Is Wuthering Heights a Gothic Novel? Exploring oppositions
Write down the following maincharacters and settings from the novel:• Earnshaws • Frances Earnshaw• Lintons • Lockwood• Isabella Linton • Catherine Linton• Heathcliff • Joseph• Catherine Earnshaw • Edgar Linton• Hareton Earnshaw • Nelly• Hindley Earnshaw • Thrushcross Grange• Linton Heathcliff • Wuthering Heights
Write down a few adjectives and nouns taken fromthese ‘Oppositions’ alongside the appropriate character name or place.• high status • social inferiority• educated • uneducated• wealthy • poor• wild • tame or domestic• loving • hateful• insider • outsider• stormy • calm• hostile • comfortable/friendly• weak • strong• secular (non-religious) • religious• obedient • tyrannical• civilized • savage• nature • nurture• bestial • human• masculine • feminine
What role(s) do oppositions play within the novel?• Consider:• the ways in which the characters change and develop throughout the novel• the fact that opposites sometimes attract• the fact that apparent opposites may have more in common than they would like at first to admit.
David Daiches’ introduction to the 1965 edition of WH:Throughout the novel the homely and the familiar and the wild and extravagant gotogether, the former providing a setting for the latter ... We have noted a contrastbetween the fireless grate at Thrushcross Grange and the roaring fires of WutheringHeights; but even more noticeable in the book is the contrast between the luxury andcomfort of Thrushcross Grange, lying in the soft valley below, and the fierce unpaddedexistence at the Heights, which lie exposed to the winds on high moorland...…this vision of a soft luxury at Thrushcross Grange ... provides the starting point forthat view of the novel which sees it essentially as a carefully patterned weaving ofmultiple contrasts between storm and calm. This is the view persuasively argued byLord David Cecil in Chapter 5 of his Early Victorian Novelists (1948). Lord Davidcarefully divides the principal characters in the story into children of calm and childrenof storm and their offspring, who are various crosses between the two; offspring oflove combine the best qualities of the parents and offspring of hate (eg LintonHeathcliff) combine the worst. Children of storm mis-mated to children of calm orfrustrated in their desire to mate with fellow children of storm are driven to destructivemadness; but children of such mis-matings if those mismatings were made in love notin hate (eg Catherine and Edgar, Hindley and Frances) can themselves mate andrestore harmony between opposing elements. Such harmony is restored by themarriage of the younger Catherine with Hareton at the end of the novel.
• We are going to explore the ideas of Andrew Green, from an essay he wrote entitled Life on the Edge – Opposition and Fragmentation in Wuthering Heights, from emagazine 31, 2006.
Gothic: a genre of oppositionAs has repeatedly been observed by critics, the Gothic is a genre that resides on the borders andextremes of experience; it thrives on opposition and division and has, at its heart, uncertainty, theunsettling and the indefi nable. Wuthering Heights is no exception. It deals with questions ofmoral, social, religious and personal doubt. To explore these questions, Brontë presents her readerswith a novel of mirror images, doubles and oppositions. Wuthering Heights violently juxtaposes goodand evil; innocence and guilt; freedom and imprisonment; the pursuer and the pursued; the moral andimmoral; the natural and supernatural, and the living and dead. A novel in which such oppositionsremained distinct would present a reassuring, morally certain world. This is not the world of the Gothicand is not the world of Wuthering Heights: Brontë subjects these oppositions to intense pressure, untilthey are revealed to be unstable, each implicated in the other: not only does it become diffi cult to tellthe diff erence between good and evil, moral and immoral but even between living and dead. Theimpact of such oppositions and their collapse is profoundly unsettling for the reader. The ambiguities inthe novel lead to an ambivalence in the reader’s attitudes towards the characters and events. Thisencapsulates the essentially contradictory and fragmentary nature of the Gothic genre. As David Punterargues in The Literature of Terror: ‘Gothic writers work – consciously or unconsciously – on the fringe of the acceptable, for itis on this borderland that fear resides. In the best works, the two sides of the border are grafted ontoeach other.’As a result, he suggests, Gothic works are ‘fragmentary, inconsistent, jagged ...’ If Gothic works ‘do notcome out right’, this is because they ‘deal in psychological areas which themselves do not come outright.’ That is the form through which the Gothic novel enacts its themes. The growing complexity of therelationships, motives and actions of the characters is both generated by, and refl ected in, the centralstructural methods: the cycles of repetition, the echoes set up across and down the generations and thecollapsing oppositions. The behaviours and characteristics descending through the generations ofEarnshaws and the Lintons, create an inescapable vortex of violence and hatred, exaggerated throughthe repetition in naming. In conjunction with the complex time scheme, Brontë’s manipulation of thenames ensures that the reader, like Lockwood, is repeatedly destabilised.
The doppelganger and oppositional pairsA frequent motif in Gothic novels is the ‘double’ or ‘doppelganger’. While the Englishterm double suggests exact repetition (a twin), the doppelganger is far more sinister,used to suggest the possibility of the evil side of a character: the monster inFrankenstein, for example, can be understood as the destructive forces at work withinVictor Frankenstein’s psyche; Mr Hyde, in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella Dr Jekylland Mr Hyde, is the dark uncontrolled force of science within the respectable DrJekyll; in James Hogg’s dark tale of obsession The Private Memoirs and Confessions ofa Justified Sinner, the double is recognisably satanic in provenance.In Wuthering Heights, Brontë exploits the motif of the double and the doppelganger,not only in the character but in her presentation of oppositions as inextricably linked.Lockwood – a narrator we quickly come to recognise as self-absorbed and whollyunreliable – begins by greeting Heathcliff as his double. He is delighted to meetanother man who is weary of the world: ‘Mr Heathcliff and I are such a suitable pair to divide the desolation betweenus.’However, it is immediately apparent to the reader that this ‘pair’ have little incommon: where Lockwood constructs himself within a literary stereotype – sensitive,disillusioned, bored with society and misanthropic – Heathcliff is the real thing, fuelledby a burning hatred of society. The reader, like Lockwood himself, shifts to interpretthe two men as opposites: indeed they might be seen to ‘divide’ the world betweenthem, an interpretation reinforced by their names (wood v. heath). Lockwoodrepresents acceptable gentility; Heathcliff , of unknown parentage, is brutal withoutthe patina of civilisation and polished society.
