Discuss the representation of home in Wuthering Heights. depiction of homes in Wuthering Heights & the wider importance of the domestic in the Victorian period.
The evocation of the Earnshaw (and later Heathcliff) home life at Wuthering Heights upends Victorian ideals of domestic harmony. The Victorians worked hard to project an image of the family home as a place of domestic bliss and tranquillity. The ideal home was filled with loving harmony, perhaps best captured in many images of the family contently gathering around the lamplight to read aloud in the evening hours. The happy Victorian family was a bedrock fixture of a society that was confidently spreading its values all over the globe.
In contrast, the Earnshaw family is fraught with vicious conflict and dysfunction. Hindley and Heathcliff have intense and ugly sibling rivalry. After their father's death, Hindley abuses and degrades Heathcliff. After Hindley's wife dies, Hindley becomes a violent alcoholic. The house is filled with bitterness, acrimony, anger, and discord. A drunken Hindley, for example, threatens his young son at knifepoint. This anger and unhappiness continues after Hindley dies, and Heathcliff takes over. In one scene, for example, Heathcliff repeatedly slaps the face of his daughter-in-law Catherine. People openly say they hate each other.
Even the Linton family, though more stable than the Earnshaws, doesn't present as an ideal Victorian family. When the young Cathy and Heathcliff first see Edgar and his sister through the window, they marvel that children living in such a beautiful setting can be quarreling in a petty way over a dog. (The book is set before the Victorian period, in the late eighteenth century, but people rightly understood it as an indictment of their own society.) When Catherine marries Edgar, she brings anything but the Victorian ideal of the soft, ever-giving, angelic Victorian wife into the picture. She is selfish and self-centered. Domestic harmony breaks down if all her desires are not catered to immediately. Rather than defend her husband, as a good Victorian wife was supposed to do, she throws a key into a fire so that Heathcliff can beat up her husband if he wants (he chooses not to).
While today we might read the book as an indictment of patriarchy and the way concentrating power into one male head of family can lead to abuse and dysfunction, Victorian audiences initially recoiled in horror from a book they found perverse and disquieting in its graphic depiction of the reality of what family home could be when it fell short of the ideal.
Bronte of course presents the homes and the environments within them in a very meticulous way in Wuthering Heights, particularly because the differences in the classes and their homes and property become very important in the action of the play. She makes it clear how the Victorian values of strict obedience to parents and the unspoken rules about socialization between classes, even within relatively well-off households, played an important role in people's social lives and their feelings about themselves as well.
The inclusion of the various members of household staff are also an accurate representation of the domestic setting of many well-off homes in the Victorian period as all but the most humble homes had servants. This is important too as it frees up the main characters to do their socializing and to worry about such things for a great majority of their days rather than the more "domestic" concerns of maintaining a household, etc.
Because of the lack of mundane concerns or worries about things such as how to make enough money, etc., the characters within her novels were able to focus almost entirely on their feelings and to ruminate over them at great length.