Feminism in Wuthering Heights

The Victorian Era refers to a period of time in English history when Queen Victoria reigned (1837-1901).

Since I am not done with Jane Eyre yet, my post this week will be focused on Wuthering Heights, I book I’ve already read and enjoyed by Charlotte’s younger sister, Emily Brontë.

Wuthering Heights introduces Catherine Earnshaw and Isabella Linton, , two women who go against the expectations and morals of their gender in this time period. Catherine Earnshaw is introduced as a wild child who disobeys her father, going against his wishes for her to become more ladylike and causing him to neglect her. Catherine is completely out of control under the influence of Heathcliff. “They both promised fair to grow up as rude as savages” (Brontë 39) states the narrator Nelly Dean.

However, when Catherine is isolated from Heathcliff after being attacked by a dog on the Linton property, her demeanor changes drastically.

Instead of a wild, hatless little savage jumping into the house, and rushing to squeeze us all breathless, there ‘lighted from a handsome black pony a very dignified person, with brown ringlets falling from the cover of a feathered beaver, and a long cloth habit, which she was obliged to hold up with both hands that she might sail in. (Brontë 43)

It is at this point where Catherine becomes the ideal Victorian Era woman, acting more ladylike, concerned with her standing in society, and marrying into a good family. “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am” (Brontë 73). Heathcliff leaves for many years and Catherine marries Edgar Linton, and all seems to be going well. However, as soon as Heathcliff returns, Catherine loses any ladylike qualities that she has adapted and reverts to her old fiery ways. She becomes locked in her home of Thrushcross Grange and opposes Edgar by sneaking out at night to meet with Heathcliff. Perhaps her greatest rebellion against her husband is her love for Heathcliff.

Edgar’s sister Isabella however, is the exact opposite of Catherine. She acts like proper and ladylike, afraid of the young Heathcliff and his rambunctiousness. To get revenge on Edgar for marrying Catherine, the older Heathcliff courts Isabella. When they are finally married, Heathcliff’s true feelings are revealed and Isabella becomes trapped in a loveless and emotional abusive relationship. She finally has enough with Heathcliff’s behavior and flees from her marriage to London – while pregnant. This action is remarkable for a woman during this time period, as divorce was illegal and a woman was considered property of her husband. If Isabella had been caught, she could have been imprisoned.

Well, that concludes this week’s post! Next week I’ll talk about Victorian Culture in general and discuss more literature.

 

Work Cited:

Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. New York: Penguin, 1995. Print.

 

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