“Mine first… Mine last… Mine even in the grave. ” As opinionated by Louisa May Alcott is a comment perfectly fitting for a novel like Wuthering Heights. Riddled with passionate and obsessive love along with deeply motivated thirst of revenge and a disturbing lack of identity shown by Catherine, Wuthering Heights has earned the title of a Gothic Novel in modern literature. The Gothic elements in the novel create feelings of gloom, mystery, and suspense in the reader while tending to the dramatic and the sensational theme of the novel- like incest, diabolism, necrophilia, and nameless terrors.
It crosses boundaries, daylight and the dark, life and death, consciousness and unconsciousness. Sometimes covertly, sometimes explicitly, it presents transgression, taboos, and fears-of violation, imprisonment, social chaos, identity loss and emotional collapse. Gothic elements are almost immediately recognized when encountered in novels, poetry, plays, and movies. In true Gothic fashion, boundaries in the novel are trespassed, specifically love- crossing the boundary between life and death and Heathcliff’s transgressing social class and family ties.
Bronte portrays the tyrannies of the father and the cruelties of the patriarchal family and in reconstituting the family on nonpatriarchal lines, even though no counterbalancing matriarch or matriarchal family is presented. Gothic trappings of imprisonment and escape, flight, the persecuted heroine, the heroine wooed by a dangerous and a good suitor, ghosts, necrophilia, a mysterious foundling, and revenge are incorporated in the gothic romance endlessly.
The weather-buffeted Wuthering Heights is the traditional castle, and Catherine as described by some takes place of a ‘shape-shifting’ Gothic demon who undergoes a metamorphosis to fit in with Edgar Linton’s societal station and assumes the part of a domestic female- contrary to her own ‘free and birdlike’ nature. Subsequently, like the conventional Gothic herovillain, Heathcliff is a mysterious figure who destroys the beautiful woman he pursues and who usurps inheritances, and with typical Gothic excess he batters his head against a tree.
There is the hint of necrophilia in Heathcliff’s viewings of Catherine’s corpse and his plans to be buried next to her and a hint of incest in their being raised as brother and sister or- as a few critics have suggested and speculated-in Heathcliff’s being Catherine’s illegitimate half-brother. Written by Emily Bronte under the pseudonym of “Ellis Bell”, Wuthering Heights was created between October 1845 and June 1846 and consequently, published in 1847 in three volumes. The first two were written by Emily Bronte, whereas the final one-named Agnes Grey-was written by Anne Bronte (Acton Bell) – Emily Bronte’s sister.
The story spans roughly fifty years (the last half of the eighteenth century) though Lockwood’s narrative begins in 1801. Set in the harsh and isolated Yorkshire moors in Northern England, Wuthering Heights emits a very blood-curdling and spectral feeling to the novel in the very first few pages. Wuthering Heights only consists of two buildings- itself and Thrushcross Grange, and is therefore almost fully isolated from the rest of the world. Not a lot of information on neighboring cities or town is liberated leading to the belief that it is its own secluded world.
The two buildings are opposed in many ways: Wuthering Heights is dark and cold, located on a hill high above the brighter and inviting Thrushcross Grange, which is situated in the valley below. The two houses are only four miles apart, and yet characters are constantly getting lost while traveling between the two during the continuous back and forth movement on horse and foot that goes on throughout the novel. Additionally, access to the Grange symbolizes the acquisition of a certain social status.
Though there is no social scene as such, Catherine is still proud of her acceptance into the Linton manor. Heathcliff, on the other hand, is not welcome in either household. So issues of setting, access, and mobility reflect many of the novel’s themes of social class, family, property, and estrangement. Ironically, he ends up as the master of both houses and later on leases Thrushcross Grange to Mr. Lockwood- the narrator of Volume 1 of the novel. Equally important as the mansion itself, is the stormy and wild weather which abounds at the Heights.
The title of the estate is telling here in that, based on the oft described conditions, proving very aptly named after the roaring winds which beset the house when they are described as “Pure, bracing ventilation … one may guess of the power of the north wind, … by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun. ” by Mr. Lockwood. The weather mirrors the passion and wildness of the inhabitants of the Heights. The moorlands which surround Wuthering Heights add to the sense of untamable danger associated with the property.
The estate of Wuthering Heights, the wild weather and the dangerous moors which surround it combine to create a truly Gothic setting. It also plays a big role in reflecting some of the desolate attitudes of the characters. The landscape which is often pitiless and forbidding—as with Lockwood’s snowbound night at the Heights—or a Garden of Eden-like escape from the tyrannies of the home—as with the rambles young Catherine and Heathcliff take in order to avoid Hindley’s cruelty proves the pathetic fallacy used by Emily Bronte.
Gothic novels customarily consist haunted castles, ruined buildings which are sinister or which arouse a pleasing melancholy, cellars and the likes, dark corridors, winding stairs, shadows, a beam of moonlight in the blackness, a flickering candle, failure of lightning sources, extreme landscapes- like rugged mountains, thick forests, or icy wastes, and extreme weather, omens and ancestral curses, magic, supernatural manifestations, or the suggestion of the supernatural, a passion-driven, wilful villain-hero or villain, a curious heroine with a tendency to faint and a need to be rescued-frequently, a hero whose true identity is revealed by the end of the novel and horrifying (or terrifying) events or the threat of such happeningsmost of which is exhibited by the novel.
