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Victorian Masculinity

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Ellen Nicholas

on 4 January 2013

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Transcript of Victorian Masculinity

Emily Bronte’s Confrontation of Victorian Masculinity in Wuthering Heights Thesis Bronte presents a range of male characters that embody varied and exaggerated representations of normative ideas of Victorian masculinity.
What were Victorian Masculinities? The Gentleman Confrontation 1:
The Applesauce Incident “gentlemanliness is other-related in the negative sense of being caught up in considerations of status and appearance” (Tosh 458). She uses these characters to confront the elusive question of what it meant to be a man in mid-nineteenth century England, as well as to challenge multiple societal norms of masculinity. First Dichotomy Heathcliff
& Edgar
&
Thrushcross Grange Wuthering Heights Constantly at war with each other
Each confrontation subverts one or both of these radical masculinities. But Bronte clearly shows preference for Heathcliff's masculinity . . . Over Edgar's Neither is perfect . . . . The Rogue Moving away from “the proper regulation of an innate male energy” (Sussman 3) that defined gentlemanliness Bronte’s obvious partiality for Heathcliff shows the societal shift in the mid-nineteenth century toward valuing “rugged individualism” (Tosh 458) over politeness. True gentlemen were born, not made, as “gentle birth gave one a clear edge in status over other brands of gentleman” (Tosh 458). “[A gentleman's] great concern to make every one at their ease and at home” (Newman). Edgar comments that his hair is “like a colt’s mane over his eyes” (59) Heathcliff immediately throws “a tureen of hot apple-sauce, the first thing that came under his gripe” in Edgar’s face as retaliation. Nelly cleans Edgar off He then wipes his face again with his own “cambric pocket-handkerchief” (59). This emphasis on the handkerchief puts Edgar in the role of “the iconic sissy boy” (Grant) who was typically “a pale-faced neurasthenic aristocrat with curly locks and immaculate dress” (Grant). He also weakens himself with his “extreme constraint of male desire” (Sussman 3) that if left unbalanced can “deform the very energy that powers and empowers men” (Sussman 3). Fenimore Cooper asserted that “the English dandy was no more: ‘the men, as a whole, are simple, masculine in manner and mind’” (455). Heathcliff laments that even “if I knocked him down twenty times, that wouldn’t make him less handsome, or me more so. I wish I had light hair and a fair skin, and was dressed and behaved as well, and had a chance of being as rich as he will be!” (50). Heathcliff cannot deny the fact that his physical domination of Edgar will not erase the fact that society celebrates Edgar’s inherent beauty and wealth. “Wuthering Heights in general stands as a symbol of nature, chaos, and violence” (Johnson 46) “Thrushcross Grange, however, stands for culture, order, and domesticity” (Johnson 46). Reader left with more sympathy for Heathcliff even through his violence. Heathcliff accepts his punishment without complaint while Edgar plays the victim. “Heathcliff is more honest with his feelings than any other character in the novel. Nowhere does he try to hide how he feels.” (Goodlett) Edgar, on the other hand, is helplessly trapped in his gentlemanliness. Can't defend himself physically, and also can’t sufficiently express his feelings in the way that Heathcliff can. Neither Heathcliff nor Edgar is completely right or wrong, but Bronte reinforces her preference for Heathcliff. Confrontation 2:
The Kitchen Although Heathcliff is “disgusted by Linton’s idea of ‘manhood,’ which is defined in financially and socially acceptable terms”, (Goodlett), he leaves the moors so that he can “make himself into an image closely resembling that of Linton.” (Goodlett). Further shows Bronte's preference because she allows him a moment of growth. Nelly describes the changed Heathcliff saying that a “half-civilized ferocity lured yet in the depressed brows, and eyes full of black fire, but it was subdued and his manner was even dignified” (96). Heathcliff learns to act civilized and appear as if he is controlling his male energy. Heathcliff is allowed a small amount of balance between the two masculinities, if only momentarily. Heathcliff achieves an artificial type of what Sussman calls “Bourgeois industrial manhood” (4) by venturing out into the outside world and achieving a certain level of “success within the male sphere, the new arena of commerce” (Sussman 4). The Fight Edgar is threatened by Heathcliff and Catherine's friendship so he tries to kick him out of Thrushcross Grange for good. He uses extremely restrained, formal language saying, “for that cause, and to prevent worse consequences, I shall deny you, hereafter, admission into this house, and give notice, now, that I require your instant departure” (114). Edgar fails at “mastering the circumstances of life and thus securing the respect of one’s peers” (Tosh 458). Thus he loses respect of reader as well. Heathcliff verbally dominates Edgar while simultaneously referring to his ability to physically dominate him. “‘Cathy, this lamb of yours threatens like a bull! … It is in danger of splitting its skull against my knuckles. By God, Mr Linton, I’m mortally sorry that you are not worth knocking down!’” (114), “I’ll crush his ribs like a rotten hazelnut” (115). Edgar shows his cowardice by calling for a goon squad of peasants” (Goff) to defend him against Heathcliff (113). Catherine locks both men in the room together and throws the key “into the hottest part of the fire; whereupon Mr Edgar was taken with a nervous trembling, and his countenance grew deadly pale” (115). Indeed, after the incident Catherine is disgusted in seeing that Edgar’s “cold blood cannot be worked into a fever — your veins are full of ice-water” (117). Edgar adds a "brace of pistols" to his arsenal of cowardice. Edgar gets one moment of glory when he punches Heathcliff in the the throat and then immediately runs away. Bronte uses Catherine to express again her partiality for Heathcliff’s masculinity, particularly his attributes of bravery and honesty.

