through he wishes to make her life easier and tries to help her, as he does with planting flowers in her secret garden. The emphasis put on the treatment of women are influenced by the notion of feminism, and the fact that a part of story is being told by Nelly, through her feminine point of view. Structurally, the narrative is primarily told from a paired point of view. Lockwood frames the initial story, telling the beginning and ending chapter.
Within the framework of his story, Nelly relates the majority of the action from her outsider’s point of view, and embedded within Nelly’s narrative primarily from another character’s point of view that has been related to Nelly. The power of Wuthering Heights owes much to its narrative structure, the story is organized as a narrative with narrative, or what critics call ‘Chinese box’. There is an excess everywhere in the story, this excess is held within a most rigorous pattern of repeated motifs and the ‘Chinese box’ of Nelly Dean’s and Lockwood’s interlocution. The narration is what makes the book unusual; “The form of the book is the content. The form, in short, is the book itself” (Sonstroem 13). Lockwood, a newcomer to Wuthering Heights, narrates the entire novel as an entry in his diary, it functions primarily as a frame, an excuse for telling the story. Lockwood’s description makes Cathrine’s diary most emphatically material. “Catherine has made the diary into her place, claiming the margins as her own, as it were. Here she can tell her own story; here she can say how she feels…” (Steinitz).
Both Nelly and Lockwood present a social reality. Lockwood’s narrative elaborates a system of ‘careful casuality’ (Jacobs 101), it derives from his more powerful social and economic position as well as the privilege of gender. Nelly’s position as a servant gives her convenient access to the events as well as to the sentiments of the story. Social norms in the book exists in the persons of the narrators, Nelly Dean and Lockwood, they interpretate the characters through the medium, they tell the romantic story through their victorian point of view. That is to say, the narration is the main means providing the insight into the Victorian society. There is still more of social aspects Emily broaches in Wuthering Heights, for instance, the class differences which leads to the failure in communication, and social morality. While social norms are very significant in the novel, fictional society does not serve as the medium in which the protagonists define themselves. “Fictional society is both important and unimportant in Wuthering Heights. It is the medium through which we understand Catherine and Heathcliff, but is not the medium through which their lives and fates have their meanings.” (Langland 173).
For Brontё, society is not an obstacle limiting the ways in which protagonists know and understand each other, it is so because they do it in an instinctual way. Meanwhile, their failure in communication is sometimes enormous, for example when Catherine decides to marry Linton it provokes Heathcliff’s departure, which initiates her fever. By marrying Linton she intends to benefit Heathcliff, help him to become a noble man, the failure occurs and he feels degraded. “To her, he is an error; to him, she errs” (Langland 178). When Heathcliff returns, Catherine tells him off for his absence: “Cruel Heathcliff! You don’t deserve this welcome. To be absent and silent for three years, and never to think of me!” (Brontё 97). The communication between them is frustrating and destructive. Again, when Catherine asks Nelly whether she was “wrong” to accept Edgar’s proposal, the two women do not mean the same thing by “wrong”, Nelly cosiders its social ethic, a promise that shouldn’t be broken, Catherine thinks about what her soul and heart tells her.
Nelly believes that social morality will contribute to Cathrine’s giving up Heathcliff. But Cathrine doesn’t bear this possibility in her mind saying: “Nelly, I am Heathcliff! He’s always, always in my mind.” (Brontё 83). Nelly’s response, as always, comes from the social world she represents: “You are ignorant of the duties you undertake in marrying: or else…you are a wicked, unprincipled girl” (Brontё 83). The failure in communication between the two characters is complete. “Society and its expectations are present as a window to another reality. Like a window, society allows us to see beyond, but to see through the window, one must finally ignore it. If one concentrates on it or, by analogy, on society, he will never see outside, see the mystery beyond.” (Langland 173). The comprehencion of Victorian society is therefore essential to understand the characters and their actions, the only way to do it is through the social norms of Brontё’s time, which she communicates through characters like Nelly Dean. Social standing was extremely important in Bronte’s time. Manners, money, birth, occupation were crucial indicators of this standing, determining not only a person’s place in society but also one’s freedom to act, speak, learn, and earn. Family was the medium through which individuals entered society, “it was promoted as society’s primary reforming institution, by its [family’s] example and shaping individuals who will also retain the values associeted with the family” (Lamonica 13).
It was the mothers’ role in the family to teach children, while childhood had already been known as a period when the character and habits of the future man are formed. The mother directed the child’s earliest and most fundamental lessons; fostering speech acquisitions, personal hygiene, manners, and the ability to differentiate “right” from “wrong”. Distinguishing between the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ requires familiarity with the Good Book. Brontё mentions religious aspects throughout the novel. There are characters with decent Christian names such as Catherine, Nelly, Edgar, Isabela. The two houses are frequently perceived as heaven and hell, both guarded by dogs which are associated with gods. “Dogs and gods turn out to be not opposites but, figuratively speaking, the same words spelled in a different ways.” (Gilbert 82). There are also prayers, weddings, funerals, and other activities and rituals accompanying characters’ everyday lives. The Victorian aristocrats put emphasis on education, religion and affluence, all of these, the reader finds at Thrushcross Grunge, a great and richly furnished house of the social elite, the family of Lintons.
