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Feminism in Wuthering Heights


Feminism in Wuthering Heights

The double critical requirements in literature with relation to gender, was prominent in the 19th century and it was for this factor that the Bronte sisters and thus Emily Bronte wrote under male pseudonyms. Having had to change their names in order to get their work released and to end up being effective (Peterson, 2003), is testament to the way in which ladies were overlooked in numerous elements and were powerless to do as they pleased.

The novel Wuthering Heights, to some degree shows the position of ladies in the 19th century, with Isabel and Catherine respectively representing the experiences and in some cases repercussions of their actions as women living in a duration of inequality. Catherine Earnshaw, as she is first presented, is depicted as a “wild hatless savage” (Bronte, 2003, p. 64) by Ellen Dean who’s thoughts during the narration represent the opinions held by much of the upper and middle class society.

The tone whilst describing Catherine’s antics are mostly disapproving as society required ladies to behave in a cultured and respectable manner which greatly contrasts to Ellen’s description of her as “wicked” and a “savage” (Bronte, 2003, p. 59). Nevertheless regardless of assuring to stay as “impolite as savages” (Bronte, 2003, pg. 59) to Heathcliff, Catherine is inevitably changed due to her extended remain at the Linton’s who represent the most powerful, rich and for this reason perfect paradigm of society and as such succumbs to the ideological embodiment of womanhood.

As an outcome, the liberty to do as she wants is eliminated after the shift, which eventually triggers her to select a partner deemed deserving of social approval and stability in terms of wealth as she explains to Ellen Dean “And he will be rich, and I will like to be the best woman of the neighbourhood.” Essentially Catherine is portrayed as many heroines of novels in the nineteenth century as having to choose the right husband (Pykett, 1989) which she does “correctly” given the social context however it is an option which eventually leads to her death as Heathcliff states “You loved me- then what right had you to leave me? … or the poor fancy you felt for Linton?” (Bronte, 2003, p. 150). Additionally, once Catherine is married to Linton her flexibility to roam the moors are restricted which she is plainly unhappy with, “the thing that irritates me most is this shattered prison … I’m tired, sick of being confined here” (Bronte, 2002, p. 150). Her desire to go back to wuthering heights where the gender roles are not clearly specified, is prominent throughout her health problem as she feels espair at the domesticated and limited way of life of Thrushcross Grange “been wrenched from the heights, and every early association … and been converted, at a stroke, into Mrs. Linton, the lady of Thrushcross Grange … I wish I were a woman once again … sturdy, and free” (Bronte, 2003, p. 122) Linton as a representative of the elite represents the “legal and intellectual dominion of patriarchy” (Gilbert, 2000, p. 145) and it might be this patriarchal oppression that Catherine is rebelling against.

In addition, “the unique both appeals to and subverts stereotyped constructions of sex functions by recommending that strategies for survival are gender-related.” (Barr, 2011) This is evident in by the method in which Heathcliff reacts to hierarchal injustice by plotting revenge and utilizing his newly found patriarchal power to create chaos, whilst Catherine who is unable to physically do anything due to a sense of lost identity and being not able to identify herself “Is that Catherine Linton?” (Bronte, 2003, p. 119) relies on self-destruction.

Nevertheless Catherine does not entirely conform to the patriarchal rule as is evident with her hitting Edgar “she laid hold of her hands … the astonished young man felt it applied over his own ear” which makes him feel both “afraid” and “ashamed” of Catherine (Bronte, 2003, p. 79). She likewise has masculine characteristics which overturn the stereotyped view of ladies in the eighteenth century as she is represented as being “headstrong and aggressive … queen of the countryside; she had no peer” (Bronte, 2003, p. 74). Her refusal to consume “she fasted pertinaciously” (Bronte, 2003, p. 18), can be viewed as an act of disobedience versus the patriarchal hierarchy she goes through in Thrushcross Grange, as it might be the one element that she does have control over and it is a power which she uses certainly. Furthermore, it can not be denied that Catherine has a good deal of power over the male characters in her life and in spite of passing away midway through the unique her strong presence continues to dominate the ideas and actions of both Edgar and Heathcliff, which shows that “her power is basically transcendent rather than material” (Pykett, 1989, p. 1). Similarly her choice to wed Edgar is not entirely made in an attempt to comply with social pressure as she exposes the political agenda of her choice to Ellen “if Heathcliff and I wed, we should be beggars? Whereas, if I wed Linton, I can assist Heathcliff to rise, and location him out of my brother’s power” (Bronte, 2003, p. 87). Moreover, her refusal to eliminate Heathcliff from her life, despite Edgar’s constant objections, is another element which indicates her rejection to conform.

Isabella Linton, unlike Catherine is at first depicted as a “captivating young lady of eighteen; infantile in manners” (Bronte, 2003, p. 103), which is what women at the time were expected to be like. Isabella’s terrible romantic infatuation with Heathcliff looks like components of a gothic plot, with her character presenting a direct counterpart to that of Heathcliff’s oppressive patriarchal rule.

The unique suggests that because Isabella, instead of being used in marital relationship by her daddy or bro, “as part of an economic transition, tries to manipulate the criteria of the exchange,” (Barr, 2011) she is destined failure for disobeying and not sending to the patriarchal will and is removed of her social status and wealth as Edgar forewarns her of the consequences of marrying Heathcliff “that if she was so crazy as to encourage that worthless suitor, it would dissolve all bonds of relationship in between herself and him” (Bronte, 2003, p. 18). Isabella comes down with the Heathcliff’s betrayal and is hence “penalized” by undergoing abuse from Heathcliff who often subjects Isabella to “homicidal violence” (Bronte, 2003, p. 159). However due to the laws that prevailed at the time Isabella would be required to prove herself in a court which was most probably partial to men therefore was helpless to do anything however suffer. Nevertheless regardless of Melvin R.

