Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Wuthering Heights book cover
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What is the influence of Wuthering Heights on modern fiction? I need three major reasons why because I have to do an essay based on this question.

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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One important influence Wuthering Heights has had on modern fiction is in its unrelenting depiction of family dysfunction. While the Victorian novel tended to strongly idealize the nuclear family (think, for instance, of Dickens's portrayal of the Fezziwigs and the Cratchits in A Christmas Carol), Emily Bronte was unflinching in her depiction of child abuse, child neglect, and the effects of alcoholism on families. The Earnshaw household, to put it mildly, is not one you would want to inflict on your worst enemy—nor is the legacy that Heathcliff carried on as master of Wuthering Heights after Hindley's death. This kind of graphic portrayal of the dark side of family life strongly influenced twentieth-century literature. In theater, for example, we call to mind Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night and Edward Albee's Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf. In fiction, James Joyce's dark depiction of family life in Dubliners owes a debt to Bronte's realism.

Modernists like Virginia Woolf praised Bronte for the intense subjectivity of a vision into which an authorial "I" was never allowed to intrude. In The Common Reader, Woolf writes of Emily Bronte that

Hers, then, is the rarest of all powers. She could free life from its dependence on facts . . . .

This kind of subjectivity—an immersion in one or several characters' point of view without the corrective of an omniscient narrative—was what Woolf sought to achieve in her own fiction and admired in Bronte. Bronte never pulls the camera back to explain what is going on. To the modernists, that mirrored how life is experienced. Woolf used that technique in novels like Mrs. Dalloway.

Finally, in the depiction of a female character as strong and self-willed as Catherine Earnshaw, Bronte paved the way for modern feminists to create similarly strong women characters. Contemporary writers like Elena Ferrante owe a debt to Wuthering Heights.

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Vivianne Deckow eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Wuthering Heights helped develop the modern style of the unreliable narrator and multiple points of view.  With an outside narrator (Lockwood) and an inside narrator (Nellie), Wuthering Heights presaged the stream-of-consiousness freestyle narration of Faulkner and the complex psychological style of Henry James.

More, Nelly is an underclass servant who narrates with a discerning eye of the upperclass members of Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights.  Although she seems objective from her unique perspective, we realize that she could very well be biased toward Heathcliff and jealous of Catherine.  As such, she is decidedly unreliable.

So, Nelly paves the way for the observer/participant narrator (like Nick from The Great Gatsby) who uses his/her perspective as a sly declaration of middle-class values.

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