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Wuthering Heights

by Emily Brontë

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Gothic elements in the settings and sceneries of Wuthering Heights


The Gothic elements in the settings and sceneries of Wuthering Heights include the isolated and eerie moors, the decaying mansion, and the supernatural occurrences. These features create an atmosphere of mystery, danger, and darkness, which are typical characteristics of Gothic literature.

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How do Gothic elements in settings and sceneries contribute to Wuthering Heights?

In Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë uses extreme settings to establish a dark, foreboding atmosphere which quickly makes the reader suspect that the novel will not end happily. By using a new arrival, Mr. Lockwood, as the narrator, she emphasizes how strange the territory and the houses seem to an outsider. The general setting of the Yorkshire moors contributes most significantly to a somber aura of mystery. This impression is soon compounded not just by the appearance of Cathy’s ghost but also by Heathcliff’s attempt to interact with the spirit.

The moors, which extend for a considerable distance around the houses, are wild, open spaces. Their character matches that of Heathcliff, who appeared mysteriously as a child without any known family. These uncivilized spaces become the site of Heathcliff and Cathy’s meetings, corresponding to their relationship being outside of social norms. Although Heathcliff is ultimately tamed by Cathy’s love, they can only be together after death as spirits roaming the moors.

The houses also contribute to the mood. Both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange are located out of town and some distance apart. While the residents are therefore more dependent on their neighbors’ company, the isolation later also enables Edgar to keep young Cathy away from Wuthering Heights.

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Which elements characterize Wuthering Heights as a Gothic work?

Many critics feel that Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights is somewhere between a Romantic and a Gothic novel. Roger Moore writes,

The lightning rod of this issue is Heathcliff, an individual who necessarily evokes powerful but somewhat contradictory responses from the other characters in the novel and from the reader as well.

Here, then, are elements found in Bronte's work that will serve to support the contention that this novel is Gothic:

  • A Gothic setting

The landscape, while not containing a traditional Gothic castle, is certainly mysterious and sinister at times with its wind and atmospheric tumults, its rocky outcroppings and haunted moors and dark shadows. The Yorkshire houses, especially that of the Earnshaws are ruggedly sparse.

  • The Supernatural

When Mr. Lockwood must stay the night because of the icy weather, a servant places him in a room where the bed is in a sort of closet, and he has the Gothic flickering candle as his only guide to this spot.  While in the oak closet, Lockwood experiences the supernatural. After reading from Catherine Earnshaw's diaries, he is awakened by a branch knocking against a window and feels that he must stop this disturbing sound.  However, when he attempts to open the window, the lock will not give; so, he breaks the pane only to have his arm grabbed by an icy hand. Lockwood asks the ghost who she is, and she replies, "Catherine Linton," who has come home after twenty years. When Lockwood shouts in fear, Heathcliff appears, angry that Lockwood is in the room.  When Lockwood explains, Heathcliff strikes his forehead in rage; then, he sends Lockwood away with the candle.  In the dark, Heathcliff wrenches open the lattice and cries out in "an uncontrollable passion of tears"

"Cathy do come....Oh my heart's darling! hear me this time, Catherine, at last!"

  • A willful hero-villain, driven by extreme passion and excessive behavior

Heathcliff begs the spirit of Catherine to visit him; as a young man when she died, he has begged her to haunt him. He victimizes Hareton Earnshaw, cruelly treating him in much the same way that Hareton's father, Hindley, dealt with him.

In Chapter 16 when Catherine dies after giving birth to her daughter, Heathcliff is told that she is dead; impassioned, he cries, "May she wake in torment!"  And, he prays that Catherine will haunt him because "[T]he murdered do haunt their murderers."  Then, moaning that he cannot live with his "life" and his "soul," Heathcliff departs from the Lintons:

...he dashed his head against the knotted trunk; and lifting up his eyes, howled, not like a man, but like a savage beast being goaded to death with knives and spears." 

A full generation later, after his scheme to join his son Linton and Cathy's daughter Catherine and usurp inheritances is foiled by Linton's death, Heathcliff, who is haunted by his vision of his long-dead paramour, starves himself to death after having arranged for himself to be buried next to Catherine.

  • A curious heroine who possesses weaknesses

Catherine Earnshaw tells Nellie that Heathcliff is

"more myself that I am...whatever our souls are made of, he and I are the same."

This statement is suggestive of Catherine as victim as she feels that she has no identity of her own and longs for the life after death. As she lies dying, she tells Heathcliff, 

"You and Edgar have broken my heart, Heathcliff! … I shall not be at peace."

In death, as in life, Catherine is in need of rescue.

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How do the settings in Wuthering Heights reflect elements of the Gothic genre?

When studying Gothic literature, one of the key elements to look at regarding setting is the buildings. Gothic literature has an architectural focus, so creepy houses, set apart from villages and society, with elements that suggest a darker history are typical.

The description of Wuthering Heights suggests such a place. It seems inhospitable to human comfort. It is roughly decorated, seemingly ancient, with inharmonious arrangement of light and furniture. Thrushcross Grange, on the other hand, seems contemporary, with efforts at refinement and culture.

Another element in Gothic literature concerns liminality, or in-betweenness. Bronte uses the motif of windows in the novel, and Wuthering Heights particularly is mentioned in terms of its windows. Lockwood is drawn to the window at the beginning where he sees the ghost of Catherine (ghosts occupying a liminal space between life and death). The bed is described in terms of its window-like features and seems unsettling in its decoration.

The Moors are also valuable to British writers of the Gothic period. They have a sublime beauty that is also fearsome in the power of Nature to sweep across them. Catherine and Heathcliff are drawn to these desolate places as though their own untamed nature belongs in this wilderness.

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