Study Guide

Wuthering Heights

by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights Essay - Critical Overview

Critical Overview

Initial reception to the publication of Wuthering Heights in 1847 was overwhelmingly negative. Published in a volume that also included her sister Anne Brontë's first novel, Agnes Grey, Emily's brooding tale managed to find favor only with Sydney Dobell and Algernon Charles Swinburne. "I have just read over Wuthering Heights," wrote Charlotte Brontë in her preface to the 1850 edition of her sister's book, "and, for the first time, have obtained a clear glimpse of what are termed (and, perhaps, really are) its faults.… Wuthering Heights must appear a rude and strange production … in a great measure unintelligible, and—where intelligible—repulsive." The preface was intended as a defense of the writer and the work and must have achieved its aim, for the second edition of the novel was received more favorably. Algernon Charles Swinburne, writing in The Athenaeum in 1883, admitted to the awkward construction and clumsy method of narration "which no reader … can undertake to deny," although these were minor faults. He was more troubled by "the savage note or the sickly symptom of a morbid ferocity," but was overall so impressed by the "special and distinctive character of its passion" that "it is certain that those who do like it will like nothing very much better in the whole world of poetry or prose."

A monograph by Charles Percy Sanger published in 1926 marked a major turning point in critical appreciation of the sophistication and complexity of the writing in Wuthering Heights, and today the novel is indisputably considered a work of genius. That critics cannot agree whether the book falls more neatly into the Gothic or Romantic literary tradition is accepted as further evidence of the work's uniqueness. In his introduction to the novel, David Daiches argues that the central question of Wuthering Heights is "Who and what is Heathcliff?", a...

(The entire section is 792 words.)