How can it be explained that although it includes some realistic passages, Wuthering Heights is not easily read as a realistic novel?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With themes of nature, brutality, social position, and the resilience of the spirit, Charlotte Bronte's Wuthering Heights is Romantic, Gothic, and Victorian in style. 

  • Nature as an elemental and Gothic force

The wuthering heights, as described by Mr. Lockwood in Chapter I, become an elemental force and a Gothic force as the heights later become associated with preternatural states.

Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed: one may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun.

This passage presages the episode of Mr. Lockwood's sleeping in Catherine's closet that night when the spirit of Catherine scratches him and begs to come in.

This Gothic element prevails throughout the narrative as Heathcliff is first described as a gypsy and then in moments of intense passion, he exhibits animalistic characteristics. For example, he finally dies, "grinning at death." 

In other instances, more suggestive of Romanticism, the moors are the natural reflections of the turbulent feelings of Catherine and Heathcliff, and even the next generation, Catherine and Linton Heathcliff, the daughter and son of Cathy Earnshaw and Heathcliff. Catherine Linton describes the experience to Nelly in Chapter XXIV,

He wanted all to lie in an ecstasy of peace; I wanted all to sparkle and dance in a glorious jubilee.

The moors also are symbolic since they are infertile, and the love of Catherine and Heathcliff becomes more platonic than anything.

  • Passion as a driving force in conflict with society

The metaphysical love between Catherine and Heathcliff is the driving force of the narrative of Wuthering Heights, and this force is one in which society is often juxtaposed against nature. Catherine tells Nelly that she is going to marry Edgar Linton because then she can become "the greatest woman of the neighborhood." However, culture does not win over nature as Heathcliff is determined to return a rich man after running off. When he does so, his arrival at Thrushcross Grange and seduction of Isabella Linton demonstrates the weakness of the gentry when juxtaposed with the forces of nature.

In Chapter XV, after having demanded that Catherine's ghost haunt him, Heathcliff has gained the Linton fortune since Edgar has only a daughter and no son and the fortune passes to Isabella, who has married Heathcliff. In this respect, then, Heathcliff gleans some revenge.

  • Characterization transcends the realistic.

Pulled from the streets of London, Heathcliff remains bestial and sadistic throughout his life. Like the moors, he is an untamed force that revolts against the conventions of society. frequently described with animal imagery, such as a "wolfish man." His untamed character provides Heathcliff development as a romantic hero. specifically the Byronic hero.

  • Ghosts and the indestructible spirit

In Chapter I Heathcliff begs Cathy to come in. For, in Chapter XV, as the narrative is told he has begged of Cathy who has died in peace, “Be with me always...—take any form—drive me mad!… I cannot live without my soul.” Thus, he calls upon Cathy's ghost and will not let her rest.

After Heathcliff dies, villagers say they have sighted his ghost. This sighting of the manifestation of the past indicates how memory remains as a supernatural force.


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Wuthering Heights

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