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About this book

Chapters on the narrative frame, characters, imagery and symbols, structure and themes use practical analysis to build and refine our insight into Wuthering Heights. Part Two gives information about Emily Brontë's life and works, a discussion of this novel's place in the development of fiction and a comparison of three important critical views. Suggestions for further reading, fully explained examples of analysis and suggestions for further work make this volume both accessible and a bridge to further study.

Table of Contents

Analysing Wuthering Heights

Frontmatter

1. The Narrative Frame

Abstract
The story of Wuthering Heights centres on a group of characters — Catherine and Hindley Earnshaw, Heathcliff, Edgar and Isabella Linton, and their three children. We can say that this ‘story’ begins when Heathcliff is brought into the Earnshaw family, when Catherine and Hindley are children; and ends with the marriage of Hareton Earnshaw and Catherine Linton/Heathcliff, and the death of Heathcliff himself. It is an exciting story, full of passions, marriages, births and deaths. However, it is important to remember that the author does not tell us this story: Wuthering Heights has a narrative frame. Another character, Nelly Dean, tells the story to Mr Lockwood, and he tells it to us. The first-person narrator of Wuthering Heights, then, is a long way removed from the actual experiences of the story. He only meets three of the main characters (Hareton and young Cathy, the two survivors of the younger generation; and Heathcliff), and he meets them as an unperceptive stranger, preoccupied by his own affairs, in the final year of their forty-year story.
Nicholas Marsh

2. Characterisation

Abstract
In Chapter 1 we found that the story in Wuthering Heights is often powerful enough to shatter or transcend the narrators’ attempts to mediate between the action and the reader. On the other hand, Mrs Dean has a narrow morality and is often foolish in both thought and action; and Mr Lockwood is a self-centred ass, ignorant of his own character. So there is no mystery about the ‘power’ of the story: Emily Brontë enhances the effect by characterising narrators who are shallow and easily pushed aside.
Nicholas Marsh

3. Imagery and Symbols

Abstract
Images are comparisons between something the author describes, and an idea the author imagines for the sake of the comparison. For example, in Chapter 2 we quoted Catherine’s description of her love for Linton: ‘My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods. Time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees’ (p. 82). This describes Catherine’s affection for Edgar by comparing it to ‘the foliage in the woods’. The attraction she feels towards Edgar is there in the story, it really exists: that is the literal side of the comparison. The foliage in the woods is not there, it is an image-idea Brontë makes Catherine imagine as a comparison for her feeling: that is the figurative side of the comparison. In this example, Catherine explains that her feeling is ‘like the foliage in the woods’. The word ‘like’ tells us that there is a comparison, so we call this image a simile. One page before this example, Catherine imagines that ‘every Linton on the face of the earth might melt into nothing’ (p. 81). This time the insignificance of the Lintons (the literal side of the comparison) is compared to a vision of them as they ‘melt into nothing’ (the figurative side); but none of the words tell us that it feels ‘as if’ they might melt, Brontë simply writes that the Lintons are soft and likely to melt. This kind of image is called a metaphor.
Nicholas Marsh

4. Structure in Wuthering Heights

Abstract
The ‘structure’ of a text is present in anything the author does to give a ‘shape’ to our experience as we read. So, we begin to study ‘structure’ by thinking about the text in a particular way, concentrating on the question of its ‘shape’, and how it is all fitted together.
Nicholas Marsh

5. Themes

Abstract
Themes are simply subjects the author is concerned with. When we think of the elements of a novel, we tend to think rather glibly of ‘characters, plot, themes, style’ and so on; but we should recognise that ‘themes’ are different from these other elements, because the author does not identify and name them, we do. So, we might quite reasonably discuss a ‘theme of revenge’ in Wuthering Heights, and in our discussion we could look at Heathcliff’s long pursuit of revenge against both the Earnshaws and the Lintons, Hindley’s attempt to revenge himself upon Heathcliff, and Edgar Linton’s refusal to be reconciled to Isabella. This discussion might be enlightening and useful, but we should never forget that we chose the subject ‘revenge’. What is ‘revenge’? It follows ‘injury’, in the sense that Heathcliff was injured by Hindley’s tyranny and Catherine’s marriage; Edgar was injured by Heathcliff’s destruction of his marriage; Hindley was injured by Heathcliff stripping him of his authority and property. It stands to reason that there is no ‘revenge’ without prior ‘injury’. So, perhaps we should discuss a ‘theme of injury and revenge’ instead of just ‘revenge’? A theme, then, is a subject we think is important in the text, and it is selected and defined by us. A theme is also not a literal thing, created by the author, like a character or an event.
Nicholas Marsh

6. Conclusions to Part 1

Abstract
This chapter is in two parts. First, we try to draw together the various conclusions about Wuthering Heights we have arrived at from all of our detailed study, in a descriptive discussion of the novel as a whole. Secondly, we bring together the various techniques and approaches that have been found useful in the preceding chapters, when analysing Wuthering Heights.
Nicholas Marsh

The Context and the Critics

Frontmatter

7. Emily Brontë’s Life and Works

Abstract
We will begin with a plain account of Emily Brontë’s life. We will then look at the controversies which have raged between her biographers, who interpret the bare facts in such different ways. Different biographies sometimes read as if they are the lives of different people, not one woman, but we will be careful to make limited, objective statements about Emily in our initial account.
Nicholas Marsh

8. The Place of Wuthering Heights in English Literature

Abstract
Wuthering Heights is an extraordinary novel, the individual creation of a writer working in comparative isolation. Emily Brontë read widely, and despite her lack of continuing formal education, she was familiar with classical texts, French and German. However, she was emphatically outside the literary world of early Victorian times: she took no notice of its preferences and opinions, nor did she observe the developing conventions of the novel form. So, although we can trace many influences on Wuthering Heights, they are widely spaced in time and drawn together idiosyncratically in this one work.
Nicholas Marsh

9. A Sample of Critical Views

Abstract
Hundreds of books and articles have been written about Wuthering Heights by academic critics, and many more are published each year. They are often written in a confusing, over-complicated style: academics are just as fond of showing off as anybody else. It is important to remember that you have read and studied Emily Brontë’s novel, so your ideas are just as valid as theirs. Always be sceptical in approaching their ideas: you are not under an obligation to agree with them. Your mind can be stimulated by discussing the text with your teachers and lecturers, or in a class. Treat the critics in the same way: it is stimulating to debate Wuthering Heights by reading their books and articles, challenging your ideas and theirs. This is the spirit in which you should read ‘the critics’.
Nicholas Marsh
Additional information