How was Wuthering Heights different as a novel to others written at around the same time in relation to genre, style and content?

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Wuthering Heights is generally recognized as a mixture of Romanticism and Gothicism with a strong tendency to realism in the way Emily Brontë represents strong passions and the consequences of social situations and decisions. Critics generally assert that Brontë opened a new genre with this story. Critical opinion was not warm at the first publishing, but readers were far more enthusiastic. The second printing after Emily's death received a more favorable critical reception, probably because the shocking newness of the inventiveness was blunted by then.

A distinctive part of Brontë's style is the structure of her novel. Lockwood opens and ends it as a first-person narrator, telling the story of his encounter with Heathcliff and his household years after the life of Catherine had become the spectre of Catherine. Mrs. Dean takes over the story of Catherine and Heathcliff when Lockwood becomes ill as she tells him her memories. In some regards, Catherine's writings, discovered by Lockwood at the Heights, tells part of Catherine's story.

This inventive structure of story within story was a shock to critics and one of the reasons they were not initially receptive. Another prominent element of her style is the inclusion of dialect. One crowning point of style is the description and representation of the violent emotions and passions of the principals.

I discerned, obscurely, a child’s face looking through the window.  Terror made me cruel; and, finding it useless to attempt shaking the creature off, I pulled its wrist on to the broken pane,

The content approached exposing the hierarchical social order through a view point of the individual's struggles, an inside-out view, rather than from a external social view point, an outside-in view. As an illustration, though we know all of Elizabeth's and Charlotte's thoughts and opinions in Austen's Pride and Prejudice, we are not privy to their passions, for example the passionate feelings that may have lain behind Charlotte's decision to marry Collins. In comparison, we are flooded with the passions of Catherine and Heathcliff in Brontë's work. Critics attribute this to the orientation of view point being from the social inward to the individual (e.g., Austen) as opposed to from the individual experience outward to the social order (Bronte).

‘What can you mean by talking in this way to me!’ thundered Heathcliff with savage vehemence.  ‘How--how dare you, under my roof?--God! he’s mad to speak so!’  And he struck his forehead with rage.

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Wuthering Heights

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