Children in the Victorian Social Climate

One of the most prevalent parts of the beginning of Wuthering Heights is in its usage of children. One of the most critical and strange scenes in the opening chapters is when Catherine’s ghost talks with Lockwood and laments over here past “twenty years. I’ve been a waif for twenty years!”. The concept of abandonment is a powerful aspect of this scene. Further, descriptions of the abuses within the complex familial history of Wuthering Heights are common. In particular, I found connections back to poems discussed in class such as The Chimney Sweeper. One of the strongest connections is obvious, Heathcliff’s origins as an orphan. The treatment of Catherine and a young Heathcliff by Hindley show a cruel and often unjust upbringing, reminding me of lines from the poem, ‘Who make up a heaven of our misery’. Another strong connection is in Chapter 3, where Catherine is forced to attend sermons. The influence of these sermons on youth brought my mind to the conversations held around religion in The Chimney Sweeper.

What I found to be important was the portrayal of children, especially orphans, from the perspective of Victorian writers. In the elevated social background of the family, the children are required to be educated and shaped. They attend sermons, are made to dress in suitable clothes, and Catherine, in particular, is educated to act “ladylike” in Chapter 7. The strict social conventions of the Victorian era are contrasted especially against young children. This is even more apparent with Heathcliff at his first arrival, an orphan. Early on, he is often described as dirty and is shaped by his environment as he ages.

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