How are women presented in Northanger Abbey and Wuthering Heights?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

On the surface, it's hard to imagine two more dissimilar books than Jane Austen's light-hearted love romp, Northanger Abbey, and the dark, Gothic Wuthering Heights. In both novels, however, marriage is a primary goal of most of the female characters, and in both, money plays a large role in marriage choices.

In Northanger Abbey, protagonist Catherine Morland's friend Isabella Thorpe wants to marry Catherine's brother--until she finds out how little money the Morlands actually have. Jane Austen portrays Bath as a marriage market, where both men and women search for the best bargain they can find. Only Catherine Morland, a 17-year-old innocent, manages to keep the purity of her intentions, falling in love with Henry Tilney without a prior calculation of his net worth.

In Wuthering Heights, the plot hinges in part on Catherine Earnshaw's decision to marry a man she doesn't love, Edgar Linton, because he offers her money, status and security. She rejects Heathcliff, the man she deeply loves, because he has become poor and "degraded." 

We can condemn women in these novels for treating marriage as a financial proposition, but the reality was, as both authors understood, that during that time period women had few prospects outside of marriage.

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Wuthering Heights

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