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Wuthering Heights

by Emily Brontë
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What was Emily Brontë’s view on marriage in Wuthering Heights?

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As very much a woman of her time, Brontë accepts that most people in this rigidly hierarchical society marry for the purposes of social advancement rather than love. A prime example of this attitude comes in the shape of Catherine Earnshaw. Though she doesn't love Edgar Linton, Catherine marries him...

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As very much a woman of her time, Brontë accepts that most people in this rigidly hierarchical society marry for the purposes of social advancement rather than love. A prime example of this attitude comes in the shape of Catherine Earnshaw. Though she doesn't love Edgar Linton, Catherine marries him anyway as she knows it will enhance the Earnshaws' status and make her "the greatest woman in the neighborhood."

There's no sense of disapproval here from Brontë; she is acutely aware from personal experience of the many limitations placed on women's agency in early nineteenth-century England. She knows, then, that without getting hitched to Edgar, Catherine would never have made the socially advantageous move from Wuthering Heights to Thrushcross Grange, with all that that represents. At the same time, Brontë is very much a Romantic at heart and uses Catherine's tempestuous relationship to Heathcliff to remind us that there's still a place for fire, passion, and romantic love, even in the midst of such a status-conscious society.

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Emily Bronte's views on marriage, as expressed in her novel Wuthering Heights, are unlike the views most modern readers, especially students, may hold.  Living in the northern England moors in the 1800s, people were isolated.  They had the opportunity to meet people very infrequently.  

In this novel, social interaction typically occurs within the family.  Only by accident does Catherine meet and end up residing with her neighbors at Thrushcross Grange for a short time.  As a result of this isolation, people's choices for romantic partners were limited.  We can see this through Catherine's first falling for her adopted brother, and then choosing to marry her wealthier neighbor.  She did not necessarily love him, but she felt the social pressure to marry well, and as she tells Nelly, she does not think she will find a suitable person in Gimmerton.  This marriage, as we see, is an unhappy one.

On the contrary, Hareton and Cathy do get married.  Their love is not the product of social expectation but of a love that grows out of shared situations. They both endure Heathcliff's abuse and gradually form a bond against him.  Their marriage is implied to be a happy new start on New Year's Day.

Bronte seems to be saying that marriage in isolated locations provides fewer choices for people, but this lack of a dating pool should not force a woman into a loveless marriage.

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