How Do the Settings and Characters in Emily Brontë’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ Reflect Each Other?

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“If I were in heaven, Nelly, I would be extremely miserable.” How do the settings and characters in Emily Brontë’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ reflect each other?

Written in 1847, ‘Wuthering Heights’ is Emily Brontë’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 Brontë 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. Brontë’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. Brontë wrote, Hindley’s appalling treatment of Heathcliff was “enough to make a fiend of a saint”. Brontë 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...
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