The Gothic as a force of randomness in a cartesian world

“So!” she said, without being startled or surprised; “the days have worn away, have they?”

“Yes, ma’am. To-day is —”

“There, there, there!” with the impatient movement of her fingers. “I don’t want to know. Are you ready to play?”

“I was obliged to answer in some confusion, “I don’t think I am, ma’am”.

“Not at cards again?” she demanded, with a searching look.

“Yes, ma’am; I could do that, if I was wanted”.

“Since this house strikes you old and grave, boy,” said Miss Havisham, impatiently, “and you are unwilling to play, are you willing to work?”

I could answer this inquiry with a better heart than I had been able to find for the other question, and I said I was quite willing”.

The Satis House is the emblematic place of contradiction. A site of continuity and discontinuity. A scenario of the preparation for life and the stagnation of life. Pip and Miss Havisham hang on a spectrum, whose edges go from joviality and naivety to dullness and stasis, respectively. However, they do share something in common: both of their lives have been deeply affected by great expectations.

In the passage that I selected above, Pip is visiting Miss Havisham one more time. We can see the torpidity in Miss Havisham’s behavior, because she asks about the quick passing of time without being surprised. However, now that she has Pip as a visitor, her stasis transforms itself in impatience or even eagerness. She wants Pip to play again with her and Estella. The conversations are short and straightforward. Miss Havisham insists on playing with Pip, even after he said he didn’t think he was ready to play. She suggests then that he should work with her, and he agrees. Some moments after this passage, Pip goes inside the party room, where there is a rotten wedding cake. Everything is in a state of putrefaction in the room: no air, no sun, an excess of yellowish fabric everywhere, worn by time.

Miss Havisham was hours away of getting married when her husband-to-be abandons her. Time has stopped for her, because she stopped seeing meaning in life. She was in love, she wanted to build a happy life alongside her future spouse, but her great expectations were broken by the unpredictable hands of fate. She wants Pip to play with her as a way of compensating for the lust she missed. She wants Pip to work (and that means, going around the cake table many times with her), because she wants to imagine what it would have been like if the party had actually happened. She doesn’t want to face reality, she is forever stuck in time, wondering and wandering, projecting her own hypothetical scenario towards Pip.

Pip is in the Satis House, but, in opposition to Miss Havisham, he is being prepared for his great expectations. He gladly wants to work, and he even considered playing again, although not being that willing. The house works differently for Pip: its stagnation doesn’t affect him, and it actually represents a rite of passage. He goes several times to the mansion, and slowly learns about love, sexuality, masculinity and the labor world.

Both characters expect change in their lives, but both are carried away by unpredictable events. Miss Havisham had great expectations for her life after her marriage, but they didn’t happen. Pip has great expectations (he wants to live a different life from the one he has in the countryside), and he is suddenly taken to the Satis house, being subjected to adults’ decisions. This space, so gothic, represents the unpredictability and mystery of life, in a society which praised science and rationalism. Dickens ultimately wanted the Victorian reader, who was excited to this fresh, revigorated thinking, to be aware of life’s randomness.

The sublime as eternal torn in the Gothic novel

“On an afternoon in October, or the beginning of November, a fresh watery afternoon, when the turf and paths were rustling with moist, withered leaves, and the cold, blue sky was half hidden by clouds, dark grey steamers, rapidly mounting from the west, and boding abundant rain”. (Page 209)


This is one of the many passages in Wuthering Heights that portray a very important tenet of the Gothic novel: the sublime. According to the Cambridge dictionary, the sublime refers to something “of overwhelming greatness, grandeur, beauty”. We can see a “tug-of-war” between two opposing forces: “overwhelming”, which represents a more negative feeling and “greatness, grandeur, beauty”, which are nouns that embody positivity or happiness.


The passage contains in itself clusters of antagonism. It’s a “fresh watery afternoon”, with “cold, blue sky”. However, this same sky is half hidden by “clouds, dark grey steamers”. The blue sky will be soon covered by them and greyness will prevail. The “watery” afternoon makes the reader sense the change in humidity and in the air pressure, or, in other words, the anticipation, the building up of tension. Another contrasting set is the moist present in the turf and paths and the dry, withered leaves. Lush life and decay side by side. Finally, the verb “rustle” is very sublime: hearing the sound of the leaves rustling in the wind is overwhelmingly beautiful. It is an eerie sound.


