Wuthering Heights, the story of Emily Brontë, is one of the most mysterious phenomena in world literature. Mostly overlooked by Brontë's contemporaries, the novel greatly amazed the opponents of academism in literature, and later became one of the best novels in the world. Furthermore, Wuthering Heights reflects the complicated philosophical beliefs of Emily Brontë. The story is peculiar for its image of creation which is a common characteristic of the author's art. What is more, the story is free from orthodox religious orientation. The main characters, Heathcliff and Earnshaw, deny the power of church and the common concepts of afterworld (Brontë, 1994). Absorbed with her great worldly happiness, Katherine is sure that she would be unhappy in heaven and would not find rest even if buried in the ground. However, the most important element in the narration lies in revealing the hard destiny of women in the society of that period. These factors contribute to the overall difficulty of the book, and underline its diversity. One of the ways to analyze the novel lies in considering it from the point of view of women. Because the problem of masculine and feminine distinction was quite evident during the times of the Victorian Age, it could not escape the authoress' reflections. That is why it is important to analyze the feminine part of the Victorian society that played a major role in the development of Wuthering Heights.
According to historical information, men and women in the 19th century in England had completely different social standings, and were fixed to certain obligations (Day, 1990). Apart from raising children, women also sewed clothes, prepared food and did housework. At the same time, men focused on maintaining their family's welfare, and took part in social life. As stated by many historians, however, the role of women was not limited to working at home. Conversely, a woman represented the moral and religious basis of her family. The division of the world into masculine and feminine parts had a certain religious connotation. A man who was involved in business had to find rest at his home, where the role of a women was clearly defined: she was the keeper of hearth, traditions and foundations, the essence of virtue that could not be seen in the business world. Besides, this model of assigning responsibilities took place only the families that belonged to the middle class (Day, 1990). Consequently, a family that lived on the wages of both husband and wife could not correspond to that model. Still, the same concepts about family and home as the place of moral were also shared by the representatives of the middle class.
Despite the existing gender distinctions, the idea of feminine equality in the second half of the 19th century received a wide prominence in English society. Furthermore, it also found its reflection in feminist and suffragist movements that were the first to focus their primary attention on the problems of women, and revealed the social determinant connected with the socio-gender belonging. In other words, this belonging represented the roles imposed on men and women by society. With that, it is Brontë's story that is favored by many by the study and coverage of the issue regarding the place of women in society, family values, moral, and the correlation of masculine and feminine origins. Wuthering Heights describes the life of truly strong women that are caught within the dominant values of masculine society.
With that, Wuthering Heights does not seem to have any similarities with any other Victorian novel. Some foreign critics tried to prescribe the story to the work of modernism, others emphasized its social problems (Day, 1990). However, every one share the same opinion that the story is a cry of despair and torment wrested from Emily by life itself. Describing the peculiarities of the Victorian society, Brontë did not leave the position of women in it without attention. The book's characters amaze us by their inconsistency with the traditions of the novels of the Victorian age. As the story itself, each characters astonishes, alerts and surprises the reader.
Catherine Earnshaw is completely unlike any other girl from a decent family. According to Nelly Dean, Catherine is a nasty and bad girl that causes a lot of trouble and inconveniences to others. In this way, Brontë completely breaks the tradition of the Victorian novel to portray its characters as humble and submissive creatures. Catherine's behavior often seems ridiculous, and she is sure to a weaker personality in terms of prudence and discretion, especially if to compare her with Nelly, who is a woman belonging to common people. Although married, Catherine shows indecent, in terms of the dominant moral and the system of values, desires and gusts, and her behavior with her husband does not conform to the traditions of the submission and obedience of women in the period. The heroine is very freedom loving and acts how she considers it necessary, sometimes she even goes against the will of husband.
However, the thoughts of divorce and the idea to become the secret lover of Heathcliff do not come to Catherine's mind (Brontë, 1994). Divorce was impossible in the Victorian Age, and it would be considered as a shame for the whole family, as well as secret cohabitation (Mitchell 104-106). Besides, Catherine was expecting to have a baby, and thus she wanted to consolidate the inheritance rights of her husband. Sickened from the endless quarrels and accusations of Heathcliff, Catherine died and left only her 7-month baby to the world. With that, we should note that Catherine's death was inevitable. Refusing from her love, simple human happiness for a favorable social standing, she betrayed herself and broke her own heart.
An even more tragic destiny befell the life of Isabella, Catherine's sister-in-law. By secretly falling in love with Heathcliff secretly marrying him against the will of his brother, she found herself in Wuthering Heights. Indeed, Isabella could not image what difficulties her life was preparing to her. According to the Victorian legislation, the wife was the husband's property, as well as all the children (Mitchell 104-106). What is more, all Isabella's heritage had to pass into Heathcliff's hands. Seeing a romantic hero in him, whose cruel heart she was trying to soften by her love, Isabella overreached herself. As a result, she became fully controlled by her husband, and he insulted her, but at the same time he did not forget about the existing laws.
