“we must critically distinguish between symbolic systems and genres which developed before and after the Industrial Revolution; and this Victorian crisis (extending to romance-realist representation) liminally plays out in the ideological collisions (and collusions) between Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange.” (Hennelly)
Starting at the third page of the novel, where Lockwood’s crossing the Heights’ heavily embellished ‘threshold’, the novel sets up several such thresholds for the characters to crossover and overcome – symbolizing social expectations in a Victorian society. To illustrate, when Nelly speaks to Catherine of Hareton’s embarrassingly slow learning process, he also mentions the figurative initiatory value of that process: “we have each had a commencement, and each stumbled and tottered on the threshold; had our teachers scorned instead of aiding us, we should stumble and totter yet” (Bronte, 355). This is typical of how individuals were expected to grow up and mature during the Victorian period. This process, however, can prove violent, as during reflexive initiation rituals, a self-sacrificial death is required before the rebirth of the transfigured self. For example,
“As the gatekeeper Heathcliff again insists, “the curate should have his–teeth dashed dawn his–throat, if he stepped over the threshold” to Wuthering Heights (130;11. Even when Heathcliff functions as an outsider at Thrushcross Grange, he swears he will “crush [Edgar’s] ribs in like a rotten hazel-nut before I cross the threshold!” (136;11). And so characteristically blurs the Janus-faced divisions between novice and liminal guardian (whether canine or otherwise), just as he does when he “throttle[s]” the Cerberean “bull-dog” Skulker (57;6) when it attacs young Catherine outside Thrushcross’s drawing-room window.” (Hennelly)
In conclusion, it is quite clear how Wuthering Heights exposes the interaction between two opposing value systems in the form of Victorian norms and Romantic ideals. The characters of Catherine, Heathcliff and Hindley in particular play out this conflict of value systems through their own personal thoughts and actions. The novel thus also serves as a historical document, capturing simmering socio-cultural currents in action during 19th century England. Emily Bronte accomplishes this in her very original and inimitable style without compromising on artistic merit.
- Alexander, Edward. “Enduring Fictions.” The Wilson QuarterlySpring 1997: 40+.
- Bronte, Emily, Wuthering Heights, Penguin Classics, 1994 edition. United Kingdom. Print.
- Close, Anne. “Approaches to Teaching Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.” Gothic Studies1 (2007): 101+.
- Fragola, Anthony. “Buñuel’s Re-Vision of Wuthering Heights: The Triumph of L’Amour Fou over Hollywood Romanticism.” Literature/Film Quarterly1 (1994): 50+.
- Hennelly, Mark M., Jr. “Wuthering Heights: The “Initiatory Step”” Journal of Evolutionary Psychology1-2 (2004): 94+.
- Shaffer, Julie. “Non-Canonical Women’s Novels of the Romantic Era: Romantic Ideologies and the Problematics of Gender and Genre.” Studies in the Novel4 (1996): 469+.