While continuing to read Wuthering Heights, we continue to see how strong-willed and passionate Emily Bronte has written her female characters. The women of the novel continue to act according to their own interests and not according to how their father or husband want them to.
As we saw in the first several chapters, Catherine Earnshaw was free-spirited and acted the way she wanted to growing up and playing with Heathcliff. As she grows older and marries Edgar Linton she continues to act according to what she wants by seeing Heathcliff when he returns despite Edgar being against this.
Like her mother, Cathy Linton also goes against Edgar’s wishes. He is very protective over Cathy and doesn’t want her to leave their property however she does so anyway and eventually comes across the place and people that her father was protecting her from at Wuthering Heights. As the story goes on she continues to go to Wuthering Heights and meets with Linton Heathcliff in secret despite her father not wanting her to have any relations with the Heathcliffs.
The way in which Catherine and Cathy act against others’ wishes and do what they wish reminded me of what Harriet Martineau discusses in her essay Society in America. When referencing James Mill saying that “women may be regarded, the interest of almost all of whom is involved, either in that of their fathers or in that of their husbands.”, she says that “the interests of women who have fathers and husbands can never be identical with theirs”.
Although in the case of Wuthering Heights it isn’t necessarily political interests that Catherine and Cathy are differing from Edgar, it still shows that women don’t have to think or do exactly as their fathers or husbands want them to and can act independently according to what they want to do for themselves.
While reading the first few chapters of Wuthering Heights, I was drawn to the treatment of Heathcliff by his new “family” throughout his childhood. Everyone except for Catherine and Mr. Earnshaw don’t seem to like him very much. When he is first introduced to the family as an orphan brought home by Mr. Earnshaw, Nelly says that she was scared by him and how dirty he appeared, repeatedly referring to Heathcliff as an ‘it’, as though he were not human. She also recalls how Mrs. Earnshaw was ready to throw him back out onto the streets but Mr. Earnshaw thought that they should take him in. As Heathcliff grows older and Hindley takes over Wuthering Heights after Mr. Earnshaw’s passing, he then shifts into the role of a servant to the family and is no longer being educated. He had been mistreated all throughout his childhood by his “family” and they do not seem to notice that what they are doing to him is wrong because they do not see Heathcliff as being an equal to them.
This brought me to think of the child labor poems that we read last week and the mistreatment that the children in these poems also faced by their family, specifically in “The Chimney Sweeper”. In this poem the child that the poem is speaking of is referred to as “a little black thing”. This is also an example in which a child is dehumanized. The child is asked where their parents have gone, to which they reply that they have left them and gone off to pray. In the next stanza the child explains how they ended up in this situation as a chimney sweeper. It seems as though their parents thought they were happy as a chimney sweeper so they continued having them work, however it has made them miserable and they feel they are on their way to death. The child then describes how the father and mother do not seem to think they have done anything wrong in sending them off to be a chimney sweeper because the State and church have not said that what they are doing is wrong.
In both of these instances children have been mistreated by their families as a result of social standing. In Wuthering Heights, it is as though Heathcliff was never able to leave his place as the poor orphan who had no where else to go, while in “The Chimney Sweeper”, the child is being endangered by his parents in order to help make more money.
While reading the assigned works for Tuesday, I was particularly drawn to Harriet Martineau’s Society in America as she discusses the role of women in a democratic society. As Martineau notes, women did not have a role. Women did not have a say in how the government was run because they were not recognized as people who could have a say in anything, only men did. Martineau talks about how the Declaration of Independence says that the government gets its’ powers from the consent of the governed yet women do not even have the ability to give their consent to be governed. She then brings up what James Mill says in regard to representation in which he says, “In this light, women may be regarded, the interest of almost all of whom is involved, either in that of their fathers or in that of their husbands” meaning that men can say what women can and cannot do.
A connection can be made to what Thomas Carlyle says in Past and Present. Carlyle says, “…every Government is the exact symbol of its People, with their wisdom and unwisdom; we have to say, Like People like Government”. When Carlyle says this, he is saying that the government is a reflection of the people they serve and that it will only be as good as the people who the government is serving want it to be. When connecting this back to what Mill says, Mill was certainly not the only person who thought that women did not need the right to vote and could be represented by their male relations. This is reflected in the government that was put in place that Martineau is speaking out against. If people who had a voice in what the government did(men) were not speaking up for women to gain the right to vote, then why should the government do anything about it? It is because of these ideas that women in the United States were unable to vote until 1920.
I haven’t read a lot of Victorian literature thus far so there is still much for me to learn about this period in literature, but I do know of a few things involving it which I hope to expand on throughout the semester in addition to what I have not yet discovered.
One piece of Victorian literature I have read is Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. It has been a few years since I last read it, but I remember being captivated by Dickens’ vivid descriptions of scenes throughout the novel that made me feel as though I were there. I realize that Dickens was born after the French Revolution, but the way he describes things throughout the novel is quite interesting to the reader as it seems telling of the time he is writing about and I hope to see this throughout the literature we read. From our Victorian writers, I would like to learn more about the world surrounding them and see how they connected their life and events that have happened around them to their writing.
I’m also interested in learning about the movement evolution from Romanticism to Victorian literature. How do we as readers distinguish a work from being classified as Romantic or Victorian? What sets Victorian literature apart from other movements other than the fact that it was written during Queen Victoria’s reign? In class we have already seen this difficulty in classification with the example of Jane Austen.
Lastly, I’d like to learn more about the works themselves and discover what connections and disconnections can we, as readers, make between them all in this period of literature?