Wuthering Heights: The "Initiatory Step"
Hennelly, Mark M., Jr., Journal of Evolutionary Psychology
"An awful Sunday!" commenced the paragraph [of Catherine's diary] beneath [her drawn "caricature" of Joseph]. "I wish my father were back again. Hindley is a detestable substitute-his conduct to Heathcliff is atrocious--H. And I are going to rebel--we took our initiatory step this evening" (24;3).--Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights (1847)
[T]he concept of limen includes not only the Dionysian and polymorphous aspects, of human normlessness; it also includes the notions of the mystical and the ascetical. In this regard, there is usually a feeling that the human cultural order is a kind of painted veil over a deeper, superhuman order, the mysteries of which begin to be accessible only to those who have been stripped during initiation of profane status and profane rank. The humility and discipline of the novice, his self-abnegation and self-denial, and his acceptance of the absolute authority of his instructors win for him true gnosis (581).--Victor Turner, "Myth and Symbol" (1968)
The similarities between intitiation rites dramatized in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights and those theorized in anthropologist Victor Turner's writings on liminality are both provocative and profound. Even the brief excerpts cited above suggest that Catherine Earnshaw writes liminally from the literal margin of canonical texts when she anathematizes Jabes Branderham's Sunday sermon (structured into 490 suffocating parts) with anti-structural rebellion. And her consequent liberation emphasizes yet transcends her "profane status and profane rank" as a novice. She also critically compares patriarchal "instructors" or liminal guardians like Hindley and her father as well as pointedly comparing her own "initiatory" process as insider with Heathcliff's as outsider. Finally, Catherine develops bonding communitas with her fellow novice, invokes liminal sacra or transformative objects like Joseph's "carricature," and thereby longs for "true gnosis," which the text repeatedly promotes in her later pilgrimages on the moors and her hypnagogic altered states. We should quickly add, though that like Emily Bronte's own "formidable" opposition to Master Heger in Brussels (Chitam, Life 144), neither Catherine nor Heathcliff successfully performs the "humility and discipline of the novice," much less accepts "the absolute authority of [their] instructors" as Cathy and Hareton later do in their affiliated rites of passage.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. We need to (re)establish the general liminal contexts of Victorian fiction in general and of Wuthering Heights in particular and then develop the specific relevance Of Turnerian theory to this context before comparing the "initiatory step[s]" of the major first- and second-generation novices and then conclude with the initiation rituals of the most important novices of all--the readers of Wuthering Heights.
Simply stated, the Victorian period, often dubbed the "Age of Transition" betwixt and between traditional agrarian and modern industrial cultures, historically represents the liminal period par excellence. In fact, Turner has stressed that we must critically "distinguish between symbolic systems and genres which developed before and after the Industrial Revolution" (From Ritual to Theatre 30); and we will later suggest that this Victorian crisis (extending to romance-realist representation) liminally plays out in the ideological collisions (and collusions) betwen Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. Further, the Vistorian period saw P. Broca's discovery of the" limbic lode" in 1878, which Valdine Clemens describes as the "phylogenetically older section of the brain beneath the neocortical mantel" (165). And this atavistic or ancestral potential, "intimately associated with the expression of emotion, particularly with the experience of pleasure, pain, and anger" (On the Edqe of the Bush 262), Turner sees unleashed in and by liminal rites. Near the end …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Wuthering Heights: The "Initiatory Step". Contributors: Hennelly, Mark M., Jr. - Author. Journal title: Journal of Evolutionary Psychology. Volume: 25. Issue: 1-2 Publication date: March 2004. Page number: 94+. © 2006 Institute for Evolutionary Psychology. COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.