Revisiting the Gothic, the Metaphysical in Wuthering Heights
Over the years, the novel has been regarded as one of the most powerful works of art due to its depiction of the passion and relationships, the physical and spiritual struggles between a couple of families living in the Yorkshire moors.
Author: Emily Bronte
A Gothic tale of passion, vengeance and the elemental clash between man and his destiny, Wuthering Heights, the only novel by Emily Bronte published in 1847, remains one of the most haunting, critically acclaimed works of English literature.
Long after the publication of the novel ‘Jane Eyre’, Charlotte Bronte, another Bronte sister used to receive the utmost critical admiration. In fact, Emily in particular was often presented by critics back then as a ghost-like presence surrounded by the ghostly moorland, cut off by the prudish Victorian society. By the 1880’s, however, critics began to appreciate her stupendous literary craft, the brilliant structure and the meticulous execution of the different themes of Wuthering Heights. Over the years, the novel has been regarded as one of the most powerful works of art due to its depiction of the passion and relationships, the physical and spiritual struggles between a couple of families living in the Yorkshire moors.
The Narrative of Wuthering Heights
The narrative of the entire novel revolves around the all-encompassing, powerful and passionate love between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, and how their thwarted passion eventually disrupts and destroys their lives as well as the lives of those surrounding them. Throughout the narrative, which critics have labeled as strange, powerful and imaginative, there is an elemental clash between the two opposite forces, ‘storm’ and ‘calm’.
Both Catherine and Heathcliff, while remaining closely connected to each other in a strange, inexplicable way, represent the elemental force of the storm. This strong, elemental force of the storm that Catherine and Heathcliff symbolize seek not only passionate love, but a stronger, higher spiritual existence that transcends mortality. On the other hand, Thrushcross Grange and the Lintons represent the calm that is time and again invaded and consumed by the elemental storm of Catherine and Heathcliff’s presence.
The narrative unfolds with the arrival of a tenant named Mr. Lockwood who comes to visit his landlord Mr. Heathcliff at Thrushcross Grange and reads the diary of the young Catherine Earnshaw, learning that she had an intimate childhood relationship with Heathcliff. His terrifying dream of the ghost of a young girl begging to enter his room leads to a severe ill treatment meted out to him by Heathcliff and his subsequent interaction with Ms. Nelly Dean, an old housekeeper closely related to both the Earnshaw and Linton families. Ms. Dean, then provides the secondary narrative embedded with Mr. Lockwood’s narrative and unfolds the plot bit by bit.
While recalling the history of the Earnshaws, she takes over the narration and begins the story thirty years earlier when Heathcliff, a young gypsy boy is introduced to the Earnshaw family by the Late Mr. Earnshaw. The story then follows a long, winding path of resentment, childhood companionship, love, brutality, revenge and abusive relationships that affects the lives of almost all the characters encompassing three generations. The constant physical and emotional struggles and the continuing tension between the characters Catherine and Edgar Linton (Catherine’s husband), Heathcliff and Hindley (Catherine’s brother), Heathcliff and Hareton (Hindley’s son), Heathcliff and Isabella (Linton’s sister) form the crux of a turbulent saga that end in the death of Heathcliff.
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The Element of Passion in Wuthering Heights
The center of the book, however, is the story of the passion between Catherine and Heathcliff, which unfolds in four stages in a back-and-fourth narrative. While the first part tells about the close relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff and their common rebellion against Hindley at Wuthering Heights, the second part reveals Catherine’s betrayal towards Heathcliff, her marriage to Edgar Linton, and her subsequent death in childbirth.
The third part covers the story of Heathcliff’s revenge and brutality at Thushcross Grange. The fourth part unfolds itself some years back and tells the readers about the changes that come over Heathcliff and finally, narrates his inevitable death. The Catherine-Heathcliff spiritual union remains the dominant theme even in the last two parts, long after the death of Catherine, underlying all other plot developments.
As for the structural brilliance of Wuthering Heights, critics are plainly divided. Mark Schorer had described the novel as one of the most meticulously crafted and constructed literary works of all times. On the other hand, critics like Albert J. Guerard commented that in this splendid novel, there are structural imperfections as Emily loses control over the plot occasionally. Charlotte, her own sister had commented that Emily was an unconscious artist who ‘did not know what she had done’.
The Gothic and Metaphysical Elements in Wuthering Heights
Whether Wuthering Heights is Gothic or metaphysical in its essence and finer appeal remains yet another controversial issue among its critics. The strange, powerful world of Wuthering Heights inhabits shadowy, brutal yet enigmatic figures like Heathcliff and Catherine who are consumed by the utmost personal, peculiar world of their feelings. In their very essence, they represent a gothic world. Incorporating the Gothic elements of imprisonment, escape, flight, persecuted heroine, ghosts, as well as introducing the mysterious Heathcliff who destroys the lady he loves and who usurps inheritance; Emily Bronte establishes several Gothic traits that are embedded into the narrative of the novel. On the other hand, the overwhelming presence of a larger reality, the desperate striving for a greater, higher union and an unbridled passion in pursuing that quest suggest a transcendental meaning that is essentially metaphysical in its nature and final analysis. On the whole, the novel remains a potent, imaginative classic with a raw, rugged beauty and intensity to it that renders it timeless and universal.
Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights (First Published 1847): Penguin Books
Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights (1847) by Arnold Kettle
Wuthering Heights: Storm and Calm, by David Cecil
Academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu, ‘Later Critical Responses to Wuthering Heights’
Academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu, ‘Religion, Metaphysics and Mysticism in Wuthering Heights’
Reproduced from Reflections, Ruminations, Illuminations
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