However, having been humiliated, Isabella did not want to accept her destiny. On the contrary, her spirit grew strong and she became absorbed with the feeling of vengeance. Then, we she got the chance, she left Wuthering Heights (Brontë, 1994). Isabella understood that if she stayed at Thrushcross Grange, her husband would never leave her alone. No doubt that Heathcliff could find and return his wife with the child. Besides, the law was on his side. Still, he decided not to do that.
So, the tragedy of Catherine was represented by her marriage of convenience, but Isabella's tragedy lied in the fact that she became the target of vengeance planned by Heathcliff (Brontë, 1994). In these connections with the severe life of the heroines, Brontë exposed the vices and crimes that evidently were not the main characteristics of working class. Humiliations and beatings that befell Isabella reveal another tragedy of the Victorian Age. That is, their life was often limited within the walls of homesteads, and being exposed to their husbands' tyranny, women could not rely on external help, and did not even dream of changing their social standing. The pioneering art of Emily Brontë, however, lies in the fact that her heroines do not want to cope with their destiny. Her heroine rebels against the tyranny of her husband and runs trying to save her dignity and honor (Fegan, 2008). With that, the book reveals the truly strong character of women that lived in the society of that era.
On the other hand, the image of Nelly quite corresponds to the traditional characters of the Victorian literature. She is a sober-minded woman, whose religious concepts come to such notions as love, forgiveness, patience and understanding. Likewise, we should note that the image of Nelly has some similar traits with that of Brontë herself, especially considering the authoress' love to housework, cooking, and even reading books in the kitchen (Fegan, 2008). Nelly is very strict towards vice actions, she tries to behave for the sake of her masters, but still she blames herself for the misfortunes that befall them (Fegan, 2008). Indeed, Nelly often acts not by the will of her mind, but does what her heart tells her to do. She is a woman filled with mercy and compassion, and these traits make her image seem attractive and lively.
With that, the issue of the emancipation of women holds an important place in the story. During the plot development, Brontë connects the personal freedom of a woman with the issue of social emancipation. Brontë's moral world denied the existing order of things where the moral impoverishment of a person, aggressive moneymaking, the spiritual exploitation of personality, the psychological and material enslavement by society is considered normal and appears to be a common regularity. The author's theme of women's equality with men in the world of feelings and thoughts is clearly observed in the story.
Despite the outgoing traits of certain characters, the narration does not make exceptions to them. In the very private sphere of live women found to be not in the most favorable conditions. The Victorian model with its strict standards that are so vividly described in the story inevitable humiliated women, since sexual relations were considered as something very disgraceful, and women were forced to have relations in special places and in specific ways. In fact, while reading Wuthering Heights, it becomes clear that women appeared to be the source of sinful behavior, and they were displaced to the outskirts of spiritual life. As a result, women were just the means of enjoyment for men, and only men were allowed to compete in society with the help of their intellect. Still, many women of that era were quite aware of their status.
Indeed, considering the personalities of the women in Wuthering Heights, we can surely state that this story is about the destiny of strong women. It is a story that describes not only love, vengeance, moneymaking, and the stratification of society, but also the hard and tragic status of women in a family in the Victorian times. The heroines of the novel suffer from humiliation, insults, beatings by their husbands and mothers-in-law. They are completely defenseless and cannot rely on the help of law, church, and even relatives, because, according to all laws and precepts, a woman is a secondary, submissive and unauthoritative creatures. However, the women in the story are not passive, not broken and not depressed. Each of them is angered by the current state of things, and each of them rebels. At first, it starts from an open opposition in family quarrels, but later it ends up with a complete abruption with the husband. The heroines of the story wanted to be happy, and finally won their right for freedom and happiness.
All in all, Emily Brontë outpaced her time by staying away from the common patterns of the Victorian novel. It is true that every era had its own writers that outpaced their time. Brontë's art was on the verge of two epochs: romanticism and realism. She got the best from romanticists, greatly contributed to the development of realism, and at the same time she forestalled those new ways in the art image that got its development only at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. In Wuthering Heights, she showed the inner world of her characters, the subtle shades of their experiences, and at the same time she did not deprive the story of its social orientation. Her talent is clearly observed in the book, where it shows up in her special concept of the world, foresight, and the ability to develop such problematic issue as the social standing of women to the extent of the problem that has received great attention nowadays.
Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. New York: Modern Library, 1994. Print.
Day, Paula. Nature and Gender in Victorian Women's Writing: Emily Bronte, Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti. 1990. Print.
Fegan, Melissa. Wuthering Heights: Character Studies. London: Continuum, 2008. Print.
Mitchell, Sally. Daily Life in Victorian England. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1996. 104-106. Print.