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Lecture on Wuthering Heights
Transcript of Lecture on Wuthering Heights
Under nineteenth century British law, married women could not legally own property. The common law doctrine of coverture dictated that upon marriage the man and woman legally became one entity, and that entity was the husband. All property a woman took into her marriage became her husband’s, as well as any inheritances she received during the marriage. Single women and widows, however, were legally capable of owning property. The movement to change women’s property rights culminated in the passage of the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882, which ensured that married women had the same right to own property as unmarried women.
Inheritance laws were also unfavorable to women. Generally, inheritances passed to sons only. If a man had no sons, and he did not specifically provide for a daughter in his will, the closest male relative would often become the heir.
Within Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff exploits inheritance laws and the legal status of women to execute his revenge. He first marries Isabella, knowing Edgar has no other legal heirs, and Isabella’s inheritance would automatically pass to her husband. Later, Heathcliff recognizes that young Cathy will not be Edgar’s heir, unless Edgar specifically provides for her in his will. Linton, as Edgar’s closest male relative, is Edgar’s heir. However, if Linton were to die before Edgar, and before marrying Cathy, Heathcliff would have no remaining claim to inherit Thrushcross Grange. Therefore, Heathcliff seals his inheritance of the Grange and executes his revenge upon Edgar by forcing Linton and Cathy to marry before Edgar’s death. Heathcliff’s knowledge of women’s property rights and inheritance laws allows him to obtain revenge against Edgar. Industrial Revolution and Social Class: Romanticism, the Gothic novel,
and Wuthering Heights Narrative Form and Structure Emily Brontë’s Life Emily Brontë was born on July 30, 1818, in England. She was one of six children, five girls
and one boy. When Emily was two, the Brontës moved to Haworth, a village near the Yorkshire moors, a wild and desolate area of England. Emily lived there until she died thirty years later, and her home was the inspiration for the setting of her only novel, Wuthering Heights. The Brontës endured a difficult and tragic existence, with the specter of disease and death a constant presence. Emily’s mother died from cancer when Emily was three; by the time she was ten, her two oldest sisters had succumbed to tuberculosis. Her father, Reverend Patrick Brontë, was a withdrawn man, and the children were raised by their aunt, Elisabeth Branwell. Although she was an authoritarian figure who brought a religious zeal to the household, Elisabeth did not stifle the children’s imaginations. They read many books from the large family library and
constructed their own worlds of imaginary people and situations. The Gothic novel: Wuthering Heights is highly praised for the unique narrative technique Emily Brontë used to
execute the novel, often referred to as a “frame narrative.” The narrative structure has been
compared to a series of Matryoshka dolls, as the levels of the story similarly nest inside of each
other. The two primary narrators are Mr. Lockwood and Nelly Dean, but other narrators arise
throughout the novel when Nelly quotes what other characters have told her. In this manner,
the action of Wuthering Heights is told via eyewitness narration by people directly involved in
the events they describe. The narrative form allows Brontë bring to the reader closer to the
events of the novel.
The frame narrative form of the novel adds complexity for the reader. Lockwood is the outer layer
of the narrative, pulling the story together in his diary. The reader must recognize how the story
has been passed through various layers and question the reliability of Lockwood and the other
narrators in reporting the accounts. For instance, Nelly’s involvement in the action seems to result
her glossing over certain events in order to minimize her guilt. The reader must recognize that
her account to Lockwood may not be completely reliable, and, in turn, Lockwood may at times
misinterpret or alter Nelly’s statements. The uniqueness and complexity of Wuthering Heights’
frame narrative is part of why the novel has become a literary classic. Lecture Notes Wuthering Heights The Social Context of Wuthering Heights Women’s Rights in the Nineteenth Century: Romanticism refers to an artistic and intellectual movement that began in the
late eighteenth century in Europe. Generally, Romanticism was a reaction
against the dry rationality of the Enlightenment period. It focused on the
sublimity of nature and stressed strong emotion as the source of beauty, art, and
The Romantic literary movement was heavily influenced by the German writer,
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and a group of German Romantic writers who
emerged during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Emily Brontë
was likely exposed to and influenced by the German Romantics when she and
Charlotte studied literature and the German language in Brussels at a private
A group of British Romantic poets emerged in England between 1798 and 1832,
which included William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, and John Keats. These writers
influenced literature throughout the nineteenth century. The Brontës were also
familiar with the writings of these British Romantic poets. Romanticism: In 1846, Emily and her two sisters, Charlotte and Anne, published a collection of their poems. To prevent judgment of their work based on their sex, the sisters’ male pseudonyms, Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, appeared on the collection. The book sold only two copies, but this disappointment did not discourage them, and each sister began writing a novel during 1846. Emily’s novel, Wuthering Heights, and Anne’s novel, Agnes Grey, were both accepted for publication while Charlotte was still writing Jane Eyre. However, the publisher delayed printing of the novels until after Jane Eyre’s release in 1847. Jane Eyre was an instant success and became a best seller. The original reviews of Wuthering Heights were mediocre, and critics at the time considered Jane Eyre the superior of the three sisters’ novels. However, modern critics generally consider Wuthering Heights to be the greatest of the Brontë sisters’ novels, citing the innovative structure and originality of the subject matter. Wuthering Heights is now a literary classic. Emily died on December 19, 1848, only a year after the publication of Wuthering Heights. Her brother, Branwell, died only three months before her; Emily caught a serious cold at his funeral which led to her death from tuberculosis. Anne died shortly after Emily, in May 1849, leaving Charlotte the only survivor of the six Brontë siblings, until her death in 1855. Emily Brontë wrote Wuthering Heights circa 1847, which was a time when capitalism and the
Industrial Revolution were the dominant forces in the British economy and society. The nineteenth
century in England was a time of rapid, often confusing, and occasionally violent social change.
