Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ Reflect Each Other?
“If I were in heaven, Nelly, I would be extremely miserable. ” How do the settings and characters in Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ reflect each other? Written in 1847, ‘Wuthering Heights’ is Emily Bronte’s only novel. Published a year after her death under the pseudonym Ellis Bell, it is perhaps one of the most passionately original novels in the English language. The narrative tells the tale of the all-encompassing, passionate, yet thwarted love between dark, brooding Heathcliff and hot-blooded Catherine Earnshaw and how their unresolved passion eventually destroyed them and the people around them.
Now considered a classic of English literature, ‘Wuthering Heights’ was met with mixed reviews by critics when it was first published, mainly because of the narratives stark depiction of mental and physical cruelty. The temperament or personality of the characters in a novel can sometimes be skilfully portrayed and enhanced through their physical surroundings. Their morals and values are constructed to reflect the surroundings they are placed in, which helps the reader understand them and their situation and motives more.
Emily Bronte uses this technique throughout her novel, largely helped by the disparity between her two settings; Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, both situated on the harsh and desolate moors of Yorkshire. The microcosm of the two properties is achieved by their isolation, leaving no escape from their bleak situations. Wuthering Heights is the epitome of a Gothic setting, shrouded in the supernatural, this cold, dark, desolate house is an excellent reflection of the characters within. These people are often ill-tempered, vengeful and angry, which is illustrated by the bleakness and isolations of the property.
Its antithesis however, Thrushcross Grange, is the embodiment of wealth and the upper class. Lavishly decorated and cultivated, characters such as Edgar Linton frequently appear more reserved and calmer then their counterparts. First impressions of the house are completely different. When bumbling and pompous Lockwood first arrives at Wuthering Heights, he appears startled by its complete disparity to the Grange where he has just journeyed from. The bemused new tenant makes several observations upon approaching and entering the Heights.
Firstly, the name of the house carries several connotations “Wuthering being a significant provincial adjective descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather. ” “Wuthering” is a regional adjective frequently used to describe extremes of weather, this draws parallels to the intense roller coaster of emotion felt by the characters, almost like the winds across the moors. Bronte’s use of this as her novel title is one of many examples of pathetic fallacy and to indicate the nature of her writing.
The scenery surrounding Wuthering Heights is relentless and unforgiving moorland, a snippet of this is emphasised by “the excessive slant of a few stunted firs”. Enforced by the theme of nature versus nurture, which is prominent throughout the novel, this quote primarily focuses on the image of malnutrition and neglect. The “stunted firs” are comparable to Heathcliff’s early life and the mistreatment he suffered under the influence of his step-brother Hindley Earnshaw. Bronte wrote, Hindley’s appalling treatment of Heathcliff was “enough to make a fiend of a saint”.
Bronte may have used the scenario of a step-family to draw similarities to fairy tales such as ‘Cinderella’, which would have been greatly accessible to the wider public in the 19th century. When analysing this further we can see that Heathcliff is the male equivalent of Cinderella, both of whom are abused and exploited by their “evil” step-siblings. In particular the way Heathcliff was forced to work as a common servant to the Earnshaw family, and expected to live his life in the shadows would have drawn some support for his situation from poorly treated domestic workers during the period it was written in.
As domestic workers were commonplace among the wealthy and well-to-do during the 1900’s, many servants of Victorian families would have been able to relate to Heathcliff and possibly even understood his later drastic actions. The firs also demonstrate how easily individual spirit can be quashed and therefore unable to achieved its full potential, this can be deduced from “stunted” which shows a lack of development and acts as a barrier.
In contrast to this negative image, Thrushcross Grange is described as “buried in trees”, this shows how the shrubs have been able to grow in a more hospitable environment, drawing parallels between Heathcliff and Edgar Linton Lastly, from the way the Lockwood flippantly articulates “a few” it could be seen that only a few firs have been able to survive the harsh conditions, however it could also be determined that no real attention is paid to the needs of the firs and are not counted as an individual.
This draws parallels to the way Heathcliff is viewed as just another servant and not part of the Earnshaw family, an example of this cruelty is demonstrated when Mrs Linton bade Joseph to “keep the fellow out of the room” while her cherished “little darlings” were present. This lack of affection is also shown in the way that young Heathcliff is often not referred to by his name, frequently called “dog” and “the boy” it gives him no sense of belonging and more of an outcast. Not only is the exterior a reflection of our Byronic Hero, but the interior also offers some start comparisons.
Wuthering Heights is shrouded in negative language described as “grotesque” with “strong… narrow windows… deeply set in the wall, and the corners defended with large jutting stones”. The entrance is also lavished with “grotesque carvings and crumbling griffins” it appears to have been designed as a deterrent, or as seen later in the novel after the kidnapping of Nelly and Young Cathy; a prison. This neglected and dishevelled house seems to have been constructed as an attempt to keep the outside world away, and the inhabitants own way of life protected.
