CHAPTER I Wuthering Heights—Thoughts and Language Pattern Winifred Gerin, in her biographical landmark, Emily Bronte, quotes a section of a review of Emily Bronte’s sole novel, Wuthering Heights, in the Atheneum, dated 25 December, 1847, in the column, ‘Our Literary Table’: … In spite of much power and cleverness, in spite of its truth to life in the remote corners of England, —Wuthering Heights is a disagreeable story. interiors so gloomy as the one here elabor- ated with such dismal minuteness. … (Emily Bronte, p. 210) Gerin also refers to another reviewer, Sydney Dobell, reviewing Wuthering Heights in 1850, who declared—although crediting Currer Bell with being the author of Wuthering Heights—‘…that certain pages in Wuthering Heights were ‘the masterpiece of a poet,’ and that he was at a loss ‘to find anywhere in modern prose…such wealth and economy, such apparent ease, such instinctive art. 1 Reading Wuthering Heights almost one hundred and sixty four years after its controversial and under-acclaimed publication in 1847, under the pseudonym ‘Ellis Bell’, we are still discussing the ‘masterful amalgam of voices as well as the breadth and imagination of its vision. ’2 Wuthering Heights is extraordinary and astonishing in more ways than one.
The most outstanding element of this novel is its theme, which is nothing short of a Warfield of conflicts—emotional conflicts, class conflicts, conflicts between conventional codes of morality and unconventional, almost Blakeian morality, conflicts between romance and reality, and conflicts between nature and nurture. The ‘worlds of Heaven and Hell’—to quote one of Emily Bronte’s poems—are ‘centred’ in this novel, in a passionately human experience of both. Wuthering Heights has astonished and baffled readers. The source and meaning, and the devices of the story, its origin and ends and means, have been disputed no end.
Questions about Heathcliff being a villain-hero—similar to Shakespeare’s Macbeth—Catherine Earnshaw’s loyalties, the Catherine Earnshaw-Heathcliff relationship against the Catherine Linton-Hareton Earnshaw one, the different values associated with the two houses, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, the credibility of the two narrators, Lockwood and Nelly Dean, the spread of the Yorkshire moors and the spread of the mind-maps of the characters, the end of the story, and at what cost peace has been won (if at all) at the end of the tragic meanderings of the main characters, the novelist’s thoughts and language pattern, have combined to keep alive our interest in this novel for such a long time. In 1832, when Charlotte Bronte went away to school at Roe Head, Emily and Anne Bronte started creating the Gondal saga. Gondal was another world altogether and though none of the Gondal prose has survived, we can glimpse in the large number of Gondal poems, that Emily Bronte wrote, the first sketchy contours of Wuthering Heights.
Gondal was a female-dominated royalist world where strong-willed women sovereigns ruled like tyrants, took and did away with lovers and husbands at will, and died violent deaths in the bleak Gondal landscape of heath-covered moors. Fierce outlaws and rebels stalked the moors, while shackled prisoners languished in dank, dark dungeons and proclaimed their inner freedom and righteousness. They cursed their captors with their last breaths. Even as early as this, Emily Bronte was preoccupied with woman’s power and social forces which threatened it, with her particular idea of the Byronic hero, and with an ideal of relentless, passionate romantic love that recognizes no social or moral boundaries and survives all that would serve to destroy it, including death itself. In 1835, at the age of seventeen, Emily briefly attended school at Roe Head.
It was the first time in about ten years that she left home. She had to submit to a teacher’s demands and to an inflexible school routine, and was forced to live among strangers. Worst of all, she had to forgo the freedom and time to dwell in the imagination of Gondal. Years later Charlotte vividly remembered the pain Emily endured at Roe Head and her inevitable retreat home: Liberty was the breath of Emily’s nostrils; without it she perished. The change from her own home to a school, and from her own very noiseless, very secluded, but unrestricted and inartificial mode of life to one of disciplined routine…was what she failed in enduring.
