“Man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains. ” – Jean-Jacques Rousseau Many readers enjoy ‘Wuthering Heights’ as a form of escapism, a flight from reality into the seclusion and eerie mists of the Yorkshire moors, where the supernatural seems commonplace and the searing passion between Catherine and Heathcliff absolute. Yet Wuthering Heights reaches much further than its atmospheric setting, exploring the complexities of family relationships and Victorian society’s restrictions; similarly, in ‘A Room with a View’, E.
M. Forster expands the relationship between Lucy and George to address wider social issues. Both novels explore and dramatise the conflict between human nature and society, between nature and culture. Both Emily Bronte and Forster use setting to represent nature and civilisation. In Bronte’s novel, Wuthering Heights symbolises the wildness of nature, whereas Thrushcross Grange embodies comfort and civilisation, protected from the violence and tumult of the moors by surrounding walls.
All the particularly vicious acts are committed in Wuthering Heights, such as Hindley’s abuse of Heathcliff and his own mistreatment of Hareton; thus Wuthering Heights is inextricably linked to aggression and violence, both through the “atmospheric tumult” of the weather that surrounds the house and its inhabitants. Architecturally, Thrushcross Grange is a more luxurious house than Wuthering Heights (Lockwood describes it as “grotesque” in its decoration, the harsh diction exaggerating his distaste).
The moors are a literal wilderness surrounding the two houses, acting as a constant antagonist in the lives of the characters; and as a means of diminishing the importance of human culture by comparison with nature’s sheer power. Forster separates the natural and the civilised world by using different cultural values in contrast to each other. Forster uses the distinction between the freedom of Italian culture which Lucy glimpses through the window, and the stiff propriety of the drawing room if the pension, the representation of Edwardian English society in Italy.
Repressed by Charlotte and clinging to her Baedeker, Lucy struggles at first to free herself from the idea of how a well mannered, cultured young Lady should behave within the normal constraints of English society. Just as Lucy is changed by the influence of Italy, Cathy is also transformed by the confinement of Thrushcross Grange. She and Heathcliff are looking through the window, mocking Edgar and Isabella Linton, the two, seemingly well mannered children that live there. Bronte stages it so that the two sets of children mirror each other, the savage on one side of the glass, and the “well-brought-up” on the other.
However, Bronte is not schematic in using the setting to contrast the representations of nature and civility, but complicates the matter. Edgar and Isabella are shut on the inside, and although Heathcliff and Cathy admire the material elegance of Thrushcross Grange, (“we would have thought ourselves in heaven! ”), Heathcliff says “I’d not exchange a thousand lives, my condition here, for Edgar Linton’s at the Grange” – acting as a critic of the Lintons artificial social refinement. Behind this facade lies a true savagery of character, with Isabella “screaming as if witches were running red hot needles into her”.
It is made clear by his observations of the Lintons, that Heathcliff’s outlook is more down-to-earth, despite his rough outward appearance. Likewise, George, lacking the refinement and gentility of an Edwardian gentleman, has a deeper understanding of life beyond the niceties of society, thus enabling him to love Lucy on a deeper level than Cecil, demonstrating the extent to which social conventions are a barrier to life and love. Cathy, bitten by a dog and taken inside the Grange, is not only removed from her wild surroundings, but also from her uninhibited childhood with Heathcliff, with whom she shares fierce disdain for conformity.
Together, they threw away their prayer books in protest and in doing so symbolically discard the constraints posed by religion. Cathy and Heathcliff cast off any guidance offered by society, whereas Lucy clings to her Baedeker, afraid of making decisions and forming her own opinions – things that were not expected of a woman in Edwardian society. Cathy, seduced by the comfort and luxury of the Grange, becomes civilised to the point of being unrecognisable to Heathcliff when she “sails in” to Wuthering heights in her fine clothes.
Ellen describes the reception of, “instead of the wild hatless little savage jumping into the house, and rushing to squeeze us all breathless … a very dignified person”. The reader sees the events through the eyes of Ellen, and although she certainly approves of the transformation, it is likely that Bronte, and subsequently the reader, does not. The fact that she refrains from displaying her joy at being reunited with her family and will not hug them, suggests that her unguarded passion has been repressed by the influence of the refined Lintons.
