In January 1848 a critic described ‘Wuthering Heights’ as a “strange sort of book – baffling all regular criticism”. To what extent does Emily Bronte challenge and intrigue her readers in the opening chapters of the novel. The novel was written in a very traditional time. It was the time that we in the 21st century would think of as very restricted. Women were considered as property. Men had to be honourable. And peasants were just that, Peasants. In the time that this novel was written, people had to read to be able to enjoy themselves. People wanted to be shocked. They wanted the new and exciting.
But most of all, they wanted to experience the unorthodox. This novel provided that unorthodox. The start of the 19th century provided the conditions for a gothic revival, which meant people wanted to enjoy the melodramatic, over the top kinds of stories. When Mary Shelly’s ‘Frankenstein’ came out it quenched peoples thirst into the things that should not be. Emily herself was born in Thornton, Yorkshire, in the north of England. Her father was a rector so she got her religious influence of the novel from her father and was forced to spend much time reading the bible, as Joseph made Cathy and Heathcliff do in the novel.
Throughout the novel she expresses the power of her imagination, which was not common only 150 years ago. Because women were still considered a second class citizen, she had to write under a male name, Currer Bell. The story denotes the Victorian morality of the time and shows people of the upper classes that life is not all high tea and biscuits. The novel would shock most readers of the time. However a modern reader would just think that nothing is too unusual as torrid love affairs are all too rampant in today’s way of life.
In the first chapter of the novel we are told of Lockwood’s first experiences when he comes to Wuthering Heights. From the line ‘They are not kept as pets’ you start to see the way that Heathcliff thinks in mysterious ways and that he is not like the regular upper class rich man from the days that the story is based in. She is challenging convention by making him totally over the top and almost evil in his mentality. When Lockwood enters Wuthering Heights for the second time in the evening he is almost baffled by the way that Catherine treats him.
From the words ‘Proper Person’ you get the impression that he is definitely the normal, ‘traditional’ person of the times. Women are second class citizens. The rich are better than the poor. Those kinds of extinct ideas are what Lockwood seems to live by. And she is obviously not used to being looked down on. She doesn’t think that the woman’s place is in the home. When Catherine broke the window to try to get in, the book tells of the way Lockwood ‘rubbed the arm till the blood soaked the bedclothes’. In those days that would have been something that was never written. It is very descriptive and very gory.
That would have shocked every upper-class reader of the book as they were almost certainly used to pretty flowers and beautiful ornate windows. This literally broke their idea about the windows. When the story switches over to the second narrator I think that most of the audiences would have been a bit confused because it is not the way that the stories that they were used to reading. This makes the story different and encouraged those people to read the book. One of the things in the story that challenges convention is the difference in class between the major characters.
Heathcliff is a lowly orphan and he is treated that way after his fathers’ death. But Cathy, on the other hand, is a rich girl, and always was. She was brought up to almost hate Heathcliff by Hindly and this caused her to start to drift away. Once Cathy accepts Edgar’s proposal, it is a turning point in the storyline because you can see some tension between her and Heathcliff. From the line ‘it would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now’ you can see that she can’t marry him because of the class divide. Even from the word ‘degrade’ you can see that she isn’t happy about that divide and that she really wants to be with him but can’t.
At this point in the story the modern reader would know that they would get together in the end because that is the way that stories of this type end. I would also think that the normal reader would also think the same. However Emily does challenge convention in that way too because the story ends with Heathcliff’s death. None of the story tries to fit in with the rest of the world and I think that is the way that Emily Bronte wanted the story to unfold. At the start I said that she couldn’t even write under her own name because she would not have been accepted. That is the way that the story was written.
If the book had been written in a normal way (that is following the standard set out for love stories) then I don’t think that the book would have been as popular as it is. The entire story is about acceptance, both in classes and of gender. One of the things that people would have been very surprised about in the story is the way that Heathcliff becomes completely maddened by Edgar. He marries Edgar’s sister, Isabella who has fallen madly in love with him. But then, shockingly Uses her and beats her so that he can start to exact a revenge on Edgar and Cathy. Because of this I think that the reader of that time would have felt sick.
People in those situations would almost certainly have had things like that done to them but this is one of the few times that people would have written so openly and honestly about the subject. The entire story is based on defying convention and changing people’s views about the world they live in and the world around them. Because of this, the book was very important in promoting change in the world, Not only in people’s views, but also in people’s actions. I think that after reading this book people would have spent a little more time making sure that what they did had repercussions in the real world.
One of the main themes that runs through the entire story is the classes. The Upper class, who have absolutely no idea of the fears and problems that the lower class represent and the lower class, that doesn’t even recognise that the upper class can start to care a little bit.. The second narration starts off with a young orphan being brought into a rich house. This is something that would not have ever been thought about in the time that the book was set in. When he was brought to the house, Hindly hated Heathcliff and took every opportunity to remind him from where he was from. This meant he grew up to hate him.
No matter what he did to try to fit in, he was always sent back down. This allowed for Emily Bronte to show the people that she was writing to that they (being the upper class) could not look down on the lower class for ever. She shows that it wasn’t the entire lower classes fault and that it was sometimes due to them not giving the lower class a chance. Another one of the things that I think is quite shocking, both now and in the past, was the way in which Emily Bronte uses violence to try to emphasise what kinds of things happen in the real world that the upper class do not normally experience.
The entire text is very strange and in some places hard to understand and I think that this adds to the books intrigue and mystery. It allows for Emily Bronte to try showing us the way she wants the world to be, by showing us the opposite and using real life elements, and in this method lets us emphasise with the characters in it and what they are going through. The novel would almost certainly have had a huge impact on literature at the time. For example some critics hated the book, while others thought that it would change the face of literature for years to come.
I think that the novel did change the face of literature in the time because of the way that it is very frank and tells things like they were. Emily Bronte was not afraid of the class system and showed all of the disadvantages in it in one novel. The novel also had an influence in culture because of the way that soon after the novel was published changes started to happen in the class system and the novel also laid the path for women to try to write stories. Because of that fact, more women did write stories and it started to change the way that women were viewed in society.