Darwinism and Bronte

Although Bronte’s Wuthering Heights preceded Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, many comparisons can be made between the texts. Darwin was an English naturalist during the Victorian era who is known for his theories on human evolution. His observations and publications were presented in a scientific lens, as he tried to explain to the public the relationship between humans. Bronte, on the other hand, shows the complex structure of society and its effect on interpersonal relationships.

Darwin understood animal species as having shared traits that distinguish them from other species. All humans have two legs, while all dogs have four legs. However, he claims that any given species can be further divided by, “groups subordinate to groups.” This is where Darwin’s theories become problematic for modern readers. He uses education and science at the time to justify that any species, including humans, can be subject to a hierarchy based on perceived values of superiority. In Wuthering Heights, this hierarchy exists among the families. Characters view each other based on who they associate with. Those who live at Wuthering Heights are presented as unsettling or victimized. Inhabitants at Thrushcross Grange are depicted as civilized and stable. Heathcliff and Joseph are given an unflattering view by the narrator, Nelly, constantly reminding us of their social inferiority. Darwin’s idea of “well-marked varieties” fits the differences that Bronte provides between the social classes in her novel.
Charles Darwin gives his scientific explanation for why humans can be set in a hierarchy. To further his claims, he also provides a hypothesis for the fate of humans as a species. Darwin states, “ it will be the common and widely spread species, belonging to the larger and dominant groups within each class, which will  prevail and procreate new and dominant species.” This seems to be the attitude that the Linton family takes on. Even though the book goes through generations, there is always the assumption that the offspring will be a part of the dominant people in society.

Desmond, Adrian J. “Charles Darwin.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 13 Sept. 2019, www.britannica.com/biography/Charles-Darwin.

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