The Victorian Period is often thought of as a time where many new ideas emerged not only in the lives of the people, but also in literature. One such work, Wuthering Heights, created many controversies as well as questions regarding the lifestyles and ideals of the people during this time. Few books have been scrutinized as closely as Emily Brontes Wuthering Heights. When the novel was first analyzed, critical opinion deemed the book immoral because of the many controversial issues indirectly addressed in the novel (Wuthering Heights 6).
Emily Bronte, the author, was described as the free spirit within the Bronte family, who were all too familiar with literature. Her sister Charlotte, once described Emily to be Stronger than a man, simpler than a child (Carey 5). There were many conflicting influences that shaped the character and genius of Bronte. Patrick, her father, was of Irish decent and was known for his picturesque, free-flowing speech, poetry and imagination. Maria, her mother, was a strong Methodist woman, who was also an author. During her life, Maria published several essays, one entitled, the Advantages of Poverty in Religious Concerns.
Brontes mother died of cancer at a very early age, leaving her six children motherless. Another aspect of Brontes personality can be seen in the uniqueness of the environment in which she was reared. She grew up in the small village of Haworth, which was isolated, much like the setting of Wuthering Heights, and this contributed to her freeness of spirit. Another interesting fact about Bronte was her opposition to uniform religion; this is seen to be quite ironic, considering the extremely religious attitude of both of her parents.
All of these facts and influences are what contributed to caused Bronte to write the novel Wuthering Heights (Carey 6-7). Wuthering Heights is a story about two families, the Earnshaws and the Lintons. Heathcliff is the adopted son of Mr. Earnshaw, while Catherine is his legitimate daughter and the two are raised together as siblings. Ironically at a young age the two develop a loving relationship. The fact that Heathcliff is merely a servant is the issue that keeps the two from being together, and Catherine decides later to marry Edgar Linton.
The jealousy Heathcliff feels from his loss creates a need for revenge, and this contributes to many conflicts within the plot. The stress caused by their situation only gets worse, and after giving childbirth, this stress contributes to the cause of her death. Her daughter, also named Cathy, along with Heathcliffs son, Linton, grow up together having a similar relation ship to the one Catherine and Heathcliff shared at one point. During the final years of Heathcliffs life he is haunted by the thoughts of Catherine inside her grave, and later, only after his death is he able to be at peace.
Many Victorian themes are reflected within Brontes novel, three of which are prevalent, including religion, questions and doubts, and love and loss. The theme of religion, which is evident throughout the novel, plays an important part in the storys plot. Just as today, many people look at religion as a way of life and use it as a measure to judge the qualities of others. Throughout the beginning of the novel, readers can detect the development of a relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine.
Since Catherine and Heathcliff had been reared together as brother and sister, this raises serious questions about the validity of incest between them. In todays society more and more bizarre occurrences are becoming socially accepted, but during the Romantic Period there was little room for controversy in behavior (Bender 156). Another thought evident in the story which can be considered to have religious bearing is the relationship Heathcliff has with his brother Hindley. The popular Biblical saying, Love thy neighbor as thy self, is not one by which the two characters abide.
From the day Mr. Earnshaw first brings Heathcliff home from Liverpool, Hindley harbors a deep animosity toward Heathcliff, not to mention the fact that many critics believe Heathcliff to be the illegitimate son of Mr. Earnshaw. During the time when this book was written, the act of being unfaithful to ones spouse was not acceptable, and this idea only adds to Hindleys resentment against Heathcliff (MacAndrew 185). Many times throughout the novel, Bronte continues to provide references regarding religious connections, oftentimes alluding to supernatural existence.
The issue goes way beyond the question of enjoying a summer day to become a definition of heaven. The two have different visions of life at its most intense or perfect. Linton, the boy, identifies with traditionally female qualities of passivity and quiescence, where as Cathy identifies with traditionally male qualities of activity and exertion (Wuthering Heights 1). This exemplifies the fact that allusions to religion not only characterize the qualities of the people within the novel, but they also gave Bronte an ingenious method to address indirectly the issues of morality and character traits.
Not only is Wuthering Heights a powerful love story and a compelling tale of the supernatural, it also offers the reader insightful commentary on issues relating to class and morality (Wuthering Heights 1). The Victorian theme of questions and doubts can be traditionally thought of as pertaining to social status. During this time when social and political issues were changing dramatically, the status of people is what created a hierarchy between citizens. Although downplayed, the social structuring issue still arises s a significant part of Wuthering Heights.
For instance, when examining the relationships of Catherine, Heathcliff, and Edgar, critics draw more than one conclusion. Many assume that Catherine marries Edgar because of love, but this seems quite impossible, given the fact that she herself asserts Heathcliff to be her soul mate. Why then does Catherine marry Edgar Linton when she is eternally one with Heathcliff and when Heathcliff comprehends in his person her feelings to Edgar and herself (Wuthering Heights 10)?
When cumulatively examining the novel, the most prevalent thought is that Catherine selfishly marries Edgar because she wants to enjoy the benefits that coincide with Edgars social status. The critic writing for Twaynes English Authors states: Nor is Cathys love for Edgar a poor fancy, as Heathcliff charges. Catherine would not love Edgar if he were poor and ugly. Her love for Edgar Linton, the identity of Catherine Linton, is necessary to her as a member of the community (Wuthering Heights 11).
Much like today, social status was a prominent part of why people made the decisions they did, and sometimes the deepest of love is not enough to hold two people together. If a reader asks anyone who has ever read the novel Wuthering Heights, he will probably assert that its a love story. The novel focuses on two main characters, Catherine and Heathcliff. Throughout the beginning of the story one can see the connection between the two, and as the plot thickens, the reader cannot help but find himself wondering why Heathcliff and Catherine never are together.
Catherine speaks of her love for Heathcliff as the eternal foundation underneath her life with her husband Edgar. Time will never change her love for Heathcliff; whereas, her love for Edgar is like the foliage in the woods, and will change as the trees change in winter (Wuthering Heights 1). Catherines attachment to Heathcliff is so intense, so like contact with an elemental life force, that her decision to marry Edgar is a tragic mistake, a denial of her essential self for a more superficial identity based on class standing and social status (Schlueter 56).
The ultimate irony within the story is the fact that Catherine, having made some unhealthy decisions, induces her own fate. Catherines death is a direct result of stress, which is caused by grief and agony she faces in her life. One might even go as far to say that love is what creates the loss in the lives of the Heathcliff and Edgar. Today, people often use the expression, You cant live with them, and you cant live without them, when referring to the one they love, and this statement is also true in this tory.
Catherine surely finds life hard to live without Heathcliff, but, on the other hand, he ultimately contributes to the cause of her death (Bell 189-191). Literature has always contributed to views on social issues, and now more often than ever, people use writing as a way to relate problems with society. The novel Wuthering Heights not only addresses issues affecting the people during the time it was written, but also today the same issues have considerable bearing.
Although criticism of the novel has changed over the course of time, so has public opinion on these issues. The unpopular issues such as, incest, marital affairs, and shallow relationships are seen indirectly through the eyes of the characters throughout Wuthering Heights. Many of the problems that used to be sequestered by society are now manifested. In the future, readers will see many more novels that will address indirectly unpopular issues so that authors may avoid the scrutinization of critics (Bell 416).
Through biographical information, it is evident that Emily Bronte lived an unusual life; this is what most likely contributed not only to the creation of Wuthering Heights but also to the other stories she wrote before her death (Carey 5). The ingenious insight Bronte used when addressing the issues of religion, questions and doubts, and love and loss, captures the attention of the reader and also causes him to analyze the tragic situations between the characters that create these issues.