You are on page 1of 3

Wuthering Heights – Gothic Novel

Gothic fiction is a literary genre which combines both horror elements and romantic ones. As genre, it is believed to have been invented by Horace Walpole, with his novel The Castle of Otranto, published in 1764. Paramount features of Gothic fiction include terror, mystery, ghosts, haunted houses, Gothic architecture, darkness, death, decay, madness, secrets and hereditary curses. Among the stereotypical characters, we find tyrants, villains, maniacs, Byronic heroes, persecuted maidens, femmes fatales, demons, revenants, ghosts and the Devil himself. Most of its action takes place in a morbid setting that is doubled by a more pleasant one, where a subplot is revealed. Its aim is to horrify, shock and, above all, to affect the reader. This genre rejects reason, as it rejects the conventions of society in order to reveal the horrific nature that lies underneath them. Wuthering Heights, the only novel by Emily Brontë, written in 1847 under the pseudonym Ellis Bell, presents both features of Gothic and Romantic literature. This duality of genre obliges us to further examine the novel, in order to clearly point out the Gothic elements, contrasting with the Romanic ones. A very first feature of Gothic novel present in Wuthering Heights is the Gothic architecture of the eponym residence, but also the dark setting and welcome the first narrator, M. Lockwood, gets at his first visit to his “solitary neighbor”, M. Heathcliff. The word “grotesque”, adjective which could well describe the genre in question, appears very soon in the novel, on its second page: Before passing the threshold, I paused to admire a quantity of grotesque carving lavished over the front, and especially about the principal door, above which, among a wilderness of crumbling griffins, and shameless little boys, I detected the date ‘1500’, and the name ‘Hareton Earnshaw’. The words grotesque, wilderness, griffins all belong to the gothic vocabulary and have an immediate impact on the reader. The date when the building was erected has also a great importance, as it has at least 300 years, many generations lived in it and, perhaps, it has witnessed deaths and crimes, and this makes us think that it is a haunted building. The name written above the principal door introduces the narrator, together with the reader, in mystery, as we know from the first lines of the novel that the building is presently owned by Heathcliff. The interior of the building reflects faithfully its exterior. In the kitchen, Lockwood observed no signs of roasting, boiling, or baking, about the huge fire-place; nor any glitter of copper saucepans and tin cullenders on the walls. The negative form of these sentences suggests an opposition to what have been normal to be seen in a wealthy dwelling like Wuthering Heights. Another dark impression is made by the many aggressive dogs which dwell together with the master in the house: In an arch, under the dresser, reposed a huge, liver-coloured bitch pointer surrounded by a swarm of squealing puppies, and other dogs haunted other recesses. We could easily interpret this dark image as an allegory of evil which watches us from every corner of the house. The morbidity of this place is presented in contrast with Thrushcross Grange ([…] – ah! it was beautiful – a splendid place carpeted with crimson, and crimson-covered chairs and

tables, and a pure white ceiling bordered by gold, a shower of glass-drops hanging in silver chains from the centre, and shimmering with little soft tapers.) By use of contrasting settings, it is the aim of the Gothic novel to experience two distinctly separate worlds that are neither wholly comfortable nor tangible to the reader. Ghosts appear also in this novel, as they are another important feature of Gothic fiction. But, in Emily Brontë’s novel, ghosts are presented in such a way that their true existence is ambiguous. Some of the ghosts can be explained as nightmares or others considered superstitions. Real or not, ghosts symbolize the intrusion of the past within the present and they don’t allow people to forget they existed sometime. In chapter III, the ghost of Catherine reveals itself to Lockwood, who stays in for the night because of bad weather. But the reader can’t explain whether it is real or not, because Lockwood’s conscience is altered after he had read some of Catherine’s thoughts, written on the pages of her books. His first nightmare is explained by the branch of a fir-tree that touched my lattice, as the blast wailed by, and rattled its dry cones against the panes. But when he tries to stop the annoying noise, the intense horror of nightmare comes over him, as somebody/something grabs his arm, sobbing Let me in – Let me in!. It is no one else but Catherine Linton’s ghost, as she recommends herself, who returns home, after having lost her way on the moor, twenty years ago. Lockwood tries to explain himself what is happening (why did I think of Linton? I had read Earnshaw twenty times for Linton), suggesting that he considers the vision he had as a creation of his mind. But, nevertheless, his reaction reveals the true horror that grabbed him: I tried to jump up; but, could not stir a limb; and so yelled aloud, in a frenzy of fright. The second and last appearance of ghosts in this novel is mentioned in the last chapter, enveloped in the same ambiguity as the first one was. Ms. Dean recounts how, one evening, while going to the Grange, she met a scared child and asked him what the matter was. The reason of his fright was that he had seen Heathcliff, who died three month ago, walking with a woman under the Nab. Once more, the vision is explained: He probably raised the phantoms from thinking, as he traversed the moors alone, on the nonsense he had heard his parents and companions repeat. However, is generates superstition, as Ms. Dean doesn’t like being out in the dark or left alone in the grim house. This last vision turns the tragic love story of Heathcliff and Catherine into a happier one, because, at least in death, they manage to be together. Mystery prevails the whole novel, especially the character represented by Heathcliff. From his very beginning, he is enveloped in secret, in unknown, in mystery. No one knows who he is, where he comes from, what is his origin. One evening, returning from Liverpool, M. Earnshaw brings home a dirty, ragged, black-haired child; big enough both to walk and talk – indeed, its face looked older than Catherine’s – yet, when it was set on its feet, in only stared round, and repeated over and over again some gibberish that nobody could understand. This is the first description given about him. No information regarding him is known, only what the others characters observe. The same ambiguity covers the way in which Heathcliff managed to get rich and obtain the other’s esteem and the reasons for which he returned. But the respect he

gets and Catherine’s happiness can’t stop Ellen Dean to feel that something is wrong: Is he tuning out to be a hypocrite, and coming into the country work mischief under a cloak? I mused – I had a presentiment, in the bottom of my heart, that he had better have remained away.

Heathcliff has been regarded along time as a Byronic hero, an idealized but flawed character. Lady Caroline Lamb, one of Lord Byron’s lovers, characterized this hero as being “mad, bad, and dangerous to know”. We can easily recognize in this concise portrait Heathcliff’s image. Together with this features, the Byronic hero exhibits many others, visible also in Emily Brontë’s character: a strong sense of arrogance (you must exchange horses with me; I don’t like mine, and if you won’t I shall tell your father of the three thrashings you’ve given me this week), cunning and able to adapt (he gains Earnshaw’s sympathy and exploits it), a troubled or mysterious past (no one knows where he comes from, who he is, who his parents are), power of seduction and sexual attraction (Isabella falls in love with him), being an exile, an outcast (as he becomes after his protector’s death), “dark” attributes not normally associated with a hero, disrespect of rank and privilege (he is one of the characters who raises himself in the hierarchy of society), cynicism, self-destructive behaviour (it is impossible to him to adapt to the new world he gets in through Earnshaw’s mercy, and the lack of accommodation to this world is soon followed by its crash). Whether or not Wuthering Heights should be classified as a Gothic novel (certainly it is not merely a Gothic novel), it undeniably contains Gothic elements. Emily Brontë followed the patterns of Gothic literature, ingeniously combining its features with romantic ones. The contrastive setting, the flawed idealized hero and the ghosts are only some of these features, but, being the most important ones, they are enough to prove that Wuthering Heights may be considered as representing this literary genre.

Student: Cornea Alexandra Marina