The doppelganger and oppositional pairs (contd.)The ease with which it is possible to attribute opposite personal characteristics and social values to thetwo men, makes the collapse of these oppositions all the more shocking. Throughout the first threeframing chapters this oppositional relationship is questioned and blurred. Through the character ofLockwood the values of civilised society – the society which sets itself up in opposition to theraw, uncultivated world of Wuthering Heights – are compromised, revealed as implicated in the violenceit apparently shuns. We see this in Lockwood’s brutal treatment of the dogs; the violence of hisresponse to his humiliation; the verbs and adverbs used to describe his second visit to the Heights(‘ejaculated’, ‘grasped’, ‘knocked’, ‘shook’, ‘vehemently’) and most particularly in his rubbing of thewaif’s wrists until they bleed. ‘I pulled its wrist onto the broken pane and rubbed it to and fro till the blood ran down andsoaked the bedclothes’It is an opposition which is repeatedly established throughout the novel only to be undermined: youngEdgar and Isabella Linton fi ght over the dog, pulling it apart; the dogs protecting the superfi ciallycivilised Thrushcross Grange attack and seriously injure Catherine *1+; Linton ‘winks’ at the violenttreatment of Catherine by Heathcliff ; Frances is encouraged to pull the hair of Heathcliff as he passes.All of these examples of violence are taken from the ‘civilised’ world: domestic violence is seen andaccepted by all the characters, including the ‘gentlemanly’ Lockwood, as a normal part of everyday life.As David Punter suggests, the Gothic novel explores its themes through its structure and this is seenparticularly clearly in the destabilising of conventional oppositions in Wuthering Heights. So too is themarginal position that the Gothic occupies both in terms of its place among literary genres and itsexploration of liminal spaces – the places on the edge, at the boundary. In Wuthering Heights Brontërepeatedly ensures these boundaries are crossed or broken: Catherine  declares that Heathcliff ismore herself than she is, destabilising the boundary between the self and other; she continues to exertinfl uence after death; windows are shattered, violating the limits society establishes between theinside and outside, nature and culture, civilised and natural and so on. In this Gothic novel the rules bywhich we expect the world and society to operate are not simply broken, they are shown not to apply;appropriately for a novel of collapsing oppositions, this is both frightening and liberating.
What repetitions can you identify?• Heathcliff• Isabella (Linton) Heathcliff• Catherine (Earnshaw) Linton• Edgar Linton• Hindley Earnshaw• Frances Earnshaw• Catherine (Linton) (Heathcliff ) Earnshaw• Hareton Earnshaw• Linton HeathcliffWhat is the purpose in repeating the names in this way?
Mrs Dean raised the candle, and Idiscerned a soft-featured face, exceedinglyresembling the young lady at the Heights, butmore pensive and amiable in expression. (Lockwood narrates, talking about theportrait of Edgar Linton, p106/p67)
• ‘Now that she’s dead, I see her in Hindley; Hindley has exactly her eyes,’ (Isabella to Heathcliff , p217/p182)
• That capacity for intense attachments reminded me of her mother; still she did not resemble her; for she could be soft and mild as a dove (Nelly’s narration, regarding Catherine , p224/p189)
• A pale, delicate, effeminate boy, who might have been taken for my master’s younger brother, so strong was the resemblance; but there was a sickly peevishness in his aspect that Edgar Linton never had. (Nelly’s narration, describing Linton Heathcliff , p235/p200)
• ‘He’s very delicate ... and scarcely likely to reach manhood; but this I can say, he does not resemble his father ...’ (Nelly to Edgar, regarding Linton, p288/p256)
• ‘I know what he suffers now, for instance, exactly – it is merely the beginning of what he shall suffer, though. And he’ll never be able to emerge from his bathos of coarseness, and ignorance.’ (Heathcliff to Nelly, about Hareton, p253/p219)
• They lifted their eyes together, to encounter Mr Heathcliff – perhaps, you have never remarked that their eyes are precisely similar, and they are those of Catherine Earnshaw. (Nelly’s narration, regarding Catherine  and Hareton, p352/p322)
• ‘Five minutes ago, Hareton seemed a personifi cation of my youth, not a human being – ... his startling likeness to Catherine connected him fearfully with her –’ (Heathcliff to Nelly, p353/p323)
Which of these readings of repetition do you find the most persuasive?1. Repetition is about emphasis. Brontë is pointing up the key ideas of the novel by repeating character traits across generations.2. Repetition is about the struggle of these characters to find an identity for themselves. The constant restrictions put upon them by other characters and by society is their prison, and only through the next generation can freedom be attained.3. The patterns in this novel in relation to the characters’ names and traits are as much about difference as about similarity. Brontë only provides the overlap of traits to show how one generation differs from the other.4. The repetitions in the novel are often reminders of things that have been lost, and are therefore about illustrating absence, not presence.5. The patterns of repetition reveal the fact that similar characters and situations can have different outcomes – the final outcomes for the second generation are more positive and optimistic, showing a faith in the impact of positive human values.