The Notion of the Foreign Invader and Other Gothic Elements in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights

May 31, 2019 by Essay Writer

The popularity of gothic fiction varied in Victorian England. During the Romantic period Horace Walpole published The Castle of Otranto (1764), which is often considered the first gothic horror story. Many more stories followed but the popularity of the genre initially decreased in the Victorian era because the historical Romance novel became popular. In the 1880’s and 1890’s however, gothic fiction experienced a sudden surge of popularity due to the work of Edgar Allen Poe. Many stories that are today considered to be highly influential words of literature were written during that period. Among the books that became very popular again was Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Although Wuthering Heights is not just a gothic novel it certainly incorporates many gothic elements such as the supernatural, monstrosity, the notion of the foreign invader and the ancestral curse. In gothic fiction there is usually a passion-driven, wilful villain. In Wuthering Heights this role is fulfilled by Heathcliff. Lockwood sees Heathcliff overcome by emotion when he thinks Catherine has come back to him: “He got on to the bed, and wrenched open the lattice, bursting, as he pulled at it, into an uncontrollable passion of tears. ‘Come in! come in!’ he sobbed. ‘Cathy, do come. Oh, do – ONCE more! Oh! my heart’s darling! hear me THIS time, Catherine, at last!’ (Brontë 44). Furthermore, Heathcliff represents a kind of monstrous animalistic state that was attributed to criminals in Victorian society. The Victorians were firm believers in the idea of progress. The idea that science was the key to figuring out mysteries was widespread, especially Darwin’s theory of evolution, according to which: man is progressing, evolving and adapting, was immensely popular. But there was also a counter discourse that there might be degeneration, that certain sectors of society might represent a regression instead of progression. According to Cesare Lombroso, an Italian criminologist from the nineteenth century, criminals represent this return to a state that is more like an animal’s’ than it is like modern civilized human beings. Heathcliff is often described as an animal or a beast: “I felt that God had forsaken the stray sheep there to its own wicked wanderings, and an evil beast prowled between it and the fold, waiting his time to spring and destroy” (171). When Isabella writes to Mrs. Dean after she has eloped with Heathcliff to express her concern about her new husband she writes “Is Mr. Heathcliff a man? If so, is he mad? And if not, is he a devil? I sha’n’t tell my reasons for making this inquiry; but I beseech you to explain, if you can, what I have married” (218). When Mrs. Dean comes to visit her Isabella warns her about believing Heathcliff: “Don’t put faith in a single word he speaks. He’s a lying fiend! a monster, and not a human being!” (243). In the same letter Isabella also compares Heathcliff to animals that terrify her: “I assure you, a tiger or a venomous serpent could not rouse terror in me equal to that which he wakens” (232). Heathcliff is monstrous and cruel to just about everyone: “God forbid that he [Edgar] should try!’ answered the black villain. (…) Every day I grow madder after sending him to heaven!” (178). He also enjoys being cruel to Isabella, abusing her both mentally (“The more the worms writhe, the more I yearn to crush the entrails) (244) and physically (“he snatched a dinner-knife from the table and flung it at my head) (291). Lombroso also argues that criminals have “the irresistible craving for evil for its own sake” and that criminals have “the desire not only to extinguish life in the victim, but to mutilate the corpse, tear its flesh, and drink its blood” (Lombroso 184). Although Heathcliff does not go that far, he does beat Hindley half to death, as Isabella writes to Mrs. Dean: “The ruffian kicked and trampled on him, and dashed his head repeatedly against the flags, holding me with one hand, meantime, to prevent me summoning Joseph” (Brontë 284). Heathcliff’s cruelty and relentlessness makes him classifiable as a monster, and a foreign one at that. Also typical for gothic fiction is the notion of the foreign invader. Heathcliff is a symbol of a foreign invader because he is foreign in a number of ways. Mrs. Dean makes it very clear how people at Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights feel about outsiders: “We don’t in general take to foreigners here, Mr. Lockwood, unless they take to us first” (70). Mrs. Dean is undoubtedly talking directly to Mr. Lockwood because he is also new to the area, but there is a strong indication that she is also talking about Heathcliff. As a young boy, Heathcliff was found in Liverpool, a bustling hub of trade in the nineteenth century, and brought home by Mr. Earnshaw. Mrs. Dean remembers the first time she met the child: “I had a peep at a dirty, ragged, black-haired child; big enough both to walk and talk: indeed, its face looked older than Catherine’s; yet when it was set on its feet, it only stared round, and repeated over and over again some gibberish that nobody could understand” (57). Apparently Heathcliff cannot speak English at first, which immediately alienates him from the rest of the family. One critic postulates that “Discussions of ‘otherness’ often begin with appearance, the physical markers that signal a character’s social difference” (Kozinsky 13). Mrs. Dean does not mention his skin colour in this excerpt but there are many instances in the book where Heathcliff is described as ‘black’ or ‘darkskinned’, which makes him all the more different. In fact, the word “black” is used to refer to Heathcliff twenty-one times; “devil” is used to describe him eleven times (Matsuoka). Although Mrs. Dean speaks of him as a child, she goes on to refer to him as ‘it’. He is so utterly unlike anyone or anything they have ever experienced that Mrs. Dean feels the need to completely distance herself from Heathcliff by classifying him as ‘other’. Later, Heathcliff has progressed from an ‘it’ to a name, as Mrs. Dean explains: “I found they had christened him ‘Heathcliff’ (…) and it has served him ever since, both for Christian and surname” (Brontë 58). He is given only one name, almost like a dog (to which he is frequently compared throughout the novel), and he is branded as an outsider forever. Linked to this notion of the foreign invader is the idea of the ancestral curse, which means that people will be punished for the sins of their ancestors. This is also evident in Wuthering Heights. Elizabeth Kozinsky agrees: “The cyclical nature of usurpation illustrated in [Wuthering Heights] suggests that the next generation will prove just as corruptible as the former” (Kozinsky 72). Lineage is extremely important in Wuthering Heights, as it was in Victorian times in general, and someone like Heathcliff with questionable heritage could pose a real threat to a family. Heathcliff ‘invades’ both the Earnshaw en the Linton families so that he can strip them of their birth right and claim power for himself thus taking revenge on those who wronged him in the past. Heathcliff marries Isabella not because he loves her, but because she can give him a son to fulfill his master plan of taking Thrushcross Grange for himself. Clearly, Wuthering Heights incorporates many features that are typical of gothic fiction. Monstrosity as a theme is present in the character of Heathcliff since he is extremely cruel and violent. He is also compared to an out-of-control animal, beast and devil. The notion of the foreign invader and the idea of the supernatural are evident. Heathcliff manipulates the Earnshaw and Linton lineages so that he will acquire both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange. This idea of the foreign invader can be linked to the Victorian idea that criminals represent a monstrous animalistic state that is a regression from civilized modern humankind. Works citedBrontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights. USA: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print. Kozinsky, Elizabeth. Kings of their Castles: Reading Heathcliff as a Caliban who Succeeds. MA thesis. University of Georgia, Athens, 2001. Georgia University Library Online. Web. 16 October 2012.Lombroso, Cesare. L’uomo delinquente. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006. Print. Matsuoka, Mitsuharu. The Victorian Literary Studies Archive Hyper-concordance. Nagoya University. Web. 16 October 2012.

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