Emily Bronti?? uses many effective and powerful gothic devices in the opening chapters of Wuthering Heights. She exploits tones of mystery and discomfort to create unease with the reader, as well as many different themes of the gothic such as unknown identity, unexplained past, cruelty and nature. She also uses pathetic fallacy in combination with isolationism to show the reader of Lockwood’s predicament in the opening chapters. The names created by the author also contain an aspect of the gothic and foreshadow events.
Her powerful descriptions of Wuthering Heights and its backdrop using gothic conventions give the reader an excellent idea of sinister atmosphere surrounding the house. She utilises the archetypal techniques of gothic writing in describing Wuthering Heights as a castle and Lockwood’s dream in which he sees ghosts. All of these thing show how her opening resonates with the gothic style and creates a daunting scene for the reader.
The book was first published in 1847, although it was probably written slightly earlier as Bronti?? had trouble getting it published as female authors were not appreciated at that time, in a time that is described as the post-romantic era as it was after the time that most romantic novels were written. It comes at the same time as the industrial revolution in Britain, which perhaps links it to the fact that the revolution de-humanised society in a way that led it to become so eerie and negative like it is described in Wuthering Heights.
The first use of the gothic in this book is the description of Heathcliff in the opening paragraph by Lockwood as he gathers his first impressions on him. He first of all describes the area as a “misanthropist’s heaven”, suggesting that it is such a dull and pessimistic place that only a person of such disposition would live there. He describes Heathcliff to have “black eyes” which “withdraw so suspiciously under their brows”. This links to the gothic as the reader finds him mysterious and are uncertain of him.
Bronti?? then goes on to describe Heathcliff in a negative manner once more, telling us “his fingers sheltered themselves, with a jealous resolution”. This is suggesting that he is a coward and that he is trying to hide something, maybe he has secrets from the past that he does not wish to reveal. We as readers of this book also know very little about the background or family history of this man as he was taken from a gypsy family at a young age.
This element of mystery is heavily linked with the gothic and this description of Heathcliff is an effective use of a gothic device by Emily Bronti??. Bronti?? also uses reference to the supernatural often in the early parts of the novel. Throughout these chapters the man-servant Joseph constantly uses the phrase “The Lord help us! “, suggesting that this old wise man is convinced that the evil surrounding Wuthering Heights is so ghastly that divine intervention is the only way to rid the place of it.
Later, when Lockwood returns to Wuthering Heights to meet Heathcliff for dinner, we see young Cathy discussing the Black Arts with Joseph, perhaps to scare him as he is very religious and therefore extremely unsure of that sort of stuff. We are told of Cathy removing a “long dark book” from the shelve, which is suggesting that it is a book that contains evil things, although it may be harmless. Cathy then tells Joseph that she has “progressed in the Black Art” and that his “rheumatism can hardly be reckoned by providential visitations.
Here she is suggesting that it is perhaps due to her doings that Joseph has rheumatism and that only she can cure it, whether this is true or not is left unknown, which adds to the mystery of the book, although it is very likely that Cathy is just trying to scare him and this uncertainty is a powerful gothic device. She is then described by Bronti?? as a “Little witch”, again suggesting she is evil and adding to the gothic uncertainty. Another early point that Bronti?? uses in this book is her description of Wuthering Heights itself.
In the first few pages of the book she describes Wuthering Heights as a castle through the narrator at the time, Lockwood. The word “wuthering” used in the name of the house tells us that the house is subject to strong winds and stormy weather. This is use of pathetic fallacy in the description of the house by Bronti??, which tells the reader that it is an unwelcoming place, and it even foreshadows the snow storm in the later chapters. Bronti?? also uses pathetic fallacy to great effect as a gothic device.
Before Lockwood becomes trapped in Wuthering Heights with Heathcliff it is snowing as Lockwood crosses the moors to Wuthering Heights, foreshadowing the events that later happen when he becomes trapped by this heavy snow. Bronti?? depicts the nature around the house to be on a par with the house the house itself, saying that there are only “a few stunted firs at the end of the house”, suggesting that they are unable to grow as the whole area is devoid of their needs as they have little sunlight and poor soil.
This is perhaps due to the events that have previously happened at Wuthering Heights, which we discover later in the book. Emily Bronti?? talks about the “gaunt thorns” that could represent the people of Wuthering Heights, “craving alms of the sun”, suggesting that the people who live inside require charity just like the thorns who are trying to stretch away from Wuthering Heights. She later describes “the straggling gooseberry bushes”, the word straggling informing us that they also struggle to grow, and the gooseberries themselves are a sour and unpleasant fruit.
We are told of the “narrow windows” of the house, and the “corners defended with large, jutting stones”. These descriptions make the house seem like a castle as it is described as being “defended” and the narrow windows are reminiscent of a castle. This makes the house seem ugly and all of these make it gothic. Emily Bronti??’s use of the characters names is an effective gothic device as it foreshadows the events that take place in the early parts of the book.
The name ‘Lockwood’ foreshadows the fact that he is quite literally to become locked in wood, when he is forced to stay the night at Wuthering Heights and becomes trapped in a nightmare with the ghost of Catherine Earnshaw in a large oak case. The name Heathcliff, while it does not foreshadow any events, it still gives an insight into the character. The name created by Bronti?? informs us that he is a man that is very close to nature and has a contrasted personality as the two parts of his name contrast, A heath being a flat, horizontal area of land, where a cliff is vertical and therefore completely the opposite.
I believe that Emily Bronti?? uses many different and powerful gothic devices and conventions in the opening chapters of Wuthering Heights. She develops tones of mystery and anxiety to produce discomfort with the reader, as well as many different topics of the gothic such as unknown identity, unexplained past, cruelty and nature. She also uses pathetic fallacy in combination with isolationism to show the reader of Lockwood’s quandary in the opening chapters.
Her description of Wuthering Heights in the opening chapter sets the scene for the rest of the book and her intelligent use of names foreshadows events in the book. She makes use of the supernatural to create nervousness amongst the characters which is an excellent use of the gothic. Finally I consider that Emily Bronti??’s use of gothic conventions and devices in the opening chapters is particularly powerful and sets the scene excellently for the rest of the book.