Her nature proved here too strong for her fortitude. Every morning when she woke, the vision of home and the moors rushed on her, …I felt in my heart she would die if she did not go home,…3 The pattern established at Roe Head—a pattern of dismay, resistance and flight—was repeated when Emily Bronte went to teach at a school in Law Hill and traveled to Brussels with Charlotte Bronte in 1842. Emily was impervious to external control and refused to submit to it. One of the most significant of the forms her rebellion took was a hunger strike. Catherine Earnshaw resorts to the same policy of fasting in Wuthering Heights whenever her will is crossed.
Whenever Emily Bronte was forced into a position of powerlessness, she refused to eat, and thereby assumed control of the only thing within her reach: her own body. Deprived of food, she would soon fall ill and be sent home where she would soon regain her strength. Like most anorexic women, Emily Bronte was interested in preparing food. Mrs. Gaskell’s biography of Charlotte Bronte gives an account of Emily’s reign in the parsonage kitchen, where she cooked all the family’s meals and baked all the bread. Much of her poetry and Wuthering Heights also reflect the central character of food in her life, imbued as they were with food, eating and starvation imagery.
At the end of Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff dies as much from starvation as from his longing for reunion with Catherine. As for Heathcliff, so for his creator Emily Bronte, death at least partially caused by starvation, seems to be an image of the release of the human spirit from the fetters of flesh and blood. Wuthering Heights has a theme which speaks of a direct problem of existence in a world full of fetters—literal and metaphorical. It gives us an insight into the tortured souls of modern individuals who cannot escape being bruised as they come in contact with the rough pace of the changing world of reality. This novel gives us no scope of escaping into romanticism.
Its rigorous exercise in language shows that its creator intensely experienced a mystic vision of spiritual life, and also that she applied a passionate detachment, for portraying her personal and circumstantial experiences through the thoughts and language pattern of her novel, underlying its theme. Emily Bronte’s conception of the theme has been conveyed to the readers by her austerely simple language, and her lack of inhibition in her use of language patterns. Through Nelly Dean’s portrayal of Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, Emily has woven an emotional texture in which she forcefully contrasts the ‘agreeable’ and the ‘necessary’. The love-triangle of Catherine Earnshaw, Heathcliff and Edgar Linton challenges moral judgement.
Emily Bronte’s consuming experience in her real life—especially in her experience of her brother Branwell’s love-entanglement and heart-break—has been given expression through a concentration of her thoughts in her language patterns. The clash of characters and ideas, represented through a simple but dynamic language gives Wuthering Heights its character and distinction. A good example of the dynamic nature of Emily Bronte’s language is Lockwood’s dream of the sermon preached by Jabes Branderham: I began to dream…we were journeying to hear the famous Jabes Branderham preach from the text—‘Seventy Times Seven’;… We came to the chapel…it lies in a hollow—an elevated hollow— near a swamp, whose peaty moisture is said to answer all the purposes of embalming on the few corpses deposited there.
The roof has been kept whole hitherto, but, as the clergyman’s stipend is only twen- ty pounds per annum, and a house with two rooms, speedily threaten- ing to determine into one, no clergyman will undertake the duties of of a pastor, especially, as it is currently reported that his flock would rather let him starve than increase the living by one penny from their own pockets. However, in my dream, Jabes had a full and atten- tive congregation; and he preached—good God—what a sermon! Divided into four hundred and ninety parts—each fully equal to an ordinary address from the pulpit—and each discussing a separate sin!… (Ch. III)
Emily Bronte, in the quoted passage, is brilliant in her use of irony: ‘a hollow—an elevated hollow’, and her awareness of a rural clergyman’s penury, together with her impatience with excessively long and harsh sermons on sin. As Lockwood’s dream progresses, and ends in an accusation leveled at him by Jabes himself, until the ‘tremendous tumult’ among the congregation that makes him wake up, we feel as breathless as Lockwood himself. Then Lockwood says: And what was it that had suggested the tremendous tumult, what had played Jabes’ part in the row? Merely, the branch of a fir-tree that touched my lattice, as the blast wailed by, and rattled its dry cones against the panes! (Ch. III)
The ‘blast’, as it ‘wailed by’, gives us an eerie sensation of Nature’s premonition of some tragedy, as thunderstorms do in Shakespearean drama, and true enough, in Lockwood’s next dream the ‘little, ice-cold hand’ of ‘Catherine Linton’, and her wail, “Let me in—let me in! ” occur, forecasting the tragic story of the star-crossed Catherine and Heathcliff, and those who are close around them, to unfold in subsequent chapters of the novel. Very Gothic in nature, the episode of Catherine’s apparition trying to come in out of the cold also reminds us as we read: ‘The intense horror of nightmare came over me…’, of the blasted heath in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, where the three weird sisters try to attract Macbeth’s attention, and succeed, but not without a sense of something evil, being felt by Banquo.
