Nature in Wuthering Heights

Emily Bronte wrote her first and only novel in 1847 under the pseudonym Ellis Bell. However, it was not approved of by Victorian critics who thought of it as brutal and controversial. It was not until Emily Bronte’s death that the book gained popularity and acclaim, and became a masterpiece of English novel.
The book is a combination of passion, mystery and doomed love. Its most characteristic element is nature which is as important in the book as any other character. Nature lives its own life. It seems as if it took control over the plot, but it did not. It is more like a background that gives special atmosphere to the events. Nature in the book is like Catherine and Heathcliff’s souls, wild. It seems that it has destructive power, but it does not. In fact, it is always present together with strong emotions and passions. That is why we see so much of it in Wuthering Heights, where civilization does not reach.
At the beginning of chapter one, we may read about nature’s influence on it:
Wuthering Heights is the name of Mr. Heathcliff’s dwelling, ‘Wuthering’ being a significant provincial adjective, descriptive of the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there, at all times, indeed: one may guess the power of the north wind, blowing over the edge, by the exercise slant of a few, stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun.[1]
By this description we learn that the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights have much closer contact with nature than anybody else. The place is wild and free of any human interference. Those who live there have to accept the fact that they are going to ‘share’ the place with nature forces governing it. However, nature is not entirely unfriendly, although frightening at times.
Jacques Blondel in his article entitled ‘The Role of Nature in Wuthering Heights’[2] claims:
The explanation of the adjective ‘wuthering’ situates the drama in a desert where there is no natural obstacle, and where the body can undergo physical influences which are in part the origin of the passions. The wind is the symbol of nature’s power acting on these beings, just as it heralded Emily Bronte’s revelations. Under its influence, the individual is no longer in total control of himself; part of his will is taken over by the natural element. He feels more isolated, but not totally crushed as he could in the high mountains.
In this way he suggests that nature is a part of each human being. Those whose dwelling is in Wuthering Heights are more prone to its destructive influence than others. Blondel suggests that nature is a vicious element trying to deprive people of control over their own lives. Nevertheless, there are some examples in the book proving that nature only ‘takes part’ in the events, creating background rather than influencing others. One of the examples on the fact that nature is not an evil force is the description of moors. They appear quite a lot, being most of the times violent and scary. However, there are moments, when the readers can experience them being calm and friendly. B. H. Lehman[3] says:
The moor, we are reminded, is not all furze and whinstone: violence and terror and stark fortitude seem to have a special appropriateness in that landscape; but of old time the Lintons were merry in their crimson and white and gold drawing room and gay in their park, and Heathcliff and Cathy as children happy on the Heights, and now Hareton and Catherine are taking a goodnight look at one another by the moon’s light; these moods also are appropriate on the moor.
The same feelings are shared by Stephen Coote, who claims that nature is nothing else but wilderness. It can be pleasant at times, but it can be harsh and severe as well. Humans are part of it, so they share some traits. They can be like Heathcliff, unpredictable and violent or like Catherine and Hareton, calm, loving and good-willed. He says:
We are aware of the moors, the wildness of the countryside and of the weather. Lockwood is caught in a snowstorm, Catherine becomes feverish after walking in a storm. The older Mr. and Mrs. Linton die from exposure to the same one. Nature is often harsh and extreme. The people are similar. Even when they are dead the moors invade the part of the churchyard in which they are buried. While Emily uses moors and for some of her most extreme effects, we should also notice that with the moors can be associated a far different type of love than between Catherine and Heathcliff. Primroses grow there and gardens can be salvaged. Summer days are pleasant and as natural and supportive of the type of love that goes with them as winter is wild and destructive.[4]
Therefore, nature only is there. It is present at Wuthering Heights, it is a part of every human being. Seasons go in cycles, spring and summer being pleasant for the inhabitants of Heights, winter and autumn being unfriendly and bringing death. However, seasons and storms, and windy weather is not dependent on the plot; it lives its own life and creates setting of the book.
            Because Cathy and Heathcliff are a part of nature, they cannot live without it. It is in them. Even after Cathy’s death, she chose to be buried close to it:
The place of Catherine‘s interment, to the surprise of the villagers, was neither in the chapel, under the carved monument of the Lintons, nor yet by the tombs of her own relations, outside. It was dug on a green slope, in a corner of a kirkyard, where the wall is so low that heath and bilberry plants have climbed over it from the moor; and peat mould almost buries it.[5]
Emily Bronte wanted to make scenes in the book colorful, wanted them to live, be vivid and detailed so that they seemed more real. That was possible thanks to the nature descriptions, which also added special atmosphere. That is perhaps why the book was believed to be Gothic novel when it first appeared. Later on, however, this false idea, was rejected. In the gothic novel, setting is the distinctive feature, that is true, however, Gothic novels are nowhere near as complex as Wuthering Heights, having so many themes and layers. Moreover, as mentioned earlier, nature in the book can be as lovable and friendly as wild and frightening, just like love and passion between its characters.
Aleksandra Kinowska, Konceptualizacja miłości i nienawiści w powieści Wichrowe Wzgórza Emily Bronte i jej dwóch polskich przekładach, Kraków, 2003.
B.H. Lehman, ‘Of Material, Subject, and Form: Wuthering Heights’, University of California Publications 1955.
Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights, London, 2003.
Georges Bataille, przeł. Maria Wodzyńska-Walicka, Literatura a zło: Emily Bronte, Bauldelaire, Michelet, Blake, Sade, Prouse, Kafka, Genet, Kraków, 1992.
Helena M. Ardholm, The emblem and the Emblematic Habit of Mind in Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, Goteborg, 1999.
Jacques Blondel, Emily Bronte. A Critical Anthology, England, 1973.
Stephen Coote, Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights, New York, 1984.
Thomas A. Vogler, Twentieth century interpretations of Wuthering Heights, USA, 1968.

[1] Bronte Emily, Wuthering Heights, London, Penguin Books, 2003: 4.

[2] Blondel Jacques, Emily Bronte. A Critical Anthology, ed. Jean-Pierre Petit, ‘The Role of Nature in Wuthering Heights’, England, Penguin Books, 1973: 147.

[3] B.H. Lehman, ‘Of Material, Subject, and Form: Wuthering Heights’, University of California Publications, English Studies, vol.2, 1955: 125.

[4] Stephen Coote, Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights, New York, 1984: 63.

[5] Bronte Emily, Wuthering Heights, London, Penguin Books, 2003:170.


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