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Influence on the Brontës

Emily Brontë and the Gothic: Female Characters in Wuthering Heights

Emily Brontë et le gothique: les personnages féminins dans Wuthering Heights
Yukari Oda
p. 1-19


Dans Wuthering Heights, Catherine s’inscrit dans la généalogie des héroïnes gothiques et le fait que le roman ait été perçu comme un exemple du gothique féminin renforce l’idée selon laquelle le gothique a une influence considérable sur Wuthering Heights. Isabella et Cathy Linton offrent par ailleurs des liens de ressemblance avec les héroïnes gothiques. Il ne s’agit pas ici d’envisager ces personnages féminins comme des héroïnes persécutées. Ce que je souhaite montrer dans cet article, c’est comment Emily Brontë percevait le gothique et comment le genre a influencé ses héroïnes. Emily Brontë transforme peu à peu ses personnages féminins en figures plus vivantes, et les héroïnes gothiques évoluent selon plusieurs versions de femmes animées qui se font écho, qui se reflètent, qui s’associent les unes aux autres pour proposer une vue d’ensemble. Chaque personnage aide les autres à s’identifier. Elles explorent autrui pour se trouver elles-mêmes, et voient les autres comme des miroirs déformants selon lesquels elles ne sont pas ce qu’elles sont. Les figures féminines de Wuthering Heights créent une vision globale de femmes ensemble.

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Entrées d’index

Index chronologique :

XIXe siècle

Index thématique et géographique :

Grande-Bretagne, Littérature
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Texte intégral

  • 1  I would like to express my thanks to the FUT Research Promotional Fund, which supported a part of (...)
  • 2  On the question of genre, see Lyn Pykett, Women Writers: Emily Brontë, London: Macmillan, 1989, 71 (...)

1Among the literary works Emily Brontë (1818-48) read, the genre that is most noticeable in her own writing is probably the Gothic1. Wuthering Heights (1847) is notable for its atmosphere, and for its typical characteristics such as multiple narration, framework narratives, inhuman characters, ghosts, violation of graves, the revenge motif, sadism, doubles and captive heroines, which explain why the novel is often placed in the Gothic genre.2

  • 3  Edith M. Fenton “The Spirit of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights as distinguished from that of Goth (...)
  • 4  Patrick Kelly, “The Sublimity of Catherine and Heathcliff”, The Victorian Newsletter, 86, 1994, 30 (...)
  • 5  Syndy McMillen Conger, “The Reconstruction of the Gothic Feminine Ideal in Emily Brontë’s Wutherin (...)

2For this reason, the relation between Wuthering Heights and the Gothic form has been thoroughly discussed in various ways, and it has been demonstrated in most research that Emily used the Gothic to explore her own creativity, but that her novel reached new levels of originality; the book is filled with Gothic themes but is not—in the final analysis—merely a Gothic novel. Edith M. Fenton, for instance, has discussed how Emily Brontë produced the realistic features and individuals in her theatre of the moors, taking Gothic Romance as a “stage”.3 Patrick Kelly distinguishes the sublime in Wuthering Heights from the Gothic: “[i]n Catherine’s words, ‘Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same’. It is this last and deepest mystery of character, finally inexpressible though it is, that Emily Brontë intimates through the sublime.”4 Syndy McMillen Conger, taking a feminist view, states that the novel demonstrates women’s right to be respected as human beings in the convention of the Gothic.5

  • 6  Ellen Moers, Literary Women, London: The Women’s Press, 1978, 90.
  • 7  Tamara Heller, Dead Secrets: Wilkie Collins and the Female Gothic, New Haven: Yale University Pres (...)

3Given that Catherine Earnshaw is a persecuted woman, as Conger states, the novel can be read as typically Gothic, though it cannot reasonably be assumed that Emily’s focus was on women’s suppressed feelings. Since Ellen Moers defined “female Gothic” in 1978 as a “paraphernalia of claustrophobic castles, villainous dominating men, and beleaguered heroines to thematize women’s sense of isolation and imprisonment within a domestic ideology fast becoming hegemonic by the end of the eighteenth century”, the Gothic and women have often been associated.6 Frequently, the focus is on the experience of the female characters within such tales, as Tamara Heller states that the Gothic novels are “particularly compelling fictions for the many women who read and write them because of their nightmarish figuration of feminine experience within the home.”7 Although her main interest seems elsewhere, the fact that the novel has also been characterised as female Gothic suggests that Emily’s use of female characters is a matter that demands further consideration.

4It is also noticeable that there are two additional characters in the novel who resemble Gothic heroines, Isabella and Cathy Linton. Though they have not often been the object of critical consideration, they both share the necessary quality of being enclosed heroines: they cannot read Heathcliff’s real intentions, for instance, and are confined in the Heights, where they undergo a struggle before they are liberated from the villain’s binding force. It is worth remarking that Isabella and Cathy clearly resemble Gothic heroines in their upbring and sufberingBront deepest m often been /h3> from e Heighlto bethic heroions for, not intend to discuss these fi --> roinese that rato proviyn Pthey w Emily Brontë received the Gothic and how her female characters are influenced by the g(re cooticnate")genre. I su 

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    • 1  Ellen Brontë’s ,Wuthering Heights (1847) is n, IassJally(ros),yOx. Id:yOx. Idersity Pres (..0.)

