A text which is exemplary of Victorian society struggling to reconcile past ideas and beliefs with progress and modernity regarding the individual and society is Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. By looking at the genre, setting, characters and plot it can be seen how the difference between Gothic romance and Victorian realism is used to convey the struggle for individualism in an era of great social precariousness. An inspection of how these convey the social problems encountered by these characters during this era and their ability to move forward by the end of the novel is discussed.
In terms of the genre of the novel Bronte herself rebels against Victorian society by selecting to write a Gothic romance devoid of both possibility and probability as opposed to the traditional Victorian realist novel. This Gothic form versus the traditional convention of the time allows her to question Victorian society and explore taboo subjects of adultery and sexuality and discuss unlikely themes such as ghosts and the supernatural. According to an unsigned critique in the Eclectic Review, February 1851,‘As the characters of the tale are unattractive, so the chief incidents are sadly wanting in probability. They are devoid of truthfulness and are not in harmony with the actual world.’ It can be seen therefore that Bronte's individual choice of genre was not socially acceptable.
The northern setting of the novel is Bronte’s attempt to convey a sense of crisis by questioning class attitudes towards conventional Victorian writing. By setting the novel in Yorkshire this would have been seen as uncultivated northern writing and would have been controversial for the time when most novels were set in middle class England. In that sense the setting in the novel is an extension of the class inequalities in real life. By setting the novel in the wilderness of the Yorkshire moors as opposed to the industrialised, civilised Victorian society is an attack on Victorian society in terms of the struggle for an individual to conform to the norm – even in literature. In this case the form mirrors the narrative. It could be argued that by opting for this working class setting Bronte is drawing attention to the class attitudes towards uncultivated writing at the time and the precariousness of class during this era.
To further reinforce the northern setting and thus add contention to the idea of individual Victorian realism (as opposed to Gothic romance) are the detailed descriptions of Wuthering Heights. As early as chapter II life in a Victorian farmhouse is depicted with great detail, ‘After marching through a wash-house, and a paved area containing a coal-shed, pump, and pigeon cote, we at length arrived in the large, warm, cheerful apartment …&’, Bronte 2009 , (p.7). Adding to this northern farmhouse setting is the controversial northern dialect and language of Joseph the manservant, ‘Whet are ye for? T’ maister’s dahn I’ t’fowld.’ Bronte 2009 , (p.6). This is further evidence of the possible contention surrounding this choice of setting and in turn Bronte choosing to stay true to herself over modern society’s expectations. In this sense the form and the content of the novel are connected as Bronte continued her own rebellion against modern Victorian conventions.
Another aspect in terms of the setting is the writers use of the weather to represent characters moods (pathetic fallacy). An example is when their moods are mirrored by the weather, A high wind blustered round the house, and roared in the chimney: it sounded wild and stormy and they both set up a heart breaking cry. Bronte 2009 , (p.37). This technique adds greater intensity and emotion and allows the reader to tap into the violent passions of the main characters. This Gothic element increases the intensity of the emotion between Cathy and Heathcliff and allows the reader to further appreciate how difficult it is for them to...
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