One of the classic features of Gothic literature is that of the supernatural and Wuthering Heights is very much ridden with other-worldly ideas. The first and most vivid description of supernatural beings appears to the character Mr. Lockwood when staying at the estate of Wuthering Heights. A ghostly, bloody apparition of Catherine appears at his window; “The intense horror of nightmare came over me; I tried to draw back my arm, but, the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice, sobbed, ‘Let me in – let me in! It is not made explicit in the novel whether the event is just a dream or similar however, the graphic nature of the account evokes a sense of unearthly dread.
Moreover, it is clear that the central character Heathcliff is convinced of the existence of ghosts and the idea that Catherine’s spirit remains present at the Heights. On hearing of Lockwood’s ordeal, Heathcliff “Got on the bed, and wrenched open the lattice, bursting, as he pulled at it, into an uncontrollable passion of tears. ‘Come in! Come in! ‘ He sobbed. ” Her ominous presence in Heathcliff’s mind eventually manifests itself into convincing him to dig up her grave, which itself highlights another trope of the Gothic – an obsession with death.
A focus on the paranormal penetrates right throughout the text. In the final pages of the novel we hear of accounts of ghostly sightings of Heathcliff and Catherine on the moors; “Country folks, if you asked them, would swear on their Bible that he walks. … That old man … affirms he has seen two on ’em … on every rainy night, since his death. ” The presence of these spectres also attests to their perpetual and unconquerable love which defies even the grave. The setting of a dark castle, dungeon or laboratory unique to the dark nature of gothic novels is showcased in Wuthering Heights and the foreboding environment created by the title location is just as potent in inciting terror.
The weather-wracked estate of Wuthering Heights offers an untamed, dangerous and sinister atmosphere further aiding in the eerie feeling given by the backdrop. The imagery bestowed upon the mansion creates an atmosphere akin to that of a haunted manor or castle as is typical of Gothic fiction, as described by Mr. Lockwood upon the first view of it. The sense that the Heights is a sinister place is most saliently seen when compared with the other location of the narrative, Thrushcross Grange, which serves to provide a stark contrast as a polar opposite in feeling and in what is represents; civility and the genteel. The tragic anti-hero of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff, is in many ways an archetypal Gothic character. He is mysterious, dark and exceedingly dangerous.
He is wholly bent on revenge for perceived past wrongs and his passion is all-consuming. Like many Gothic anti-heroes, Heathcliff’s love and fury lead him to destroy the woman he desires. In the end it is Catherine’s love for Heathcliff which ultimately destroys her. His return reinforces this and she cannot live with herself anymore, she tells Heathcliff “You have killed me – and thriven on it, I think. ” (Bronte 1847, 167) Though he most certainly did not wish Catherine harm, he also certainly played a part in her mental and physical capitulation. Heathcliff shows no qualms in destroying those for whom he does not care, however undeserving of his wrath they may be.
Isabella Linton falls in love with Heathcliff and is abused so heartlessly that she is forced to leave him, a social taboo for the period, this can be seen in this excerpt from her epistolary confession to Ellen Dean “I assure you, a tiger, or a venomous serpent could not rouse terror in me equal to that which he wakens… I hate him – Tam wretched – I have been a fool. ” He shows no remorse as to the fate of Isabella, nor even their son Linton whom he neglects to seek medical care for when he has fulfilled his purpose in usurping for Heathcliff Thrushcross Grange. Heathcliff’s unwarranted acts of violence against defenseless victims show his utter disregard for human suffering. Heathcliff’s relentless sadism manifests itself in his use of torture and imprisonment; classic Gothic features.
When he imprisons young Cathy at Wuthering Heights he does so to emotionally torture Edgar Linton, the man who took Catherine from him, but it is equally tortuous to poor Cathy “If papa thought I had left him, on purpose, and if he died before I returned, could I bear to live? ” Heathcliff’s use of cold-blooded emotional and psychological torture elevates him beyond the mere scorned man of passion to the disturbed and cruel monster that he becomes. Like any other Gothic anti-hero, or in many cases the antagonist, Heathcliff is bent on vengeance and does not care who must suffer from his cruelty in order for him to achieve it. In this way Heathcliff is a prime example of a Gothic protagonist. Wuthering Heights is Gothic in its essence, it is the Gothic elements which allow the novel to transcend the genre of tragic romance and make it unique.
The spectre of Catherine haunts the tale from the very first chapters onwards, and fittingly, this eerie apparition is what makes this novel so eternally enduring, the sense that love and loss are sentiments that can defy even death is a palpable and evocative theme. The mysterious and untamable setting of Wuthering Heights provides the perfect backdrop for the terrible events of the narrative. And Heathcliff’s inexorable quest for revenge through premeditated torture makes him arguably the classic Gothic anti-hero. Emily Bronte makes perfect use of Gothic elements in evoking within the readers’ mind a powerful sense of dread, apprehension and pain.