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Examine why the first critics of Wuthering Heights thought the novel was subversive and shocking

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Introduction

Examine why the first critics of Wuthering Heights thought the novel was subversive and shocking. Wuthering Heights was first published in 1847 with the author's name given as Ellis Bell. Wuthering Heights was actually written by Emily Bronte, but she adopted a male alias as female authors rarely got published. Her work was praised for the imagination used, but criticised for its moral ambiguity. Wuthering Heights challenged Victorian ideals and this shocked its first critics. The fact that Emily Bronte felt the need to use a male alias is an indication of how she feared the public would receive her book. Wuthering Heights may be seen as shocking, as Bronte addresses many Victorian ideals with criticism. She does so with unusual characters with flaws and their amoral actions. For example, she challenges Victorian precept such as inequality of the sexes and social class. Bronte's novel also includes ghosts and unexplained dreams which would have disturbed Victorian critics. Religion is also implicitly criticised by Bronte at various points in the novel. Bronte uses literary devices, such as characterisation, language, motifs, and imagery to address themes and the first critics of Wuthering Heights would have found her criticisms scandalous. It is debateable under which genre Wuthering Heights should fall as the plot features many themes. It is often thought of as a gothic horror or a romantic escapism. Once it was discovered (in 1850) that Ellis Bell was actually female, many Victorians viewed it as gothic as this category was associated with women. ...read more.

Middle

"My fingers closed on the fingers of a little, ice-cold hand! The intense horror of nightmare came over me...Terror made me cruel; and, finding it useless to attempt shaking the creature off, I pulled its wrist on to the broken pane, and rubbed it to and fro till the blood ran down and soaked the bed-clothes". The dream is disturbing for the action of cutting Cathy's hand is gruesome and, moreover, neither Lockwood nor Heathcliff believe that the event was actually a dream. This would have shocked readers and this depiction of ghosts and dreams would have been at odds with the religious views of many Victorian readers. Cathy and Heathcliff also appear to renounce religion for nature. In chapter three, Lockwood reads Cathy's diary, in which she speaks of her desire to escape from religious teachings and "have a scamper on the moors". Nature is a key theme in the novel, primarily as the setting of the novel is on the moors. Moreover, the moors are symbolic of Cathy and Heathcliff's love - they are vast, empty and dangerous, however they also represent freedom, due to the vast expanse of land. Wuthering Heights was written during the Industrial Revolution and many people left the countryside in favour of the city. The differences between the country and the city also play a role in Wuthering Heights, as they emphasize the loneliness of the moors and the struggles of the characters. ...read more.

Conclusion

Boundaries also appear throughout the novel in the form of windows, doors, social class, the mind, and love; they are both physical and mental. Bronte also employs the literary device repetition; the names of the characters being reused in each generation, Hindley's degradation of Heathcliff being repeated by Heathcliff's degradation of Hareton, and the love of Edgar and Cathy being repeated by Linton and Catherine. Bronte also uses powerful imagery to describe feelings that are passionate and use emotive language. The imagery often corresponds to nature, for example when Cathy compares Linton and Heathcliff, "as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire". The descriptions relate to their personalities: Linton is the moonbeam, which provides useful light at night; however Heathcliff is the lightning, which is destructive like his character. Furthermore, the descriptions are also often sensual and invoke unrestrained feelings, whether good or bad. Bronte's use of such description would have been found shocking, as it was not expected of a 'weak' woman to portray such provocative feelings. To conclude, the first critics of Wuthering Heights found the novel shocking and subversive because Bronte crosses the boundaries of many Victorian ideals. She addressed the roles of gender, equality of the sexes, education, class, religion and love. Moreover, Bronte did so in a revolutionary way, using techniques such as duel narration, imagery and structure to explore the themes in the novel. Furthermore the first critics would have been shocked purely by the characters in Wuthering Heights and their uncivilised actions. ?? ?? ?? ?? Page 1 of 5 ...read more.

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