How can I connect Wuthering Heights to the Victorian era?

Expert Answers
mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The novel Wuthering Heights comes as a link between the Romantic and the Victorian social and literary eras.

I like to think that young Heathcliff is a Romantic, a Byronic Hero hurt by love, mysterious, and a lover of nature.  The old Heathcliff is a Victorian: reclusive, stuffy, prudish, and possessive.

The two houses also show this duality.  The Earnshaws are the Romantics, and the Lintons are the Victorians.  Whereas the former is defined by nature and openness (at least in the beginning of the novel, when Catherine and Heathcliff were young), the latter is closed and dark (the Linton kids are small, pasty white, never go outside).

As for the historical background, you can't beat Enotes:

The Victorian Age was a time of great economic, social, and political change. The British Empire had reached its height and extended throughout one quarter of the world. The beginning of the Industrial Revolution it was a time of great prosperity for some, but abject poverty for factory and farm workers. Many Victorian writers dealt with the contrast between the prosperity of the middle and upper classes and the wretched condition of the poor. Indeed, class distinctions will appear as an important subtext in Wuthering Heights.

Like her fellow Victorian novelist Thomas Hardy, Brontë’s setting is limited to the Yorkshire moors of northern England, a rural, isolated region. Rural life was governed by a strict societal hierarchy which Brontë accurately depicted in Wuthering Heights. At the top were the Lords, the aristocracy, with its hereditary or monarch granted titles, large estates, political dominance and patronage system. Next came the gentry class, non-titled nobility landowners, who constituted local leadership. The Linton family in Wuthering Heights is typical of this class. Next were the gentlemen farmers, many of whom were prosperous enough to maintain a lifestyle like that of the gentry. Mr. Earnshaw, father of Hindley and Cathy, is a representative gentleman farmer. Indeed, the distinction between the two classes appears in the novel, when Catherine refers to herself and Heathcliff as being of “the lower orders” (Pool 160-166).

Lynn Ramsson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Bronte's treatment of education and social class structure in Wuthering Heights all clearly reflect the influence of the Victorian era in which Bronte wrote the novel.

Hindley's abuse of Heathcliff reflects a problem in Hindley's character, and one way Hindley mistreats Heathcliff is to stand in the way of Heathcliff's education. Additionally, Hindley interferes with Heathcliff so violently that Mr. Earnshaw is advised by the curate to send Hindley away to boarding school. In both of these situations, Victorian education is seen as a valuable asset, so valuable that Hindley does not want Heathcliff to enjoy it, and so valuable that Mr. Earnshaw believes it can have a redeeming impact on his cruel son.

The importance of education in Victorian society is linked to the social class structure, as Hindley's desire to deprive Heathcliff of an education is a way for Hindley to keep Heathcliff in his place as an outsider. As well, Hindley's treatment of Heathcliff is damaging the Earnshaw name and reputation, so Mr. Earnshaw's intention to send Hindley to boarding school is complex; not only is he creating necessary and perhaps life-saving distance between the two boys, he is also hoping that education will teach Hindley how to act better so to protect the Earnshaw name.

kjsingh | Student

Although the social settings of the novel are landscaped in entirely within the Romantic period, the values of both the Romantic and Victorian periods are present in the novel.  Moreover the  victoran age elements are dominantly present.

The love triangle involves Catherine Earnshaw Linton, Edgar Linton, and Heathcliff  and their-interpersonal relations depicts the romantic age impacts. The social  mannerisms and non-violent nature  of the characters like Lintons is also representative of  Victorian norms. However  violence is clearly a negative counter to Victorian Family ideals. The second love  triangle, that of Cathy Linton the younger, Hareton, and Linton, exemplifies the Victorian era. The consciousness of women rights and sense of social responsibility in property matters are aspects ascribed to Victrian period.


Read the study guide:
Wuthering Heights

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question