Watson’s (1949) analysis of Isabella being a “giddy girl” and acting merely as a foil to Catherine and a tool of vengeance for Heathcliff, Isabella portrays a substantial amount of transformation in character and durability against Heathcliff’s patriarchal tyranny whilst living at Wuthering Heights. Significantly she ends up being “instantly assimilated in coarseness and malice to those of Heathcliff’s family” (Barker, 2010, p. 349).

This can be seen by her disposition to violence and having masculine traits that greatly contrast to her genteel nature as she speaks to Nelly Dean regarding the encounter “I surveyed the weapon inquisitively; a horrible concept struck me. How effective I should be, having such an instrument! I took it from his hand, and touched the blade. He looked amazed at the expression my face assumed during a quick 2nd” (Bronte, 2003, p. 132). Isabella’s desire for masculine power is intriguing and uncharacteristic of a female from her social class and background.

Also the reality that she escapes from Heathcliff and flees from Wuthering Heights emphasizes the strength of her character, as if a woman was caught having actually escaped she would run the risk of capture and would go through penalty by the law (Pike, 2009). The concern of domestic abuse is quite veiled throughout the narrative which might be due to Nelly’s narration who being absent from Wuthering Heights, is not able to witness the exchange between Heathcliff and Isabella, which as a result offers a far more calmer version of events.

However Bronte brings it to the leading edge in the letter by Isabella which is resolved to Nelly Dean. (Bronte, 2003, pp. 130- 138). The fact that Heathcliff was within his right to abuse her shows laws at the time which allowed guys to limit ladies using the “power of chastisement” (Blackwood, mentioned in “My name was Isabella Linton). Isabella nevertheless, strikes back by exposing her desire to murder Heathcliff and by tossing a knife back at him.

Nevertheless by representing Isabella as coarse and seemingly mentally untouched by the ordeal, “Bronte possibly runs the risk of losing her readers’ compassion towards Isabella’s death” (Pike, 2009, p. 371) who mainly would not be able to identify with domesticated abuse as they believed that it was mainly restricted to the lower labouring classes and was not much discussed amongst the more “improved” members of the society.

Bronte however appears to be recommending that domestic abuse also occurs within those of the cultured class and highlights how they likewise may be susceptible to romantic misplaced ideas of an ideal life. Nelly Dean’s observation of Isabella appearing “regretfully for worse” (Bronte, 2003, p. 61) is received by Heathcliff in an unfavorable manner with him commenting that she “deteriorates into a mere slut” (Bronte, 2003, p. 161), which may perhaps show the prevalent idea of the bulk that a female’s degeneration was because of her own ethical failings and judgement instead of any external aspects (Pike, 2009).

Cathy Linton reflects the life of her mom to some degree as she is kept in the confines of Thrushcross Grange for the a lot of part of her early life and hence eventually rebels by going against her daddy’s demand to keep away from the highland moors. Whilst being from the gentry class Cathy is shown as a headstrong character and declines to silently accept Heathcliff’s patriarchal rule by utilizing her intelligence and wit to help her “Mr Heathcliff, you have nobody to love you, and however unpleasant you make us, we will still have the revenge of thinking that your ruthlessness increases from your higher suffering” (Bronte, 003, p. 248). Her ability to “tame” Hareton is admirable nevertheless it might have just been possible due him being illiterate, allowing Cathy power over him based on intelligence alone as her social position and privilege to wealth has been brought down by Heathcliff. Bronte seems to be recommending that regardless of the social and economical standing of females, the capability to overcome inequality is possible through usage of intellect which has the power to raise ladies to be thought about as equal, instead of inferior, to guys.

The issue of property is intriguing as in spite of Heathcliff being invalid and socially inferior to the more fortunate classes, he is able to lay claim to both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange which was possible due to residential or commercial property laws that were enforced at the time. These laws dictated that whatever the female made or possessed both prior to and throughout marriage belonged to her husband (Taylor, 1988). The fact that Isabella was unable to reclaim what she was entitled to is something which may have led her to her ultimate death.

Also Catherine’s sacrifice of her love and thus her life in order to achieve for Heathcliff, what she might have acquired by remaining in Wuthering Heights, is especially significant. Had home laws been equivalent in between both genders, Catherine would have been able to own Wuthering Heights along with a substantial quantity of fortune, which would suffice enough to keep whatever without feeling the requirement to wed in order to attain the things she most wanted.

This attests to the excellent injustice that women underwent in concerns to residential or commercial property, wealth and marital relationship in a world that was ruled by an unfair patriarchal authority. Emily Bronte therefore, achieves success in effectively depicting the position of females in the 19th century by portraying females both sending and subverting to the stereotypical image of womanhood. Bibliography

Barr, K (2011 ), Representation of Ladies in gothic literature: Wuthering Heights 3 February [Online] Offered at: http://suite101. com/article/representation-of-women-in-gothic-literature-wuthering-heights-a343037. [Accessed 05 January 2013] Barker, J (2010) “The Bronte’s” London, Hachette Digital Gilbert, S. M and Gubar, S. (1979 ), The Madwoman in the Attic: The Lady Author and the Nineteenth-century Literary Imagination. New Sanctuary: Yale, pp. 248-308. Peterson, Linda. H, ed. (2003 )

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