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  • Subject area(s): English Literature
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  • Published on: 15th October 2019
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  • Number of pages: 2

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Wuthering Heights is commonly considered to be a classic of English literature and many see it to be a classic example of Gothic Literature – however upon reflection it could be argued that there is a constant overlapping of Gothic and realist domestic genre which sheds light on such a very distinct way of depicting the novel. The distinctiveness of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights can be put down to the specific ways in which it depicts and combines the two major fictional genres - the Gothic and realist domestic fiction.

Wuthering Heights explores and overlaps literary traditions and genres. The combination of romantic features commonly associated with eighteenth-century Gothic novels entwined with the developing Victorian traditions of Domestic fiction in a realist mode is present throughout the entirety of Wuthering Heights. Brontë’s novel mixes both genres in numerous ways, partially integrating them together but also creating many juxtapositions between them creating one of the most distinctive features of Wuthering Heights. Wuthering heights takes a significant step towards an idealization of family as well as a sense of community which in turn plays into the general theme of domestic Victorian fiction – however Brontë’s use of Romanticism through folk material, ballads and the representation of the romantic quests of one’s self-overlap the domestic genre and lean towards a depiction generally associated with a Gothic genre.

The novel written by Brontë has proved very difficult to categorize due to constant overlapping nature of its genres. Upon first observation we naturally categorize Wuthering Heights as a Gothic novel however the overlapping genres open the novel up to alternative classifications. The initial reaction that we gage from Wuthering Heights enables us to observe how the features of the text represent those shared with eighteenth- and nineteenth- century Domestic realism. The novel opens with very domestic literary forms; a date of 1801, and the discreet description of the domestic interior and surroundings at Heights – however progressing along to the second and third chapters, the appearance of Catherine’s ghost and Heathcliff’s fervent outburst plunge the novel back into the literary genre of Gothic and display once again how there is a constant overlapping of genre within the text that provides much of the texts extraordinary power.

The first generation plot of Wuthering Heights that features Catherine and Heathcliff is usually deemed to be predominantly Gothic in genre, and is associated with its Romanticism, its mystical, whimsical and supernatural elements, and its representation of wild nature, unlike the second generation plot of Wuthering Heights which suggests Brontë is more concerned in celebrating the regeneration and rebirth brought about by the passage of time and the rise of a new generation emphasizing domestic life. Gothic and Domestic are continuous throughout Wuthering heights – Brontë uses both genres to produce a very distinct structural continuity – carried out in various ways through playing with the themes both together and alone.

The Victorian Domestic Realism seems to be a narrative that is progressively embedded within the Gothic framework presented in Wuthering Heights – This feature is very distinct for a novel of this time period as Brontë incorporates vivid anecdotal features into a consistently and meticulously thought-out plot, dealing with the domestic relationships of the characters within the second half of the novel.  The second generation story of Linton Heathcliff and Catherine Linton displays a graduation from early Gothic stages to the conventional conclusion of a Victorian Domestic novel. We observe the Gothic traits of genre during the period in which Hareton implicitly collaborating the abduction and kidnapping of Catherine, the marriage between Catherine and Linton and her imprisonment at Heights. The domestic genre comes into play when Hareton takes on the role of hero and Catherine (the heroine), overcome the difficulties of a hindering society and retreat into a subdued state of domestic life where family and social values are reintroduced, with Catherine and Hareton settling away from the Heights. Despite the Gothic genre usually being associated with the first generation and the Domestic with the second generation – the novel’s narrative structure and its disjointed sequence of events tends to blur the margins between the genres and generations resulting in an overlap of genre but also a distinct outcome for the way in which the novel is perceived.

One of the distinct features that comes within Brontë’s adaptation of Wuthering Heights is locating the domestic as the source of the Gothic – the continuity of Gothic and Domestic genre is also depicted in the way in which the second generation repeats and mirrors the first generation story but prevails in a slightly different ending. However, Wuthering Heights traces the development of the modern family and its fictional form of Domestic realism, other distinct features of the novel - its unconventional structure and sequence, its abstract narrative form, and the persistence of Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship - work together to keep not only domestic life before the reader, but also the domestic genre with gothic undertones: Emily Brontë’s mixture of genres and the particular genres she chooses to amalgamate plays into being one of the most distinctive features of Wuthering Heights and gives way to the wider importance the novel has as a gothic literature classic.

The constant overlapping of Gothic and Domestic is one of the distinctive features of Wuthering Heights and can be seen all throughout the novel. There is no doubt that the two genres are quintessentially the core of Wuthering Heights and is saturated into the framework of the novel. The constant overlapping is one of the most distinctive features and allows the book to be open to different avenues of interpretation. It provides the novel with a second dimension to its Gothic characterization and depicts Brontë’s abstractly unique writing style.  

There are various emerging characteristics that relate to the form of Victorian fiction and the domestic genre within Wuthering Heights. The overlapping of genres emphasizes the newly dominant form of Gothic genre and also focuses on the romantic elements of the Domestic novels. The romance present between Catherine and Hareton is a classic example of Domestic romance, which exposes and explores the devices of the genre in a different light. It is the romance present between Catherine and Hareton that opens the domestic genre up for discussion. Wuthering Heights outlines the modern family through the romance between Catherine and Hareton – Catherine and Hareton represent the modern family withdrawing to a private domestic home rather than the workplace. Catherine and Hareton are displayed as residing in this newly domestic home before their marriage had taken place and removal to the Grange. Within Wuthering Heights Hareton’s cultivation of a garden is highly symbolic and mirrors the transformation of the Heights into a haven of peace and calmness to which men retire from a routine world of business, in order to develop their gardens, their pastimes and the domestic ideal – which provides a stark contrast to the gothic undertones present within the primary half of Wuthering Heights.

To conclude, we are able to deduce that despite Wuthering Heights being Gothic in its essence, it is the Gothic elements which allow the novel to transcend the genre of domestic realism and make it one of the diverse features of Brontë’s body of work. The constant overlapping of gothic and domestic is seen throughout both primary and secondary parts of the novel and constant brings domestic life back to the forefront of the reader’s mind despite the gothic bones it stems from. This overlap of genres is arguably one of the most distinctive features within Wuthering Heights and sheds light on why the novel is considered to be one of the greatest English literature novels. Brontë presents new twists to an old plot that is unexpected of a Gothic novel and upon close analysis we are able to observe how Brontë   presents Wuthering Heights as a complex fusion of domestic and Gothic; where the Gothic is never explained and it is never surpassed by the domestic; they stay together, overlapping and apart to balance each other out.

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