Romanticism & Realism in Emily Brontė's Wuthering Heights
& Characteristics of 19th-Century Literary Realism
(online outline) - ENG 109, Prof. C. Agatucci, Spring 2007
REVIEW also Assigned Background Reading:
--“The Nineteenth Century: Romantic Self & Social Reality" (Davis and others 530-547);
--Introduction to Emily Brontė & Wuthering Heights (Davis and others 679-682)
--European Romanticism: Late 18th - Early 19th Centuries (handout)
Online version:
See also paper handouts distributed in class.
--Wuthering Heights Reading Guide (handout)
Online version:

 Emily Brontė (U.K., 1818-1848); Wuthering Heights (1st published 1847)

Charlotte Brontė on sister Emily’s Wuthering Heights:
"…She did not know what she had done;"
such creative artists “work passively under dictates
[they] neither delivered nor could question.”
Romantic Elements in Wuthering Heights

     “Strange” story: non-normative, original, powerful, imaginative

     Characters intense, passionate, violent: emotional excess

     Super-natural: anti-rational, primitive folk legends

     Doesn’t follow literary “rules”: experimental mix of literary forms & traditions

     Remote, exotic (if not Gothic) Setting: northern England's Yorkshire province, far from urbanized city centers like London; Wuthering Heights is dominated by the wild, inhospitable moors and sublime, sensual, primordial forces of nature.

     Dark, dangerous Romantic quest of a divided self, across conflicted external and internal landscapes, exploring the limits of feeling, passion, subjectivity

     Costs of such dark, dangerous Romantic journeys are usually high = suffering & loss for self and others:  e.g. Heathcliff a disruptive force – no way back to community / society.  The ultimate goal may never be achieved.

     Internal & external conflicts:

    --Nature vs. Civilization

    --Wild vs. Tame

    --Deep & elemental vs. Superficial & impermanent;

    --Natural impulses vs. Artificial restraint

      Byronic hero/ine – [attractive, sympathetic?] villain (see below) . . .

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George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824):

“He stood a stranger in this breathing world,
An erring spirit from another hurl’d . . .
What had he been?  What was he, thus unknown?
Who walked their world, his lineage all unknown?”

--from Lara (ca. 1813-1814)

Romantic Byronic hero/ine-villain

     Rebel against social, religious custom–free, outside constraints of society (outlaw, mis-anthropist, renegade)

     Loner, outcast - melancholy, brooding, withdrawn from society

     Emotional honesty: seeks deeper truths

     Self-destructive & destroys others, tortured by secret misery or guilt

       Divided character:
warring contraries, internal & external conflicts, violent extremes

     Refusal to compromise

     Vengeful, vindictive, angry; brutal relationships & violent passions

     Unrestrained rebellious spirits

     Twin souls: union of  feminine + masculine sides

See also this recommended web source:

"The Satanic and Byronic Hero." "The Romantic Period: Topics." Norton Topics Online,
           Norton Anthology of English Literature. W. W. Norton, 2003-2007. 15 Apr. 2007

This websource offers background on the development of "The Satanic and Byronic Hero" by Romantic period writers, to help students understand the literary-critical view that Wuthering Heights' major characters Heathcliff and the first Catherine are "Byronic" hero/ines--that is, sharing characteristics with heroes of the poetry of George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824), a celebrated and notorious English Romantic poet who led a scandalous life and died a tragic death fighting for Greek independence.  The Byronic hero/ine has these characteristics:  s/he is contemptuous and rebellious against conventional morality and defies fate; is proud, moody, cynical, misunderstood, with defiance and misery on his/her brow--often stemming from a secret misery rooted in a mysterious past--and is passionate, capable of strong and deep affection, but implacable in revenge. 

Discussion Question: Are Catherine & Heathcliff dual Byronic protagonists?

Characteristics of 19th-Century Literary Realism

Realistic novel becomes dominant in 19th century
> Industrial Revolution, rise of middle class, expansion of education & literacy, etc.
> P
opular press journalists, female writers and novelists [often first publishing under pseudonyms], periodical & book publishers, lending libraries, etc., can make $$$ by writing and publishing for a new expanded and differentiated market of readers.

Characteristics of Literary Realism:

     Represent everyday lives of ordinary people (though heightened) “mirror” held up to “real” life (of middle & lower classes)

     "Domestic" Subjects focus on people living in society & their relationships: (e.g. birth, death; money, love, courtship, marriage; childhood, adolescence, parenthood; infidelity, etc.); address social problems of times & embrace art's "critical function"

     Mixed characters - protagonists and antagonists - of both good & bad, strong & weak, sympathetic & alienating elements
(vs. Romance's
idealized all-good hero/ines vs. all-bad villains)

     Particularized settings & cultural circumstances (of time, place, speech, customs, socio-economic situation); Accumulations of realistic detail and sensory “physical” descriptions (pre-TV)

     Conflicts:  protagonist (not “hero”) vs. antagonist (not “villain”)

     Plots: cause-effect logic, determinism; plausible dramas of social causes and their consequences (vs. unbelievable coincidences, etc.)

Create "Illusion" of Reality &  Hide the Art(ifice)

     Disappearing author: distanced, “disembodied,” “objective” narrative voice

      “Show” in dialogue, action, detail -  (vs. “tell” by omniscient, authoritative narrator closely identified to voice and values of implicit author)

     Creation of authenticating narrative frames and/or participant-narrators the viewpoints and values of which cannot be equated to those of the implicit author:
- i.e. omniscience is limited,  mediating point of view is "unreliable" and/or "naive" - 

Some Realistic Elements in Wuthering Heights

     Middle and lower class Characters featured; Class lines drawn e.g. between haves (Lintons) vs. have nots (Earnshaws, peasants)

     "Domestic" subjects focused on key stages, relationships, conflicts, socio-economic factors that characterize and affect ordinary human life (e.g. birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, death; family relations, love, courtship & marriage; money, class, social status, security; etc.).

    Cultural geography featured in WH and chronology of family history are carefully worked out; 

   Regional descriptive detail accumulates to realistically particularize the time, place, culture of the setting – e.g. WH landscape of the moors, character of Joseph - (vs. Gothic tales)

    Plot: despite incursions of irrational excess in some WH characters and purported super-natural elements, the plot and conflicts of WH advance by plausibly logical chain of cause-effect events traceable to WH characters' natures, choices/decisions, interactions, and their consequences.

     Narrative Frame structure of Double Narrators (1. Lockwood & 2. Nelly Dean): 
--“Authenticating” narrative frame structure helps monitoring readers "suspend disbelief" by providing a plausible scenario for the telling of the WH story--i.e. curious Lockwood entreats Dean to relate the story--while we unacknowledged WH readers are implicitly enabled to listen in.
--Main participant-narrator Nelly Dean helps make this "strange story" believable, because she has been a direct witness to many of the scenes in the story she relates; and her character is conventional, down-to earth, and ruled by common sense.   human “mediator” who helps make this "strange story" plausible;  but at the same time, this "human" participant-narrator can sometimes be "unreliable" (e.g. dislikes Cathy & may wish to color/distort representation of her own role in novel's events)

     And you can probably think of other Realistic elements in WH, yes? . . . .

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