The ideology of the mid-nineteenth century limited the role of Victorian women to the domestic sphere. The Victorian construction of the domestic ideal saw the woman as devoted, busy and diligent mother, bearing, raising and educating her children. Anchored to the home and providing a secure, cosy space for a husband, as a haven from his public life in the outside world, the woman and home became the ‘expression of British Victorian morality...and respectability’ (Watson, N.J. and Towheed, S. 2011 Romantics and Victorians, p.339). Emily Brontë’s portrayal of the domestic space in Wuthering Heights, questions this ideal and subverts it in a number of ways. Although Mr Lockwood’s framing narrative in the novel is dated 1801-1802, and the events depicted in Wuthering Heights through Nelly Dean’s narrative begin some thirty years earlier, it must be remembered that the book was published in 1847. Emily Brontë was part of and acutely aware of this ideal and conventions of the time, illustrated clearly by the necessity for the book to be published under a pseudonym, as writing would not be considered an appropriate pastime for a lady. As Charlotte Brontë explained, ‘...we veiled our own names under those of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell; the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because––without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called ‘feminine’–– we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice;
(Brontë , E. (2009) Wuthering Heights, p.302)
The events of the novel all take place within the restricted geographical area of Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange and Emily Brontë sets up these two houses in direct opposition in order to explore the effects of unrestrained feeling, passion and the intrusion of outside forces on the prevalent societal order. Depicted through Lockwood’s narration in Gothic style, the Heights lacks hospitality and domestic comforts, and sets up a series of barriers - gates, causeway, courtyard, grotesque carvings – to deter intrusion, when the defences are breached, visitors walk straight into the heart of the home, where ‘legs of beef, mutton and ham’ are all on display, uncarpeted with ‘primitive’ furniture (ibid. p.3), the whole describes a wholesome and practical space, seemingly devoid of refinement. Sitting on a wild moor, its name is, ‘descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather.’ (ibid, p.2). The reader enters Wuthering Heights with Lockwood, confronting unusual scenes and characters, later discovering that Lockwood’s attempts at interpreting the place and its inhabitants are a failure. As a southern urban ‘foreigner,’ this world is alien, demonstrated when he loses himself between the gates of his home and the actual house:, ‘The distance from the gate to the Grange is two miles: I believe I managed to make it four’ (ibid. p.26). The stricture of his societal values make him unable to negotiate the landscape within or without Wuthering Heights.
Through Nelly’s evidentiary narrative, we become aware that the introduction of an ‘outsider’ to the household precipitates events. Heathcliff’s arrival exposes the perception of familial harmony as a veneer. The children are aggressive at his arrival and the mother, the symbol of all that is good and benevolent, ‘was ready to fling it out of doors: she did fly up–– asking how he could fashion to bring that gipsy brat into the house, when they had their own bairns to feed, and fend for?’ (ibid. p.31). There is no motherly nurturing to a needy child, but a realisation that he can be a threat to her own children. From the first he is termed a "gypsy" (ibid. p.3,31,34,). Later, Mr. Linton recognizes him as "'that strange...