Why do the Gothic novel use the sublime as a background scenario to its plot? Because the Gothic fiction itself is antagonistic. Roger Luckhurst, in his article “Late Victorian Gothic Tales”, says that the Gothic is “disordered” and “dark” (page xi), as the clouds mounting in the passage and “labyrinthine”, as the moisty paths. It also mixes up categories of “life”, such as the turf, and “death”, such as the “withered leaves”. Luckhurst talks about the “… undamming of dark forces that rush into and insidiously undermine the order of everyday life”. It’s the rain which will transform the blue skies.


The sublime scenario ultimately highlights the Gothic plot. When the narrative leaves the suffocating houses of the novel, the readers find themselves in the moors, with its open spaces and its mystery. We want to explore this space and see what in the other side of the moor, but there are many obstacles. The moors, as the Gothic genre, “… inflicts exorbitant punishments” (page xii) on those who dare to walk on them, or better, those who “step outside the norm”. Cathy wants to have a wealthy life with Mr. Linton but finds misery. She finds true love in Heathcliff, but also death. Money and love are so enticing, but the Gothic genre imposes punishments for these earthly desires. Therefore, the sublime mirrors these dangerous desires, complementing and emphasising the eternal torn that the characters suffer.

Why not have a more gothic ending?

For this Blog Post, I wanted to focus on two parts on the final 2 pages of Wuthering Heights. I was confused about the ending and how it felt a bit underwhelming considering all the trauma and conflict that occurred throughout the novel. On page 336, Bronte gives us a final ghostly image of Heathcliff and presumably Catherine, walking through the moors as Heathcliff looks on. “I was going to the Grange one evening – a dark evening threatening thunder… I encountered a little boy with a sheep and two lambs before him, he was crying terribly, and I supposed the lambs were skittish, and would not be guided” (Bronte 336). Here we get an undetailed description of Heathcliff and a woman in a phantom-like state, which is underwhelming compared to the gothic ghost scene at the window with Lockwood, especially considering this is the closing scene of the book. I expected to have more images of Heathcliff as a ghost as it seemed to me that the final chapters were building to this. One reason for this underwhelming gothic ending might be because of the concluding lines of the story, when Lockwood questions “How anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers, for the sleepers in that quiet earth” (Bronte 337). Perhaps the reasoning for the limited representation of Heathcliff as a ghost is to uphold this “quiet earth” ending. I suspect that this is Bronte’s way of giving Heathcliff and Catherine a “quiet slumber”, where they can wander the moors together only to be seen by the occasional shepherd. Maybe this quiet ending to the novel is to give Heathcliff a happy ending where he can finally be with Catherine as ghosts in the afterlife. If we had a more exciting and action-packed ending where Heathcliff terrorizes the moors as a ghost, the final quote from Lockwood would feel much more out of place.

Gothic Character Paradoxes in Wuthering Heights

“[Mr. Earnshaw] died quietly in his chair one October evening, seated by the fire-side. A high wind blustered round the house, and roared in the chimney: it sounded wild and stormy, yet it was not cold, and we were all together—I, a little removed from the hearth, busy at my knitting, and Joseph reading his Bible near the table (for the servants generally sat in the house then, after their work was done). Miss Cathy had been sick, and that made her still; she leant against her father’s knee, and Heathcliff was lying on the floor with his head in her lap. I remember the master, before he fell into a doze, stroking her bonny hair—it pleased him rarely to see her gentle—and saying, “Why canst thou not always be a good lass, Cathy?” And she turned her face up to his, and laughed, and answered, “Why cannot you always be a good man, father?” But as soon as she saw him vexed again, she kissed his hand, and said she would sing him to sleep. She began singing very low, till his fingers dropped from hers, and his head sank on his breast. Then I told her to hush, and not stir, for fear she should wake him.”

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Page 30


In Wuthering Heights, cruelty embeds every development. Though Mary Barton dealt heavily with the exploitation and dehumanization of the working class, Wuthering Heights arguably displays much more of the darkness of the heart. Thus, when reading these incredibly complicated characters, curiosity arises on as to why, and whether they are deserving of sympathy anyway. This is most certainly true of Catherine Earnshaw. Catherine dominates much of the novel, through her literal ghost in the beginning, or even her daughter’s name. Yet, Heathcliff’s emotional damage from familial abuse and societal dehumanization provides psychological background for him, Catherine does not have equal exploration for her volatility. Partly, Ellen’s narration consistently lacks sympathy to Catherine. Ellen repeatedly cites Catherine’s selfishness, while often participating in the same judgements herself. For example, after the Linton’s visit in chapter 7, Ellen automatically thinks ill of Catherine for disregarding Heathcliff, though Ellen does little to help, either (Bronte 41).

