Gothic Elements In Wuthering Heights By Emily Brontë

Gothic literature arose from the late 18th century to the early 19th century. Gothic writings are known to have the fantasy elements predominate over the realistic, the uncanny over the familiar, and the supernatural over the natural. Mentions of apparitions, madness, death and decay are among the many elements that characterized the 18th century literary genre, these characteristics connect to. Wuthering heights is a novel written by the 19th century Victorian novelist and poet Emily Brontë and was published in 1874. This Victorian novel has found its place in the Gothic literary genre due to a number of Gothic characteristics explored throughout the novel, such as the prominent revenger motif, haunting spirits, distressed heroines and the family doom, repeated in the following generations.

Brontë utilized the Gothic ‘uncanny’ in Wuthering Heights; the concept defined by Friedrich Schelling as “what ought to have remained hidden but has nonetheless come to light”. The apparition of Catherine appearing outside of Lockwood’s window, in addition to Catherine and Heathcliff’s spirits roaming the moors to disturb the quiet earth, are a couple of the examples of the uncanny found in the novel. Moreover, the uncanny is embodied in the house of Wuthering Heights as well as in its inhabitants, the doorway is marked with ‘grotesque carvings’, and both the sitting room and the twisted staircase represent the idea ‘the Gothic opening its doors to reveal domestic chaos’. Additionally, the weather in Wuthering Heights is dour, savage and violent, resembling a typical location found in Gothic writings. Furthermore, the Byronic hero, an archetype introduced by the Romantic poet Lord Byron, was employed in Brontë’s novel, highlighting another feature prevalent in Gothic Romances. Byronic heroes are marked by their rebellion against conventional norms of behavior and thought; their personalities are not traditionally heroic. Yet, they possess a degree of emotional and psychological complexity that is absent from traditional Romantic heroes. Heathcliff is a Byronic hero; he is proud, brooding, courageous as well as defiant of conventional laws and norms, a character in whom potential virtue is replaced by vicious actions.

The Gothic presence additionally figures in the relationship between the characters, Heathcliff’s soliloquy in the closing sections of the novel serves to portray his love for Catherine as a tormenting and haunting feeling, rather than a warm and enchanting one; Catherine was a number of things for Heathcliff; she was ‘his playmate, his sister, his torment, his victim, his beloved, but never his wife’. Despite Catherine’s strong love for him, Heathcliff was never a viable option for a husband, unlike Edgar. Moreover, Edgar’s physical features are of a particular significance; his blue eyes, light hair, fair complexion and decorous manners conform to expectations of the hero of a conventional romance. Heathcliff’s dark hair, eyes and skin paired with his sullen expressions and rude demeanor, by contrast, make him ‘more suited to the role of a conventional villain found in Victorian stories’. In Wuthering Heights, the characters have a certain infatuation with the concept of the earthly afterlife reunion, because it was denied for them alive.

To Catherine, her Garden of Eden is resembled in the childhood spent with Heathcliff at Wuthering Heights, a heaven lost when she marries Edgar Linton and moves to the Grange, where she dies; and her spirit roams the quiet moors for twenty purgatorial years, longing for Heathcliff to join her in death. “Only then is her paradise regained, presumably at the Heights”. Conversely, Cathy seems to show a reversal of her mother’s pattern, while recapitulating the structure. Cathy’s Eden leans towards the conventional, a childhood spent exclusively in an enclosed garden, as Nelly expressed, she Cathy’s Eden is similarly lost when she marries Linton Heathcliff and is imprisoned at the Heights; ironically, the mother’s Garden of Eden became the daughter’s purgatory. At the end, however, Cathy anticipates a return to the Grange, her Eden and childhood’s home, ‘regaining a paradise of domestic happiness’.

Wuthering Heights can be seen as an amalgamation of different genres. Weaving into areas of Romanticism, Feminism and even Marxism, it has successfully proved itself to be a complex text with multiple interpretations. Through these different genres, Brontë was able to challenge the Gothic mode in the novel. As the Gothic shares a number of traits found in its larger, mother movement, it is only natural to find Romantic elements within Wuthering Heights. Romanticism was the artistic, philosophical and intellectual literary movement that originated in Europe in the late 18th century and continued throughout the 19th century. The main conflict of the novel is essentially between nature and civilization, which reflects Romantic ideas about the superiority of nature and imagination over culture and civilization. The Romanticism of Wuthering Heights can be exhibited through the detailed descriptions of nature within the text; Additionally, the poetic style of writing and allusions further accelerate the Romantic; evident in Catherine and Heathcliff’s passionate declarations of a union of souls, Catherine’s echoes a line from Shelley’s ‘Epipsychidion’ (1821), ‘I am not thine: I am a part of thee’.

Wuthering Heights was published in the 19th century, as writers are production of their time; Emily Brontë was likely to have been a feminist herself. Inspired by the first wave of feminism, Brontë meticulously challenged the passive and virtuous nature of Gothic heroines in Wuthering Heights, Catherine and Cathy consistently exhibit behaviors that contrast with the submissive and oppressive standard of the Gothic female.

10 October 2020
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