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Wuthering Heights
Emily Brontė
publisher: Querido, Amsterdam, 1847



refered to by:
Beloved
Toni Morrison

The Hunchback of Notre Dame
Victor Hugo

The Sorrows of Young Werther
Johann Wolfgang Goethe

Orlando
Virginia Woolf

A Heart of Stone
Renate Dorrestein


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Like her fellow Victorian novelist, Thomas Hardy, Brontė’s setting is limited to the Yorkshire moors of northern England, a rural, isolated region. Rural life was governed by a strict societal hierarchy which Brontė accurately depicted in Wuthering Heights. At the top were the Lords, the aristocracy, with its hereditary or monarch granted titles, large estates, political dominance and patronage system. Next came the gentry class, non-titled nobility landowners, who constituted local leadership. The Linton family in Wuthering Heights is typical of this class. Next were the gentlemen farmers, many of whom were prosperous enough to maintain a lifestyle like that of the gentry. Mr. Earnshaw, father of Hindley and Cathy, is a representative gentleman farmer. Indeed, the distinction between the two classes appears in the novel, when Catherine refers to herself and Heathcliff as being of “the lower orders”.

Wuthering Heights is unlike any other novel in the genre of Victorian literature in that it stands outside the social conventions of its time. Victorian literature characteristically viewed the individual as a member of society. In Wuthering Heights, Brontė for the first time portrayed society from a completely individual point of view.

While many of the great Victorian novelists of the early to middle period, such as Dickens, Thackeray, and Eliot, dealt more explicitly with moral preoccupations and social concerns than Brontė did, Wuthering Heights was unique for containing more of the primitive and spiritual side of the human spirit, feelings which, according to Derek Traversi, were “otherwise unduly concealed in this period.”

Wuthering Heights, furthermore, with its mysterious, isolated mansions located in the wind-swept, brooding Yorkshire moors, is replete with overtones of Gothic horror. There is the suggestion of ghosts revisiting the living, supernatural allusions, and above all, a protagonist who symbolizes the
dark side of mankind. These Gothic characteristics are more typical of the Romantic period of literature than the Victorian.

In fact, one could safely say that Brontė manages to anticipate the twentieth century novel. With its ambivalent morality, violence, and emphasis on the evil side of human nature, Wuthering Heights has much in common with modern novels, such as The Sound and the Fury. Indeed, Hindley Earnshaw’s profligate behavior is reminiscent of Jason Compson’s, as are the vicious intra-family feuds, and frustrated sexual urges.

Perhaps this is why the novel met with unfavorable critical reaction when it was first published. The general sentiment among critics was that the characters and their situations were too “disagreeable and coarse to be attractive.” Charlotte Brontė was among the novel’s chief admirers, although even she was forced to acknowledge how strange and wild Wuthering Heights must seem to those unacquainted with Yorkshire. More recently, writers such as Charles Percy Sanger and Virginia Woolf have described it as a novel of genius for the manner in which Brontė contrasts the civilized, genteel side of human nature with its wild, untamed counterpart. Scribner’s Companion and Richard Benvenuto have also been impressed with Brontė’s accuracy and consistency in detail. The characters age in accordance with correct sequence and behave in an age-appropriate manner. Brontė’s depiction of the Yorkshire moors is accurate, as is her ear for the local dialect. Furthermore, she exhibits considerable knowledge of English inheritance laws in her handling of the characters’ legal matters.

However much Brontė was disparaged by her contemporaries, twentieth-century critics rank her among the elite of Victorian writers for the genius she exhibits in Wuthering Heights. Ironically, her sister Charlotte, who received acclaim by those who objected to Emily, is now considered the less gifted writer. (www.enotes.com)

bookweb from:
Lezen&Cetera, Pieter Steinz
 
BOOKS BY EMILY BRONTė:

Wuthering Heights
1847
This saga of two Yorkshire families in the remote Pennine Hills has been interpreted as a historical romance, a ghostly thriller, a psychological love-story, a religious allegory and a nature poem.
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