Yet, the book does offer subtle insights into Catherine’s anger, such as in her father’s death scene. Interestingly, this scene both breaks with and conforms to Gothic conventions present in the novel’s other parts. As discussed in class and Roger Luckhurst’s introduction to Late Victorian Gothic Tales, the Gothic can be defined as exploration of “The Other” (Luckhurst 10). In Wuthering Heights, this theme can most obviously be seen in the characters. Catherine’s undying passion and Heathcliff’s mysterious origin both push them outside what is considered “normal.” Yet, the scene where they are both sitting quietly reflects a gentler attitude from Heathcliff and Cathy. However, this “normal” behavior for the expectations of a typical child comes off as strange behavior from what Cathy and Heathcliff are usually portrayed as. Still, a powerful storm rages outside, a reflection of the Gothic element of the sublime, as discussed by Bowen’s video (Bowen 6:18).  Perhaps this signals that although things may be briefly calm, the Earnshaws’ dysfunction always rages underneath.

Unsurprisingly, this silence cannot be maintained forever. When Mr. Earnshaw implicitly scolds Catherine by asking why she cannot always be good, Mr. Earnshaw displays a disregard for Catherine that could explain her behavior. This “goodness” only comes from her silence and lessened energy from illness. Only when she pushes back by questioning him as to why he cannot always be a good man that he becomes “vexed.” To Mr. Earnshaw, Cathy being a “good girl” comes in the form of her being reserved and obedient, whereas being a good man would likely have different connotations to him. After all, Mr. Earnshaw does say earlier that he “cannot love [her]” simply because of her mischief, which “made her cry….then, being repulsed continually hardened her, and she laughed….” (29 Bronte). Even on his deathbed, his last words are to chide Catherine. Still, the rest of the passage follows Catherine’s coping mechanism, while still displaying her love for her father when she tries to make up by singing to him in a “low” manner. Despite the casual cruelty Catherine displays later and earlier, this action indicates she is genuinely trying to think of others. And then, Ellen tells her to be quiet and still once more, to not bother her father further, emblematic of her entire childhood up to this point. Catherine cannot stop herself from being her mischievous self, and instead of working to understand her, the adults in her life tell her to be quiet. The world does not want to understand Catherine. Thus, it comes as little surprise she becomes an emotional storm unto herself as an adult, and as wild as the winds over the Heights.

Citation (Other edition):

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

The Moonstone: A Gothic Disruption

The arrival of the Moonstone at Lady Verinder’s house is a sudden, unsettling disruption of everyday norms. The novel is structured in such a way that the reader first hears the legendary history of the gem and is then introduced to the normalcy of everyday life in England, 1848; immediately, a sharp juxtaposition is set up between past and present, India and England. Gothic fiction is frequently concerned with these kinds of juxtapositions of time and place (British Library “Gothic Motifs”) and the Moonstone itself acts as an interruption of one time and place into another. The prologue sets up the Moonstone’s role as an object of the past through the way its history is presented: upon its placement in a new temple, the god Vishnu “commanded that the Moonstone should be watched, from that time forth, by three priests in turn, night and day, to the end of the generations of men… the deity predicted certain disaster to the presumptuous mortal who laid hands on the sacred gem, and to all of his house and name who received it after him” (Collins 12). The language used conveys an archaic, mythological feeling to this tale, and it reads in a similar manner as a ghost story told around a campfire, with no real bearing on the modern day. The British colonizers clearly hear the tale in this way, as to them, the Moonstone is nothing but a “fanciful story” (Collins 13). Only John is taken in by the tale, and even he has no respect for the diamond’s cultural significance. He becomes the “presumptuous mortal” who takes the Moonstone from its home country and brings it – and its curse – back home to England. 