The description of Wuthering Heights personifies it’s master, his “savage” face is illustrated as having his “black eyes withdraw so suspiciously under their brows” this foreboding image not only relates to that of the windows, but has several connotations with evil and the Devil, indicating Heathcliff as the malefactor in this narrative. His dark, immoral attitude is enhanced by his personal physical portrayal, which is not dissimilar to that of his dwelling, as well as by the described influence of his surroundings.
One key observation made by the bemused new tenant “the kitchen is forced to retreat all together into another quarter” offers another insight into the theme of nature versus nurture. The kitchen is commonly seen as the heart of the home and by being pushed to the back of the house shows there is a distinct lack of warmth and care within. Like Cinderella, Heathcliff is virtually enslaved to withdraw to the kitchen where he is forced to work and spend the majority of his lonely days.
Similarly, Hareton is forced to live a reclusive life under the power of Heathcliff and secludes himself from the other characters. Feelings and emotions are also suppressed, demonstrated, yet again by the way Hareton does not feel able to express his love for Young Cathy and so becomes increasingly isolated from the few who care for him. Another illustration of passion is demonstrated by all events at Wuthering Heights occurring in front of the fire, this can symbolise various points.
Firstly, like the kitchen, it can show warmth, life and nurture enforced by kind-hearted Nelly Dean who spends most of her time in the kitchen. Thrushcross Grange, the home of the prosperous and cultured Linton family is situated in the valley, with none of the grim features found at Heathcliff’s abode. Although, when the straying Earnshaw brood spy Edgar and Isabella through the window, they are startled to witness the children fighting over “a little dog, shaking its paw and yelping”.
It could be interpreted that the Linton siblings are Bronte’s conception of fallen angels, the way they have so much more material worth than the Earnshaw family, but have nothing that they value or appreciate. It may also be seen as deception as they are straying from their stereotypical typecast temperament. In contrast to Wuthering Heights, Thrushcross Grange is filled with light and warmth, upon the Earnshaw children’s first stolen visit to the Grange, Heathcliff exclaims “ah! It was beautiful – a splendid place” quite a different reaction to Lockwood’s first call at Wuthering Heights.
After peering through the window at the Linton home, Heathcliff and Catherine comment on the interior “carpeted with crimson-covered chairs and tables” during the 19th century, rich crimson would have adorned many prosperous and moneyed upper-class Victorian family homes, thus illustrating the link the inhabitants have with the affluent and flamboyant lifestyle. Another indication of wealth is shown by “a pure white ceiling bordered by gold” however, just as Wuthering Heights is the personification of Heathcliff, Thrushcross Grange also reflects the image and disposition of it’s master.
Edgar is referred to as having “great blue eyes and even forehead” this could be seen as a reflection of the “pure white ceiling bordered by gold” as the Linton’s pale complexion is often contemplated by the other characters, the gold bordering could be interpreted as Edgar Linton’s blonde hair. Edgar Linton’s coloration is that of a typical Aryan, which seems contradictory, due to fact that Edgar poses none of the domineering and powerful qualities of the “master race”, we can see this is a weak character when Heathcliff hatefully remarks “I might kill him and he wouldn’t wish to retaliate”.
As the Aryan idea is strongly linked to anti-Semitism, it could be comparable to the ill-treatment and prejudices of Heathcliff who, although is of gypsy ancestry, is the protagonist in this novel. Although the Linton family are frequently described as weak and “pale” it is their shallow disposition that causes them to keep up appearances for their friends and therefore social standing. From this we can see the comparable qualities in the Linton home.
Dissimilarly to Wuthering Heights, the Grange is built in a valley so is therefore not exposed to the harsh weathering faced on the stormy hilltop where the Heights is situated. Once again, there is a clear likeness to the aforementioned characters, the continual storms and weathering inflicted on Wuthering Heights suggests a strength of character in its inhabitants whereas the Linton home, enclosed and surrounded by hills poses no need for the residents to experience “real life” outside. This is perhaps why Mrs Linton begged that darlings might be kept from that “nasty, swearing boy”.
A huge contrast to Heathcliff’s malevolent character is the calm and gentle Edgar Linton whose personality befits that of his dwelling, Thrushcross Grange a “beautiful, splendid place”, around which “the sky is blue, and the larks are singing, and the becks and brooks are all brim full”. Raised in a loving family and comfortable house, Edgar has become a well respected, dignified gentleman in the neighbourhood. The Grange, in which all is orderly and pleasant, symbolizes the civilized and kind-hearted Edgar. Instead of quarrelling with Catherine, Edgar treats her with the tmost patience and affection, resolving to marry her despite witnessing her tyrannical conduct towards Nelly and throughout her petulant illness. Thrushcross Grange holds elegant objects; a “pure white ceiling bordered with gold” and “a shower of glass drops” similarly, Edgar handles his affairs with grace. Edgar is as gentle and gracious as the Grange, and he lives and dies a generous soul in the Grange If Heathcliff can be considered as the main protagonist in “Wuthering Heights” then Catherine Earnshaw is the dominant female spirit which prevails throughout the novel.