Bronte also reminds the reader that Heathcliff’s version of masculinity is by no means ideal, though she does so much more subtly through his shocking references to grotesquely specific acts of violence he wishes to carry out on Edgar. Confrontation 3:
Destroy the Linton Legacy Heathcliff focuses on causing Edgar emotional harm after kitchen incident Starts with seducing, marrying, and subsequently torturing Isabella both physically and emotionally “Isabella, in fact, thrives in the ambience of emotional and physical violence and pain” (Goff) Linton is Heathcliff's next victim. Linton is the embodiment of the second-generation hybrid gone wrong.

He is “the worst throwback of them all, ‘blending’ both the ferocity of the poor (from his father) and the willfulness and selfishness of his mother” (Groff). Lacking in masculinity altogether, good or bad. Heathcliff uses Linton to exploit Cathy's good nature and to lure her into his prison. Teaches Linton to be a "domestic tyrant" (Johnson 69) once they imprison Cathy in Wuthering Heights When Nelly asks Linton if he enjoys seeing Cathy beaten, he responds, “I was glad at first – she deserved punishing for pushing me” (281). As Heathcliff's plan to kidnap Cathy succeeds, Edgar slowly dies, as if Heathcliff is sucking the life out of him by ruining everyone he loves. Cathy 2: Ultimate Hybrid Thwarts Heathcliff and let's Edgar die happy and ignorant of her suffering. Cathy fully reveals that she is “in a class by herself, the most adaptable of all characters” (Groff). She withstands the roughness of Wuthering Heights and still manages to flourish in the civilized world of Thrushcross Grange. Cathy is also the only character who is “defiant and unafraid” (Groff) of Heathcliff, which is “her birthright from her mother” (Groff). Heathcliff raises his hand to strike Cathy, their eyes meet and he realizes that they are exactly like the eyes of her mother, his true love. From this point on, Heathcliff gives up his vendetta against the people connected with Edgar and Thrushcross Grange, and instead begins walking the moors entire nights. Hareton Cathy 2 Cathy and Hareton’s love and subsequent marriage is Bronte’s final and most convincing attempt to reinforce her central view on Victorian masculinity. Cathy is essential to Hareton’s personal “release from his state of ignorance” (Reeves) as she teaches him to read, thus giving him the basic tools to be able to integrate into society as Heathcliff’s unchecked wild masculinity never fully allowed. When Hareton discovers his oppressor is dead, he still “sat by the corpse all night, weeping in bitter earnest” (335). Even though he lived under Heathcliff’s totalitarian rule for years, he is still able to feel compassion and grief, showing he too has ability to balance both sides. Conclusion Hareton and Cathy manage to achieve both an internal and external balance between the strong, passionate masculinity of Heathcliff and the controlled, gentle masculinity of Edgar. Bronte still prefers Heathcliff's rugged masculinity but thinks it needs to be balanced out. Hareton and Cathy’s union symbolizes Bronte’s ideal marriage, which is “a relationship encompassing self-assertion, and mutual love through mutual recognition,” (Reeves). Bronte successfully demonstrates her strong opinion that happiness is only possible if one possesses the ability to evolve, a strong sense of individual self, and both an internal and external balance of the two reigning theories of Victorian masculinity. Works Cited Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. London: Penguin Books, 1995. Print. Cheetham, Paul. "Wuthering Heights: the Problem of Heathcliff: Paul Cheetham Considers the Hero at the Heart of Emily Brontes Novel." The English Review 20.1 (2009): N. pag. Literature Resource Center. Web. 25 Sept. 2012.Gérin, Winifred. Emily Brontë: a Biography. Clarendon Press, 1971. Print Goff, Barbara M. "Between Natural Theology and Natural Selection: Breeding the Human Animal in "Wuthering Heights"." Victorian Studies 27.4 (1984): 477-508. JSTOR. Web. 10 Oct. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3826905>.Goodlett, Debra. "Love and Addiction in 'Wuthering Heights.'." The Midwest Quarterly 37.3 (1996): N. pag. Web. 2 Nov. 2012. <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/retrieve.do?sgHitCountType=None&sort=RELEVANCE&inPS=true&prodId=LitRC&userGroupName=ncliveguilc&tabID=T001&searchId=R1&resultListType=RESULT_LIST&contentSegment=&searchType=AdvancedSearchForm¤tPosition=17&contentSet=GALE|A18290969&&docId=GALE|A18290969&docType=GALE&role=LitRC>. Grant, Julia. "A "Real Boy" and Not a Sissy: Gender, Childhood, and Masculinity, 1890-1940." Journal of Social History 37.4 (2004): 829-851. JSTOR. Web. 10 Oct. 2012. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3790069>.Hinkley, Laura L. The Brontes, Charlotte and Emily. New York: Hammond, Hammond & Company, 1947. Print.Johnson, Erin M. "The Subjection of Men: the Domestication and Embourgeoisement of the Gothic Villain-hero in Three Bronte Novels." University of Saskatchewan Library Electronic Theses & Dissertations (2011): 1-73. Web. 2 Nov. 2012. <http://library.usask.ca/theses/available/etd-09132010-203515/>.
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