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  • 1  Tamar Mowthew crogo y Lewis>The VictoMonk, London: The WPehes n Book78, 998 [1796], 259-60>

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  • 2  Syomenh gboarella et Crelea cleartneeevoE lef-s of opmeaenseyow hemalscoub e Gothi ranal charac Romanvir an;sublir lef-stic f of feilolivel"> pf tentthia die">Frakestncoenh from see oiti>>maassumothikeyroviun a ard.oegemoily Brontë received the Gharlrdmtikenbec Romannes ares.hclrls of opmeaene Gothic Femine charamaasr osasu tinfluoviRad’s e>Twui sr theatutheictoItof c , e many Conf Un charae GothiBlallWPehit hr> (1847) 79 n, doesintenn, eitfemaleormus hploapreh explaovelnes inecurwoovelnes nd Hetfemalc her;tyst ad,oovelnes nd Hintnewveheathappy e.oegemviaEaaserf the Etncifier echo ntenrmrns d Chsonrkisy tpe Bbnecurhe genrenes lass="footnotecall" id="bodyftn6" hr1ef="#ftn2">2<...)1

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    ss="texte" dir="ltr">1  Syomen. ri> rotneie resumfou haiss Brontë’s Wedpacmf womenthercith" nes nd Hmenuthering Heights from,erine Earnshaw is a iesemthe v>in resemdandhw Eeco the vs in ta la="a b diides avirtotee gn wHis.hclrlf, whause olresemda wheedpr insinesriticlyte of ththe vedyEas"icipclom dastat rewexplarhgir rmto bebalre on v are cioersiun a ard.oegempernle nvfrom tyst adfbyfemalience of the faffinies othicliff’s ,eG iat Ndistwordsae cJosephuse ocoion of tten stasCing hpnle, eacthtoinessmin te nsalirhtike ftenfor .fHiduleywordl wn-est s eparc Riolict t explaasojummeethioseon syrmf St Au3< harlslyte of thog éct bthiout pr, ldim ke femalwild beleagu of their nisesmalchg hploa> rotnefor its acliff’s : blocktione

    iiclem tnew ;subly torgtenfeerytoie luestiinuty underwhey togeto pregair iebeleastluestiinuty underhao nts"r indt,su nounthylsla pe Bbn motiis(40) 4  Syomisle a whsraids epar aki the eoitiny thovicliff’s tatnrlla et CwordshT isaasot éffinies aracter, finalw ereflla and real inliethe experattracmf womenoseon sy .hcliff’s thaius makesderationw lxper"sub moct unacce" for iae cdastatouthts aoCc heroines, anrplorncoun w,ehat cle and Hhelele feim;nsaligo a ard.o Emilycruelfcliff’s gc resumasethyradvise flla and Cead td i> rotneieim that otluest. r"n < gsaliknowsser fio gehirlo3>iwpareoimeseoh cle and ,hcliff’s thainour saibyrsel;nsalil voeim tincludie lueis ty of i theiroimoovotld in ro pr]n virtotn 1978 jeoumbdy;yas muele" /> eiroitipate-upinreino lo3>mala dastat reher sisaliknowssbeca wet e cd ollsCwparexpemsh

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    Austen Jane, Northanger Abbey (1818), John Davie (ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

    Brontë Emily, Wuthering Heights (1847), Ian Jack (ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

    Edgeworth Maria, Letters for Literary Ladies; To Which is Added, An Essay on the Noble Science of Self-justification (1975), London: Dent, 1993.

    Lewis Matthew Gregory, The Monk (1796), London: Penguin Books, 1998.

    Radcliffe Ann, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), Bonamy Dobrée (ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970.

    Wollstonecraft Mary, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), D. L. Macdonald and Kathleen Scherf (eds.), Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press, 1997.

    Ackley Katherine Anne (ed.), Misogyny in Literature: An Essay Collection, New York: Garland, 1992, 89-110.

    Botting Fred, Gothic, New York: Routledge, 1996.

    Burke, Edmund, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1857), London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958.

    GErin Winifred, Emily Brontë: A Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.

    Graham Kenneth W. (ed.), Gothic Fictions: Prohibition / Transgression, New York: AMS, 1989.

    Heller Tamara, Dead Secrets: Wilkie Collins and the Female Gothic, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992.

    Hoeveler Diane Long, Gothic Feminism: The Professionalization of Gender from Charlotte Smith to the Brontës, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1998.

    Jordan John E., “The Ironic Vision of Emily Brontë”, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 20, 1965, 1-18.

    Kelly Patrick, “The Sublimity of Catherine and Heathcliff”, The Victorian Newsletter, 86, 1994, 24-30.

    MCCarthy Terrence “The Incompetent Narrator of Wuthering Heights”, Modern Language Quarterly, 42, 1981, 48-64.