While Catherine is wild, wilful and passionate, she also possesses a double character. Her five week period at the grange awakens in her an appreciation of the civilised world. When she returns to the Heights, both her manner and appearance have changed and is shocked in appearance of Heathcliff and Edgar. From then on, Catherine adopts a split personality; an amusing lady-like disposition in the company of the Lintons and returning to her wild passionate self when accompanied by Heathcliff.
She declares her wish to be “the greatest lady in the neighbourhood” as the materialistic side to her personality begins to assert itself. For the first time in the novel, Catherine worries how others see her and confesses to Nelly “it would degrade me to marry Heathcliff”. The duality of Catherine’s character revealed a crisis point with her marriage to Edgar – the one event in the novel above all others which determines the futures of all the central characters. Catherine’s marriage to him is a betrayal of her nature.
Not only has she broken with her kindred spirit, Heathcliff, but she has physically removed herself from the wildness and freedom from the Heights and the crags. This choice made by Catherine favoured wealth, civilisation and social position over her natural affinity with the untamed, uncivilised world represented by Heathcliff and Wuthering Heights. Writing in the period of Romanticism, William Blake is perhaps best known for his philosophical and thought-provoking pieces centred around nature and the natural world.
The poems that best relates to ‘Wuthering Heights’ are ‘The Tyger’ and ‘The Lamb’. There are several characters which could mirror the beasts in the poems, firstly, Heathcliff is a fiery and cruel character who befits the description of the Tyger perfectly, Edgar Linton however, is a weak and mild character who is often referred to as “lamb” by the other characters. This would have been used as an insult, as, while Edgar has the “tender” and “bright” qualities of the Lamb, he does not have the fearful or ferocious temperament of the Tyger.
One of the key lines observed in the poems is when Blake asks the Tyger “Did he who made the Lamb make thee? ” by asking this question, he is questioning the paradox between beauty and evil; a theme that runs throughout “Wuthering Heights”. Whilst the moors can be seen as Catherine’s version of “heaven” they can also be unforgiving and brutal. However, Catherine herself could also be seen as the Tyger, this is shown by her rash behaviour and vindictive tongue.
A poignant example of this is experienced in Volume I, Chapter VIII when Catherine loses her temper and pinches Nelly in the company of her love interest Edgar Linton “She, supposing Edgar could not see her, snatched the cloth from my hand, and pinched me, with a prolonged wrench, very spitefully on the arm. ” Taking into consideration that Catherine was in the company of a man whom she wished to court, we can see how she is a character that keeps her emotions close to the surface and thinks nothing of them boiling over.
Throughout the course of the novel, the theme of heaven and hell is displayed in a variety of ways, beginning with Lockwood’s explicit reference to Wuthering Heights as a “misanthrope’s heaven” and ending with the implied heaven of the ghosts of Heathcliff and Catherine roaming the moors together. Catherine appears to dream of being expelled from heaven “If I were in heaven, Nelly, I should be extremely miserable. ” Critic Thomas John Winnifrith also sees religious meaning in the novel: redemption is won by suffering, as an analysis of references to heaven and hell reveals.
For Heathcliff, the loss of Catherine becomes a literal hell; there is no metaphoric meaning in his claim “existence after losing her would be hell”. In their last conversation before her death, Catherine and Heathcliff both suffer agonies at the prospect of their separation, she to suffer “the same distress underground” and he to “writhe in the torments of hell” Heathcliff is tortured by his obsession for the dead Catherine and as his mental state begins to deteriorate, her childlike image is seen in the form of a ghost. Suffering through an earthly hell leads
Heathcliff finally to his heaven, which is his union with Catherine as a spirit. According to Winnifrith, the views of Nelly and Joseph about heaven and hell are conventional and do not appear to represent Bronte’s views. Inevitably, the ideas of expulsion from heaven, exile and revenge have all been linked to Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ and parallels drawn between Milton’s epic and Bronte’s novel; Catherine’s pain at her change from a free child to imprisoned adult is compared to Satan’s speech to Beelzebub “how chang’d from an angel of light to exile in a fiery lake”.
Recently a number of critics have viewed ‘Wuthering Heights’ as a fall, though from what state the characters fall from or to is disputable. It could be argued that Catherine falls for the superficiality and wealth of Thrushcross Grange from her home at Wuthering Heights, although some may see this as a negative movement. From this argument, it is hard to deduce which is the fallen world, is it the decadent and conceited Grange, or stormy and dangerous Heights.
Consequently, we cannot tell whether the fall is from heaven to hell or hell to heaven. Of all the characters, Heathcliff perhaps falls the furthest, as his pursuit for revenge and property is eventually what destroyes him, and the other characters. It is Bronte’s remarkable imagination, emotional power, figures of speech, and handling of dialect that makes the characters of Wuthering Heights relate so closely with their surroundings.
The contrast of these two houses adds much to the meaning of this novel, and without it, the story wouldn’t be the interesting, complex novel it is devoid of the contrast between Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. The contrast between them is more than physical, rather these two houses represent opposing forces which are embodied in their inhabitants. Having this contrast is what brings about the presentation of this story altogether. Bronte made Heathcliff and Wuthering Heights as one and without such thorough descriptions of characters or settings, Bronte would not have achieved such a success story.