The Gothic Inversion in Wuthering Heights

“They shut the house door below, never noting our absence, it was so full of people. She made no stay at the stairs’-head, but mounted farther, to the garret where Heathcliff was confined, and called him. He stubbornly declined answering for a while: she persevered, and finally persuaded him to hold communion with her through the boards. I let the poor things converse unmolested, till I supposed the songs were going to cease, and the singers to get some refreshment: then I clambered up the ladder to warn her. Instead of finding her outside, I heard her voice within. The little monkey had crept by the skylight of one garret, along the roof, into the skylight of the other, and it was with the utmost difficulty I could coax her out again. When she did come, Heathcliff came with her, and she insisted that I should take him into the kitchen, as my fellow-servant had gone to a neighbour’s, to be removed from the sound of our ‘devil’s psalmody,’ as it pleased him to call it. I told them I intended by no means to encourage their tricks: but as the prisoner had never broken his fast since yesterday’s dinner, I would wink at his cheating Mr. Hindley that once.”

Excerpt From: Emily Bronte. “Wuthering Heights (Barnes & Noble Classics Series).” Apple Books.

It is in this excerpt that Emily Brontë’s use of gothic terminology and imagery inverts the reader’s understanding of what is good and what is evil. After throwing hot apple sauce in Edgar’s face, Heathcliff is confined to the estate’s attic. In this scene, what happens “above” and “below” confounds the reader’s usual understanding of good, evil and their respective locations (based on religious doctrine). Usually, things that are associated with “light” and “goodness” are elevated to parallel the location of Heaven or divinity. However, the joy and festivities are happening behind the “house door below”. In this way, the activity that one would register as joyful and lighthearted is occurring on a lower physical plane in proximity to “hell” and “darkness”. Conversely, Catherine must ascend a set of stairs to retrieve Heathcliff from the attic in which he is imprisoned. The situation of Heathcliff’s imprisonment can be likened to darkness and evil, as Heathcliff is perceived by the people of the estate, but the elevation of the room in which he is confined indicates otherwise. Additionally, “the skylight” that peaks through the cracks of the garret indicates that there is a subliminal battle between “light” and “dark” forces. While the plot itself influences the reader’s initial understanding of Heathcliff as evil and the people of Thrushcross Grange as good and joyful, the location of each of these scenarios inverts our understanding of their respective characters and likeness to good and evil.

In addition to the elements of location, certain terms and phrases used in this excerpt indicate the impure nature of the people who were responsible for Heathcliff’s confinement. The word “communion” is used to describe the conversation that occurs between Catherine and Heathcliff in the attic. While this is a general term that describes an intimate gathering between people, it also evokes the thought of Christian practice, especially the biblical story of The Last Supper, the final dinner between Jesus and the apostles before his crucifixion. In addition, Catherine refers to the festivities that are occurring downstairs as “‘devil’s psalmody,'” further indication of the evil nature of the celebration and its participants.

 

One thought on “The Gothic Inversion in Wuthering Heights”

  1. This was a very cool read! There is so much religious imagery surrounding Catherine and Heathcliff, and so it was very intriguing to see how you broke the scene down. The two exist within their own “abnormal” religious space. Catherine’s chapter 9 speech also features confused religiosity where she describes how “heaven did not seem…home.” (Bronte 57). Even the ending reflects this, where the couple do achieve their “heaven” of wandering together as ghosts for all eternity, despite going against “normal” standards. The idea of religion acts extremely interestingly, as your post illustrated so well.

    Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. 1847. Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1992.

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