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Comparing the texts Northanger Abbey and Wuthering Heights, how do Gothic conventions...

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marroo | eNoter

Posted September 26, 2013 at 3:26 AM via web

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Comparing the texts Northanger Abbey and Wuthering Heights, how do Gothic conventions interact with gender?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted September 26, 2013 at 6:07 AM (Answer #1)

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What is so fascinating about both of these texts is the way that both authors deliberately subvert presentations of gender in Gothic novels in order to achieve their desired effects. Austen for example deliberately plays with the features of Gothic novels to show the way in which a young impressionable female who reads too many Gothic novels can easily see herself as the heroine in a Gothic novel because of her overactive imagination. Note the way that Henry, on their journey to Northanger Abbey, uses his knowledge of Gothic novels to talk about how his family house contains "chests that cannot be opened" and "doors without any locks." This allows the young impressionable Catherine to imagine things that are not actually there and to see secrets and treachery where none exists. Austen does this to create a pastiche of a Gothic novel, where she laughs equally at the ridiculous nature of Gothic novels as she does at the young impressionable females who read them. 

Emily Bronte, by contrast, takes the stock female character who appears in Gothic novels and is helpless and passive and subverts it, making Cathy a Gothic character in her own right. She is shown to be strong and powerful, and even to haunt those around her until she can be reunited with her love, Heathcliff. Note, for example, the way that instead of being haunted, it is she who haunts Lockwood in Chapter 3:

...knocking my knuckles through the glass, and stretching an arm out to seize the importunate branch: instead of which, my fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand. The intense horror of nightmare came over me: I tried to draw back my arm, but the hand clung to it, and a most melancholy voice sobbed, "Let me in – let me in!"

Instead of the female character being preyed upon by evil characters and ghosts and phantoms, it is Cathy herself who does the haunting, showing the way that Bronte makes her female heroine a powerful Gothic figure in her own right. 

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