The Grunge is situated in a valley among cold, muddy and barren moors, surrounded by hills. It stands alone, remotely from Wuthering Heights, in the gothic mist of dready land, which is why the atmosphere creates a mood of isolation. Thrushcross Grangeis a house of soft, clinging luxury and its inhabitants are guarded by servants and bulldogs, it is: “… a splendid place carpeted with crimson, and crimson-covered chairs and tables, and a pure white ceiling bordered by gold, a shower of glass-drops hanging in silver chains from the centre, and shimmering with little soft tapers.” (Brontё 47). The Grunge is a symbol of civilization, warmth, and goodness. The inhabitants, including Edgar Linton, are generally more rafined, with more morals and calmer attitudes than those of Wuthering Heights. This place at first seems authentically heavenly, full of light and softness and colour. Thrushcross Grunge is the appropriate home for the children of calm, with welcoming and peaceful setting. On the other hand, Lintons are not as brave and strong-willed as the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights. Though, in the novel both houses with their settings and surroundings composes the landscape typical of Gothic. Gothic elements are very common in Victorian literature, especially in the novel. In Wuthering Heights Brontё draws a lot from Gothic. In addition to the landscape, the novel comprises some other gothic elements such as: the mystery of scenery and characters, intoxication, violence and supernatural.
The story is set in the Yorkshire moors of England, even bleakly beautiful, sparsely populated area of high rolling grassy hills, few trees, and scattered rocky outcroppings or patches of heather. The landscape, though, is comprised primarly of moors: wide, wild expanses, high but somewhat soggy, and therefore infertile. The weather in the novel also indicates its gothic setting, the winds, storms, and fog occurs frequently throughout the story. “A sorrowful sight I saw: dark night coming down prematurely, and sky and hills mingled in one bitter whirl of wind and suffocating snow.” (Brontë 13). Heathcliff himself is “gothic” embodiment of the forces of darkness. His origin is unknown, as the protagonist he is the dark character plunged into the dilemma and despair. “Lonely, like the devil, and envious like him.” (Brontë 289). Another gothic aspect in Wuthering Hights is heavy-drinking of Hindley after his wife’s death. His acts of drinking are truly and deeply described be Emily Brontë as an idea taken from her life, “Brontë creates specifically fraternal alcoholic in Hindley Ernshaw” (McCormack 144). Heathcliff tries to cause Hindley despire and self-destruction. The Wuthering Hights exemplifies themes of cruelty and sadism, which are a recurrung motif thoroughout the novel.
There are many scenes of raw violence, such as bulldog attacking Catherine, Heathcliff’s hanging the springer spaniel, and stamping on Hindley’s face, or Catherine’s leaving the blue print of her nails on Isabella’s arm, “these images and others like them imply savagery or revengefulness or drunkness or hysteria, but always a motivating set of emotional circumstances” (Sonstroem 15-16). The most cruel image of violence in the novel appears during the Lockwood’s dream in which he is being grabbed by Catherine’s ghosts through the window, when he relates: “I pulled its wrist to the broken pane, and rubbed it to and froz till the blood ran down and soaked the bedclothes” (Brontё 24) A number of apparently supernatural incidents occur during the novel, although their true nature is always ambigous. This supernatural world is mostly grounded on the ghosts’ apparitions in the novel. The first ghost the reader encounters is the one of Catherine’s, mentioned above, that appears at the beginning of the novel. A connection with this spiritual other world is vitally important to many of the characters in the novel. Heathcliff declares: “I have a strong faith in ghosths… I have a conviction that they can, and they do exist among us” (Brontё 290)
Also, after Catherine’s death, Heathcliff implores her spirit, he prays so she wouldn’t be dead as long as he is alive, he wants her to visit him, “You said I killed you – haunt me then!” (Brontё 168). In between Heathcliff tells Nelly about hearing Catherine sighing in the graveyard and sensing her nearby, and when he gives up his plans of revenge he even seems to see her ghost. Nelly perceives Heathcliff as a ‘ghost’, for once she sees him as a goblin or a vampire, and she wonders if it could be that Heathcliff is some hideous changeling. At last, when Heathcliff dies, Nelly Dean reports that various superstitious locals have claimed to see Catherine and Heathcliff’s ghosts wandering in the night together on the moors. This pervasive presence of and references to ghosts contribute to the supernatural world of Wuthering Heights. As one may easily notice, Wuthering Heights consists of many elements typical of Victorian Era. The somehow social novel introduces the reader to the typical Victorian society through what society itself cosists of and the problems it faces.
Having the novel read, the reader encounters the aspect of homelessness, which then appears to be more than just the literal homelessness, yet, it is the literal one which then leads to the mistreatment of a child, and this, in turn, results in abuse of woman, as Heathcliff grow up in a great pain and decides to take his revenge, he becomes a cruel, selfish person wanting to change his class status by means of the revenge. The class differences are very significant in the novel, although, they constitutes only the background for the story, still, it cannot be said that the story is told from a class-free point of view, because as long as Nelly Dean and Lockwood are the two main narrators who belong to the civilized world, the one of Victorian society, the story is told through victorian prism. The narration and its form, the chinese box, favour the credibility of the novel, and to ephasize it, Brontё presents the failures in communication between the characters of the two worlds, the civilized one, and the one of nature.
These failures lead to numerous misunderstandings and give reasons for the actions the characters take, at the same time, society itself is said not to cause or limit these actions in any way. The novel presents victorian attitude towards the importance of society and the emphasis it puts on education, religion, affluence, manners and rafinement, the reader will certainly encounter all of these at Thrushcross Grange and lives of its inhabitants. The novel also depicts the dark side of the story, the one which Victorian writers frequently draw from Gothic. Images of violence, mistreatment and abuse are everywhere in Wuthering Heights, whether they are driven by passion, intoxication, revenge, or fear, they are all accompanied by the gothic setting and number of apparently supernatural incidents. This Victorian novel not only presents the elements of the era, but what is even more important; as it contributes to the uncommonness of the novel; is that it gives a lot of space to the reader to alternate between various approaches to the story and allows to become familiar with both Victorian society and setting thanks to the range of points of view.