Groups opposed to the growing industrialization of England, such as the Luddites, engaged in
violent riots, destroying wool and cotton mills. While wealth had traditionally been measured by
land ownership, the eighteenth century had begun a trend toward a cash-based economy, and the
Industrial Revolution created a middle class that was in many ways more economically powerful
than its land-owning superiors. As a result of the changing economy, the traditional relationships between the classes and the social structure began to change. The power of the yeomen, or the respectable farming class,
as well as the traditional power-holding gentry was being challenged by the newly wealthy
capitalists. Each of these classes is represented in the novel by various characters. Hareton is a
member of the respectable farming class, the Lintons are the gentry, while Heathcliff makes his
fortune as a capitalist. As the economic power of the new capitalists grew, so did their demand for political power. With the increase in political power came the movement for social acceptance. Wealthy industrialists challenged the traditional definition of a gentleman and claimed the right to be called gentlemen by virtue of their new economic and political power. Traditionally, a gentleman was a gentleman by right of birth, but he also needed to possess an upstanding moral character. The changing notion of a gentleman and the shifting relationship between the classes are found in Wuthering Heights when Isabella, a member of the gentry, marries Heathcliff, a new capitalist, a union that would never have occurred if not for the changing status of the capitalists. Class relationships are also prominent in Catherine’s decision to wed Edgar instead of Heathcliff because of Edgar’s superior social standing. Wuthering Heights is often considered a “Romantic” novel because of the many traditional elements of Romanticism that it contains: • the idea of nature as a powerful spiritual force
• the descriptions of the English countryside
• a constant, elevated emotional level and passion
• a desire to rise above the limitations of ordinary human existence
• a strong interest in death
• a portrayal of opposites, including escape and pursuit, calmness and turbulence, upper and lower classes, and suffering and peace
• isolation, both emotional and geographical
• elements of the supernatural Critics have also regarded Heathcliff as a classic Byronic hero. The Byronic hero was defined by Lord Byron’s epic narrative poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, published in 1812. The Byronic hero is generally a flawed character with the following attributes: • conflicting emotions or moodiness
• mysterious origins and a troubled past
• a distaste for social institutions and social norms
• self-destructive tendencies
• a loner, rejected from society Heathcliff clearly possesses
most of these attributes. The Gothic novel evolved in the United Kingdom, beginning with Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto in 1765. The genre became very popular and usually created feelings of gloom, mystery,
suspense, and fear in the reader. Most Gothic novels contain some of the following elements: • a castle, sometimes ruined or haunted
• other sinister, ruined buildings
• extreme landscapes and weather
• death and madness
• ancestral curses
• terrifying events
• taboo or sensational topics
• the suggestion of the supernatural
• a villain or villain-hero driven by passion
• a hero whose true identity is unknown until the end of the novel
• a curious or persecuted heroine
• a heroine wooed by both a good and a dangerous suitor
• revenge Wuthering Heights, as many critics have pointed out, does contain some elements of the Gothic novel listed above. There is a suggestion of the supernatural, the extreme landscape of the moors, and wild storms. Death figures prominently in the story, as well as a villain-hero driven by passion, found in Heathcliff. Catherine is wooed by both a good and a dangerous suitor, and revenge is a driving force in the plot.