Reading the Excerpt from Darwin’s “Origin of Species” made me think about how his theories related to Emily Bronte, and especially her novel , Wuthering Heights. When I really started thinking about it and even did a little research, I realized more and more that Wuthering Heights is almost a Darwinian novel in it’s own way. It was, of course, written before Darwin’s “Origin of Species,” but it presents similar views that were specific of a new, emerging culture, and it presents them in a completely different form. Darwin’s theory and presentation that humans are the same as animals in terms of natural selection almost seems to be mirrored in Wuthering Heights. We see so many characters die because they aren’t strong enough to overcome their illnesses. Edgar would be a perfect example of this. He is always described as being pale, frail and weak, and is often portrayed as the nemesis of Heathcliff, as they both want Catherine. Although Edgar does marry her, he also dies pretty early on in the book, whereas Heathcliff– the clearly stronger-willed, tough guy– lasts much longer into the narrative. This could go to show the Darwinian outlook that the weaker of a species MUST die out in order for a species to advance– including humans.
One of the most interesting, overarching aspects of this novel is the point of view. Firstly, it is told third-hand; Lockwood hears the story from Nelly who watched it herself. This already brings about the idea of an unreliable narrator. Stories change as they’re passed along, and Nelly is certainly biased in the telling of this particular story as she was very involved in it and knew the other characters very well. The unreliability of the narration is something I’d like to get into more, but on another note, I’d like to talk about gender in relation to the narrator of Wuthering Heights.
Emily Bronte wrote this novel under the pseudonym Ellis Bell. Many women writers of this time period wrote under a male pseudonym in order to avoid certain critiques and to be taken more seriously, but Bronte does something unique in the way she replicates this within the storyline and point of view of her novel. I found it especially interesting that Bronte chose to make Nelly the real storyteller, but included Lockwood as a vehicle for getting the word out. I found it representative of her own storytelling– she’s the one spinning the story, but she uses the Bell pseudonym to get the word out, for it to be taken seriously. I don’t have any particularly deep insight into this, but it is something that I’ve thought about throughout my reading of the novel. What are her reasons for displaying this? It would definitely interest me to read more about this.
One thing I noticed while reading Wuthering Heights was the ways women and men were portrayed in some abnormal representations of gender roles, not sticking too closely to gender stereotypes. As Martineau wrote in her piece on government and women’s’ rights, women were often considered the property of their fathers and then their husbands, and were expected to act in a certain way. A “proper” lady did not mix with men in public except formally and with a man at her side. Although Martineau is mostly discussing the political rights (or lack thereof) of women, the social and interpersonal go hand in hand with that. Women of this time were restricted from acting on their own accord, and were expected to be proper and sophisticated all the time. They are expected to stamp out any other impulses while they are still young, and conform to society’s definition of a lady.
Bronte exposes this ugly and repressive side of society through her description of young Catherine Earnshaw’s evolution. At first, Catherine is portrayed as very tom-boyish, running across the moors with Heathcliff all day, refusing to do housework until forced, being reckless and rowdy and spending her time with her brother doing physical activities. When she is sent to the Lintons, however, she loses that personality and instead begins to wear fancy dresses and speak with polite manners as she is under the influence of a family instructed with the task of turning Catherine into a lady. This transformation is portrayed in a negative light, as her relationship with Heathcliff, her closest friend, is damaged. Bronte criticizes the way that society breaks down women and forces to change into someone they’re not, by providing a realistic example of Catherine Earnshaw, and taking her readers on the painful journey of her conversion from a wild, excitable tom-boy to a proper lady.
Reading Martineau’s piece almost immediately made me think of Carlyle’s piece we read previously. Both writers address government and how it could be improved. Carlyle thinks that government is too stagnant, and should evolve with the people it governs, and Martineau thinks that the way the government treats women in particular is unfair and outdated. They both approach it in a similar sense, but my question comes down to this: what was the difference in reception of the two pieces at the time? In Victorian England, woman writers were certainly not as well-respected or taken seriously, so what happened when a woman writer wrote about something serious? How did the double standard manifest in this situation? There are many ways to consider comparisons between the two texts, but I wonder about the differences. In two texts surrounding a similar attitude and position on government– somewhat radical and out of the norm,the audience would have reacted completely differently.