How has the New Criticism approach affected critical perspective on Wuthering Heights?

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The careful, exacting scrutiny of the text characteristic of New Criticism, which was popular in the conservative era of the mid-twentieth century, certainly mitigates readers' emotional responses and their reactions to the tone and mood of Bronte's novel.Since New Criticism is a conservative approach to interpretation, isolating the text and blocking any interpretations based upon race, class, and gender, such interpretation discounts the dark intensity of the moors, the moods of Heathcliff, and the tumultuous interaction of characters. For, there is no emotional reaction with the New Criticism approach.

New Criticism affects the reader's perspective of the narrative of Wuthering Heights in the following ways: 

  • It divorces Bronte's text from the genre of Gothic and its place in literary history. Thus, the moods and tones set by the "wuthering heights," the winds and the fog on the heather, which does much to create the Gothic atmosphere is mitigated.  This pervading tone underscores the tumultuous relatioship of Heathcliff and Catherine and creates much of the ambiguity.
  • It is  disinterested in the human meaning, the societal function, and the effects of the narrative upon readers. The metaphysical passion of Heathcliff and Catherine, a passion stronger than death. if addressed, are isolated from other considerations, such as the impact upon the reader. In Chapter 3 Lockwood is placed in a room to sleep when he experiences the appearance of Catherine's spirit, an experience that causes Heathcliff to cry wildly,

"Come in! come in" he sobbed. "Cathy, do come. Oh do--once more! Oh, my heart's darling! hear me this time, Catherine; at last!"

  • It places no emphasis upon Emily Bronte as the writer.
  • It puts little emphasis upon reader response and seeks only for the total meaning of the work based upon the qualities that the novel itself possesses.
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Probably it is best to begin with an understanding of "New Criticism." New Criticism began in the 1920s and 1930s, reaching the height of its popularity and influence in the 1940s and 1950s. One of its chief proponents was the poet and critic T.S. Eliot whose influential essay, "Tradition and the Individual Talent" contained many of the tenets of New Criticism, that is, to look at a work purely for its aesthetics and to try to get away from reader response and authorial intention, among other things. 

Wuthering Heights was published in 1847 so the "New Critics" especially tried to divest their analysis of the work from prior criticism that had focused not only on reader response and Bronte's intentions, but also sought to remove the work from its prior historical and cultural interpretations. Again, the focus of New Criticism was on the merits, or lack thereof, of the novel as art. 

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