Throughout the novel, a stream of dark emotions—although beginning with love—and the machinations of Heathcliff’s elaborately worked out revenge, make us realize the subversive nature of Wuthering Heights, and the credit goes to Emily Bronte’s mastery over her language. On the one hand, it is economical and practical; on the opther, it is resonant with live emotions bordering on desperation. Though the progress of the novel follows a meandering path spanning many years, concrete facts are documented in a complex time-process. It also reaches a definite solution, which leaves a complete impression of a formal masterpiece. According to David Cecil, ‘The setting is a microcosm of the universal scheme as Emily Bronte conceived it. 4 The theme of Wuthering Heights comprises a land of storms, high on the grim Yorkshire moorland, peopled with the beautiful and passionate Catherine Earnshaw—very much of a pagan princess—the fiendish but also much-abused Heathcliff, Catherine’ Earnshaw’s brother Hindley, his wife Frances, the blustering religious fanatic Joseph, the younger version of Catherine, the mother’s namesake, the insipid Linton siblings, the metamorphosing Hareton, the sensible Nelly Dean, Zilla, Joseph’s counterpart in every sense, and last but not least, Lockwood, just a handful of people, nevertheless providing an apt backdrop for the high drama of pulsating human passions played out to an almost cathartic end, and re-establishment of harmony, which is one of the intertwined themes in Wuthering Heights.
Emile Montegut has commented: ‘The subject of her novel is strange, and she treats it without hypocrisy, prudishness or false reserve. ’5 This remark can indeed be corroborated by the following extract from Wuthering Heights: “Why do you love him, Miss. Cathy? ” “Nonsense, I do—that’s sufficient? ” “By no means;…I love all his looks, and all his actions,…And why? ” “Nay, you are making a jest of it:…” “I’m very far from jesting, Miss. Catherine,…” “You love Mr. Edgar because he is handsome, and young, and Cheerful, and rich, and loves you. The last, however, goes for Nothing: you would love him without that, probably; and with it you wouldn’t, unless he possessed the four former attractions. In the quoted extract there is an instance of how mercilessly the sensible and efficient Nelly Dean grills Catherine Earnshaw when Catherine decides to marry the handsome but insipid Edgar Linton, after pointedly rejecting her original lover, the turbulent Heathcliff. Emily Bront?’s brother Branwell’s uncontrolled passion, his desperate gestures, apocalyptic language(while he was infatuated with Mrs. Robinson, who rejected his love), has entered the emotional climate of Wuthering Heights. In this context, Catherine’s volte face works as a reminder, as Anne Smith points out, of the fact that Wuthering Heights is not a ‘romance’, though elements of myth and fairy-tale lie hidden beneath its surface, affecting us unconsciously rather than by conscious suggestion.
For example, Nelly hints to Heathcliff that he might be of high birth, and it comes so naturally in its context of idle chatter, washing and hair combing (VII), that one might read the entire dialogue without being aware how fraught it is with hints, half ironic, of a romantic interpretation of Heathcliff’s origin and destiny. In Emily Bront?’s poems, there are many clues to the under lying motifs in Wuthering Heights. As Anne Smith points out: It is the sureness and suppleness of rhythm of Emily’s best poems that defines their emphatic and individual quality of dramatized feeling. If we were to analyze ‘Death, that struck’ purely in terms of language, we should find that it is loaded with stock ‘poetic diction’ (‘fervent heat’, ‘winged grief’, etc. ). Only very occasionally does the language of common speech, or of ballads and folk-song, break through.