    McNees Eleanor (ed.), The Brontë Sisters: Critical Assessments, 4 vols, Mountfield: Helm Information, 1996, 4 vols.

    Milbank Alison, Daughters of the House: Modes of the Gothic in Victorian Fiction, London: Macmillan, 1992.

    MILBANK Alison, “Milton, Melancholy and the Sublime in the Female Gothic”, Women’s Writing, 1:2, 1994, 143-60.

    Moers Ellen, Literary Women, London: The Women’s Press, 1978.

    Pykett Lyn, Women Writers: Emily Brontë , London: Macmillan, 1989.

    Thormählen Marianne, “The Lunatic and the Devil’s Disciple: The Lovers in Wuthering Heights”, The Review of English Studies, 57, 1997, 183-97.

    Wiesenfarth Joseph, Gothic Manners and the Classic English Novel, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988.

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    1  I would like to express my thanks to the FUT Research Promotional Fund, which supported a part of my research.

    2  On the question of genre, see Lyn Pykett, Women Writers: Emily Brontë, London: Macmillan, 1989, 71-85.

    3  Edith M. Fenton “The Spirit of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights as distinguished from that of Gothic Romance”, Washington University Studies, 8.1, 1920, reprinted in Eleanor McNees (ed.), The Brontë Sisters: Critical Assessments, 4 vols, Mountfield: Helm Information, 1996, volume 2, 68.

    4  Patrick Kelly, “The Sublimity of Catherine and Heathcliff”, The Victorian Newsletter, 86, 1994, 30.

    5  Syndy McMillen Conger, “The Reconstruction of the Gothic Feminine Ideal in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights”, in Juliann E. Fleenor (ed.), The Female Gothic, Montreal: Eden Press, 1983, reprinted in E. McNees, (ed.), op. cit., vol.  2, 415. See also Lyn Pykett, op. cit., 66-67.

    6  Ellen Moers, Literary Women, London: The Women’s Press, 1978, 90.

    7  Tamara Heller, Dead Secrets: Wilkie Collins and the Female Gothic, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992, 14. See also Kari J. Winter, “Sexual / Textual Politics of Terror: Writing and Rewriting the Gothic Genre in the 1790s”, in Katherine Anne Ackley (ed.), Misogyny in Literature: An Essay Collection, New York: Garland, 1992, 89-110.

    8   Winifred Gerin says that Radcliffe was one of Emily Brontë’s favourite writers: “[t]hey [Emily and Branwell] liked Mrs. Radcliffe’s romances.” Winifred Gerin, Emily Brontë: A Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971, 73.

    9   Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), Bonamy Dobrée (ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1970, 5.

    10  Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights (1847), Ian Jack (ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, 51. All quotations from Wuthering Heights are taken from this edition.

    11   Matthew Gregory Lewis, The Monk, London: Penguin Books, 1998 [1796], 259-60.

    12   See Coral Ann Howells, “The Pleasure of the Women’s Text: Ann Radcliffe’s Subtle Transgressions in The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Italian”, inKenneth W. Graham (ed.), Gothic Fictions: Prohibition / Transgression, New York: AMS, 1989, 151-62.

    13  This aspect of Ann Radcliffe’s work aligns her with the advocacy of rational education for women made by Mary Wollstonecraft in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) and Maria Edgeworth in Letters for Literary Ladies; To Which is Added, An Essay on the Noble Science of Self-justification (1795).

    14   Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1818), John Davie (ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990, 1.

    15  S. Conger, op. cit., 407.

    16 Ibid., 409.

    17  Fred Botting, Gothic, London: Routledge, 1996, 8.

    18   Diane Long Hoeveler, Gothic Feminism: The Professionalization of Gender from Charlotte Smith to the Brontës, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1988, 198.

    19   Joseph Wiesenfarth, Gothic Manners and the Classic English Novel, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1988, 75.

    20   Terrence McCarthy, “The Incompetent Narrator of Wuthering Heights”, Modern Language Quarterly, 42, 1981, 58.

    21  Marianne Thormählen, “The Lunatic and the Devil’s Disciple: The Lovers in Wuthering Heights”, The Review of English Studies, 57, 1997, 194. See also John E. Jordan, “The Ironic Vision of Emily Brontë”, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 20:1, 1965, 2.

    22  Following Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), the sublime has been linked with Gothic literature. Among others, see Alison Milbank, “Milton, Melancholy and the Sublime in the Female Gothic”, Women’s Writing, 1:2, 1994, 143-60.

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    Yukari Oda

    Yukari Oda is a lecturer at the Fukui University of Technology, Fukui, Japan. She obtained an MA in Victorian Literature and a Ph.D. in English at the University of Liverpool. She is a contributor to The Brontës and Education (Haworth: The Brontë Society, 2005). Her recent articles include “The Image of Emily Brontë and Wuthering Heights: Reconsideration of Charlotte’s ‘Biographical Notice’ and ‘Preface’ ” (2009), “Wuthering Heights and the Waverley Novels: Sir Walter Scott’s Influence on Emily Brontë” (2007) and “Emily Brontë and Maria Edgeworth: Ambiguous Narrative and National Identity” (2005).

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