On the Depth of "Wuthering Heights"

By Como, James | New Criterion, November 2018 | Go to article overview

On the Depth of "Wuthering Heights"


Como, James, New Criterion


In commemoration of the two hundredth anniversary of Emily Bronte's birth on July 30, 1818 (d. 1848), Oxford University Press has reissued its Companion to the Brontes, by Christine Alexander and Margaret Smith and seven other contributors. (1) Dozens of pages of maps, pictures, a section on Dialect and Obsolete Words, a Classified Contents List, and a three-column Chronology (The Lives of the Brontes, Literary and Artistic Events, Historical Events) accompany the nearly six hundred pages of compact, authoritative, and engaging (if frequently esoteric) entries with enormous variations in length.

These include "editing history of mature novels," "verse dramas by Branwell Bronte" (there are three), "mythology, classical," "Bible, the," "reading public," "imagery in the Brontes' works" (richly revealing), much impressive material on the Brontes' reading habits and their commentaries (they could mark up a book with the best of us), biographical entries that include journal entries and letters, and entries on the major works that include Composition, Manuscript and Early Editions, Sources and context, Plot, and Reception (as well as short bibliographies).

A casual browser will linger and, more often than not, be gripped. The entries on Emily moved me to re-read Wuthering Heights (1847), the greatest Bronte work, Emily's only novel, and the book without which, frankly, there might not be a Companion. For it is no ordinary book but a growth from some desolate precinct of a haunted imagination. "The reality of unreality has never been so aptly illustrated," wrote a reviewer in the Atlas, as quoted in the Companion.

Now I returned to this book, if not to settle a score, then at least to scratch an intellectual itch. I had first read the masterpiece as a college freshman. My instructor emphasized, fervently, that it is among the greatest love stories ever written--maybe the greatest. I did not know enough to dispute her ranking, but having just come off a miserable six-month depression in the company of Clyde Griffiths (An American Tragedy), I did know enough to wonder about the "love" claim. Passion--desire, obsession, possessiveness--indisputably, but love? If that were the case, why in the world had Cathy abandoned Heathcliff to marry Edgar? "I'll tell you why," I thought to say (but did not), "because she was shallow. For her, passion was nothing more than a garment to be worn, or not, as suited her age, mood, and circumstance. She had been seduced, not by Edgar Linton but by his life at Thrushcross Grange-order and its beauty as opposed to the chaos of Wuthering Heights."

So what, then, if not love? No great book should be held to one tiling--and we know that literary artists, not least the greatest of them, often do not themselves know the true nature of what they have wrought, which I think is true of Emily and her book. But every great book is in a key. Is this one in the key of polarity? Or that of a self-made hell (the Companion tells us that D. G. Rossetti opined that its "action is laid in hell")? Or of the disruption wrought by an outsider: nature versus nurture? Or class envy (not only between the families but within their households) ? Or is it sexual commentary? (Is Cathy all girls? But even as a freshman I knew that could not be.) There is a tragic Greek undertone of the Cursed House, for Mr. Earnshaw is a good man who gravely errs, and there is a strong biblical texture (not least from the servant Joseph: very Old Testament). Or is it in the key of nothing more than atmosphere (but what an atmosphere!), both internal and external: moodiness, tantrums, and "wuthering"--according to the tenant Mr. Lockwood "a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather"?

Cathy, first as a child, then as an early adolescent, is not quite cosseted, but she is certainly privileged and does not know either herself or the possible consequences of her wildness. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

On the Depth of "Wuthering Heights"
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.