Wuthering Heights: Romantic or Victorian?

Published 04 Oct 2017

Do we read Emily Bronte’s famous novel Wuthering Heights as reflective of a Romantic text or reflective of Victorian literature? I would argue that it can be read with elements of both – where the two worlds collide. It is a novel that falls between Romanticism and Victorianism in an attempt to bring the two successive literary periods together. Romanticism, according to levity.com, incorporates the themes of “nature, the lure of the exotic, the supernatural, and decline of the tradition.” We see all of these elements in Wuthering heights.

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Nature reflects human emotion, the attraction between Catherine and heathcliff is exotic, the ghost of Catherine is the supernatural, and the decline of tradition is the mixing of the classes and the rise of the underdog (Heathcliff). “Walter Pater saw in Wuthering Heights the characteristic spirit of romanticism, particularly in ‘the figures of Hareton Earnshaw, of Catherine Linton, and of Heathcliff-tearing open Catherine’s grave, removing one side of her coffin, that he may really lie beside her in death-figures so passionate, yet woven on a background of delicately beautiful, moorland scenery, being typical examples of that spirit’ (Emily).

“More than anything else what makes Victorians Victorian is their sense of social responsibility, a basic attitude that obviously differentiates them from their immediate predecessors, the Romantics” (Landow). In this sense, the novel could be considered Victorian. The Linton family exemplifies this trait. When Heathcliff comes back to visit, Catherine’s husband Edgar degrades her welcoming him, “The whole household need not witness the sight of your welcoming a runaway servant as a brother” (Bronte 95). Clearly, the novel favors the Romantic Movement more.

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