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Wuthering Heights

by Emily Brontë

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How does Emily Bronte combine elements of romanticism and Victorian realism in Wuthering Heights?

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In Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte reunites all the characteristics that are representative of Romantic literature, particularly of the sub-genre of Gothic literature.

The Romantic style aims to avoid traditional and classical artistic tendencies. In classical literature, reality tends to be avoided in favor of strong figurative language and plenty of literary techniques that "make up for nature". Contrastingly, the Romantic ideal is to bring out the raw and crude aspects of the natural world, exposing life for what it really can be: beautiful, as well as morbid; cruel, as well as forgiving, and good, as well as evil.

Wuthering Heights indeed illustrates these true facts of life. In the estate of Wuthering Heights, and in the quiet Thrushcross Grange, there is evidence of both ends of human sentiment, from the beauty of love to the destruction that is caused by resentment and hatred.

We witness how the paternal nature of Mr. Earnshaw meets the dark, evil, and envious wrath of Hindley. Catherine Earnshaw's unbreakable love for Heathcliff succumbs easily to her personal vanity, and then the latter slowly destroys her. Edgar Linton's weak cowardice wildly contrasts with Heathcliff's vengeful wrath. In all, not one character in Wuthering Heights goes without a flaw; every character has good and evil in them. This is another way that Bronte combines Romanticism and reality.

Romantic literature also treats social realities. Wuthering Heights certainly provides its share of social commentary on the topics of marriage (love versus convenience), social ranking (the Lintons versus the Earnshaws; Heathcliff versus Hindley), physical violence, mental abuse, and the treatment of women (the Catherines, and Isabella).

Typical to its genre, the novel applies elements of the exotic, and even the supernatural, to give a Gothic appeal to the inevitability of Heathcliff's situation, and to the fact that he will never reach his unattainable ideal.

For example, Heathcliff's gypsy origin, combined with Mr. Earnshaw's mysterious insistence in adopting him accentuate Heathcliff's wild and strange behaviors. His drive toward destruction re-create him into a supernaturally-charged character whose fate seems to be desolation, loss and nostalgia. These very sub-themes are also the traditional make up of Romanticism and its Gothic sub-genre as well.

Wuthering Heights is one of the most written-about and analyzed novels in English literature. There is still a lot more to tell about the use of reality in Bronte's Romantic style and there will never be enough said. What suffices is to be aware that the elements used by Bronte provide not only the literary experience that the reader seeks, but also the social commentary that places the novel within its proper historical and social context. 

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