In much the same way, Lucy, while visiting Cecil’s mother, “kept to Schuman” as was proper, rather than releasing her passion in a torrent of Beethoven as she did in Italy. Both women have conformed to the obligations of society rather than freely expressing emotion, resulting in loss of self and surrender to “darkness” – the concept of which is more ambiguous for Bronte, as Heathcliff is the main association with darkness, described by Catherine as an “unreclaimed creature”, not quite part of the human world.
Wuthering Heights was badly received in Victorian society as it lacked a clear moral standpoint. Dante Rossetti described it as “ a fiend of a book, an incredible monster”, evil in its negative portrayal of religion. Indeed, there is ambivalence in the portrayals of the hero and the villain. The reader has no strong feelings towards passive Edgar Linton, the only character who the Victorians might view as morally upright . Yet, by the 1920’s, when traditional ideas of Victorian propriety were being challenged, critics acknowledged the nature of the book’s message was metaphysical rather than worldly.
Lucy lives at a time when traditional values on the cusp of change, and her struggle represents young people’s struggle between conformity and the desire to discard the moral values which had previously been so strongly ingrained in society. Heathcliff is neither Hero nor villain but the physical embodiment of nature against which no social values stand. Having no cultural background, he is described using imagery typically attributed to moody environment such as “overcast” and “clouding”, representing the uninhibited, although damaged nature if his soul.
Edgar Linton on the other hand is restrained by the conventions of Victorian society which ultimately renders him incapable of loving Catherine with the same intensity as Heathcliff. By pushing aside her love for Heathcliff, her “eternal rocks” upon which her soul’s survival depends and marrying Linton, asserting that that she will be “the greatest woman in the neighbourhood”, Cathy builds herself a prison of self-control which leads inevitably to her destruction.
This was not unusual for woman in Victorian society, who, having succumbed to the social pressures and hierarchies, found themselves repressed and submissive – a slave to the society they are subject to. Indeed, this predicament is not confined to the Victorian era, but a common universal theme. For Catherine, Heathcliff is everything that society obliges her to reject, the part of herself that is “half savage, hardy and free”, and her longing for Heathcliff is inextricably linked with her desire for the tumult of the heights.
Cathy demands, “in distress” that the window be opened so that she can feel the breeze from the heights. Keith Sagar observes that in rejecting “book, thought, and relationships”, only their love for each other remains. Separation, and therefore rejection of their true selves, presents an inner conflict that can only be resolved by reunion with each other and nature. In her portrayal of the second generation of characters, Bronte demonstrates the potential harmony between nature and culture and by bringing together both the culture of the Grange and the freedom of the Heights..
Cathy introduces books to the Heights which she uses as a form of escapism and eventually to teach Harton to read, representing the influence of culture on the violence of nature. The books that are rejected by Cathy and Heathcliff in favour of resolute savagery (and by Lucy as she rejects the conformist outlook of the Baedeker) are the trigger for Hareton’s transformation and ultimately the catalyst for providing a harmony between the extremes of savagery and civilised.
Nature endures over culture and is unaffected by the inconsequential disputes between characters, which change and develop over two generations. Nature represents consistency in the face of change. Similarly, the love between Heathcliff and Cathy is unremittingly absolute, and transcends the barriers of society and even death. Bronte poignantly uses natural imagery to demonstrate not only the power and endurance of Cathy’s love, but also its necessity, “My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods: time will change it…
My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath: a source of little visible delight, but necessary”, the strong position in the sentence adding weight to the word “necessary” and emphasising its importance. Both Bronte and Forster convey the idea that to ignore and repress something fundamental to personality inevitably results in self destruction; in Forster’s terms, “they have yielded to the only enemy that matters-the enemy within”, the enemy being the tendency to conform, and them referring to those trapped by their submission to society’s obligations, acknowledging only their Freudian persona.
The repetition of the word “enemy” forces the reader to acknowledge that this conformity should be fought. However, Bronte recognises the danger of unbridled passion and the human need for culture, as Catherine and Heathcliff’s total rejection of society mean the only place they can find happiness is in death, whereas the balance between nature and culture enables Cathy and Hareton, unlike their parents, to achieve happiness in life.