In gothic texts, beings, objects, and events of the past tend to disrupt everyday norms by “suddenly erupt[ing] within the present and derang[ing] it” (British Library “Gothic Motifs). However, before the gothic impact of the Moonstone can be felt in England, a sense of normalcy must first be established so the stone’s presence has something to affect. This sense of normalcy is set up by Betteredge’s narration of the first part of the text, in the way he describes his life and responsibilities. As house-steward and head of the servants, it falls to him to ensure day-to-day activities run smoothly. There is a disruption to his routine in the arrival of Franklin and the Moonstone, but Betteredge manages to maintain the peace by convincing Franklin to keep the Moonstone in the bank – away from the house – until Rachel’s birthday (Collins56-57). The moment the Moonstone is revealed, however, its effects are felt by the household and it is fully functional as a gothic threat. Lady Verinder is upset at the reminder of her brother (Collins 73-73), the stone’s presence negatively influences Rachel’s birthday dinner (Collins 78-81), and its disappearance and the intrusion of the police disrupt the entire household the next day. The sense of normalcy is gone, and will not be fully recovered until the issue of the Moonstone is dealt with.


Collins, Wilkie. The Moonstone. Penguin Books, 1998.

The British Library. “Gothic Motifs.” The British Library, 2014,

Colonialism and the Gothic in Rochester’s Relationships

It goes without saying that Mr. Rochester is an explicitly sexual figure, who has had numerous romantic/sexual relationships in the past. He has a wife, he has had multiple mistresses, and there is even the possibility that he has an illegitimate child (his reasoning for not claiming Adele as his own is simply that she doesn’t look like him – he never denies the implication that he slept with her mother). Rochester is a sexually powerful character who does not attempt to control his desires, though he does go about fulfilling them in a controlled, thought-out manner (such as his plan to use Blanche Ingram to test Jane’s devotion to him). The novel draws on gothic tropes to allow this explicit reference to Rochester’s sexuality and provide space to discuss such taboo topics, in a way which other, non-gothic texts would not. The gothic can also be seen in the power imbalance between Rochester and Jane. When Jane enters his life, it is as his ward’s governess, and the language she uses emphasizes their relative positions to each other: she consistently refers to Rochester as “sir” and “my master,” never allowing the reader to forget their employer/employee relationship. Even once Jane becomes Rochester’s love interest, she strives to maintain their professional relationship: “I will not be your English Céline Varens. I shall continue to act as Adele’s governess: by that I shall earn my board and lodging, and thirty pounds a year besides” (Brontë 267). This determination to continue ‘earning her keep’ both emphasizes Jane’s desire for independence and the inherent power imbalance between her and Rochester. It also leads to interesting questions of agency – if she quits her place as Adele’s governess and becomes financially dependent upon Rochester as his wife, Jane must sacrifice her agency to “become a part of [him]” (Brontë 298). If, however, she retains her position as his employee, she will still be financially dependent upon him, though in a more traditionally masculine, professional sense. Regardless of her choice, if Jane remains at Thornfield the power imbalance must continue.

Along with the gothic tropes of sexuality and power, a colonialist theme can be traced through Rochester and his partners. He seems to have a love and desire for ‘exotic’ women, or at least, women who are not of his native English country, and he could perhaps be read as a sexual/romantic colonizer. His love life begins in the West Indies with Bertha Mason, and can be traced back to England through his various European mistresses (Brontë 305-306) until he meets Jane. While France, Italy, and Germany are perhaps not as ‘exotic’ as the West Indies, and do not fit as neatly into the colonialist theme, it is telling that Rochester never found a mistress or a partner among English women (at least, until he meets Jane). The argument could be made for his ‘relationship’ with Blanche Ingram; however, it is clear that he is only interested in her as a way to make Jane jealous and test her loyalty and devotion to him. Jane herself is a particularly unique love interest when compared to Rochester’s past partners. While she is English, she is also ‘othered’ and separate from the other women in Rochester’s life through her desire for independence, her strong will, her intelligence, and (in a more gothic sense) her close association with the supernatural. Despite her Englishness, Rochester senses that Jane is ‘exotic’ in her own unique way.  

Questions of power, vulnerability, control, and agency can be approached from both a gothic and a postcolonialist perspective. Though the approaches differ, they both lend themselves to discussing the juxtaposed roles of powerful and vulnerable, colonizer and colonized; the character of Mr. Rochester shows the conflation of these perspectives in the way he acts as a powerful, sexual, colonizer of ‘exotic’ women.