Compare the ways in which Emily Bronte and Charlotte Bronte have explored different perspectives of similar ideas in their respective texts.
Originally published in 1847 under Emily Bronte’s male pseudonym Ellis Bell in order to combat sexism which was unapologetically rife during that era, Wuthering Heights explores a devilish, preternatural passion that, according to Duclaux, ‘tamer beings can scarcely recognize as ‘love.”Bell’s narcissistic characters are fuelled by fervour and through them she illustrates Coleridge’s understanding of the destructive nature of extreme emotion whilst incorporating many other literary and stylistic techniques in order to effectively highlight themes of love, social class and the supernatural.
On the other hand, Charlotte Bronte’s fictional autobiography Jane Eyre, published in 1847, is a reflection of the pious and moral tone of the Victorian era and its society’s values portrayed through the struggles of an orphaned and rebellious governess. Both these masterpieces of English literature achieve their purposes and target a well-educated audience in both similar and different ways with the use of several literary and stylistic techniques.
These authors hold a special place in the abundance of literary works, often classics, whose purpose it is to explore the trials and tribulations stemmed from a loving relationship. Subsequent to reading both, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, it is evident that the situation of indistinguishable love is a recurrent affair between the protagonists. However, both texts explore varying intensities of this powerful emotion and how it helps the characters overcome social constraints and other obstacles in their respective paths.
Bell’s novel addresses the outcome of the destructive nature of love between two star-crossed lovers, Catherine and Heathcliff, through a variety of narrative techniques. Their extreme unchecked emotions act as a driving force, defining their actions as well as motivations and this is very powerfully portrayed when we hear Catherine’s own words through Nellie’s rather trivial narration, when it comes to one another as seen, when Cathy says, ‘…my great thought in living is himself.
If all else perished, and he remained, I should still continue to be; and if all else remained, and he were annihilated, the universe would turn into a mighty stranger: I should not seem a part of it.’ Where Bell creates such a powerful picture of the idea of ‘love,’ Bronte’s novel is more of an unconventional but idealised fantasy of it. It is a story about Jane’s quest to find love and a sense of belonging whilst simultaneously struggling to maintain a balance between passion and logic.
Characterisation is used to position readers to see this, as when Jane provides Rochester with a voice of reason, suggesting that opposing the divine power in exchange for passion will never make him happy, ‘You will degenerate …I may get [happiness] as sweet and fresh as the wild honey the bees gather on the moor … [but]it will taste bitter, Sir.’ Both texts share similar themes, however, Bronte and Bell conclude their novels with contrasting conclusions which despite their differences, successfully evoke appropriate emotions from the reader and achieve one of the purposes regarding the defeat of social norms.
Wuthering Heights unfolds as Heathcliff’s irrepressible love towards Catherine eventually dissolves his inner conflict and numbs his longing for revenge upon his oppressors offsprings as he nears death. Hareton and Cathy’s marriage indicates the dawn of a new era, further strengthening the fact that true love is capable of overcoming any sort of hardship. On the contrary, Jane Eyre verifies the saying, ‘All good things come to those who wait,’ as Jane restores peace in her life by being happily married to Rochester who has gained some of his sight back, after battling to repress her romanticism and the Victorian society realism. The ending provides clarity to the theme of love and social standing whilst freeing Jane from society’s restraints.
Undoubtedly, the purpose of each texts is to entertain their respective audiences. Both authors rely on the use of a combination of literary and stylistic techniques to convey their ideas to a well-educated audience. They also cleverly incorporate symbolism of nature, which was particularly popular with the more learned middle classes during the 19th century.
Such symbolism can be recognised in Bell’s characterisation when she writes, ‘Catherine’s face was just like the landscape—shadows and sunshine flitting over it…but the shadows rested longer, and the sunshine was more transient,’ and in Bronte’s when she uses fire and ice to symbolise Jane’s independence in the face of the restrictions of society as ‘a ridge of lighted heath, alive, glancing and devouring.’
However, Bronte makes more use of this technique as compared to Bell, in order to foreshadow events that are meant to unfold as the plot unravels, for instance, the chestnut tree being struck by lightning under which Rochester proposes to Jane which foreshadows the misfortune that is to follow. Both the authors also associate setting to each of their protagonists.
The first 19th century setting, Wuthering Heights, symbolises humanity’s dark side, which is reinforced by its constant comparison to the bleak winter time and the location’s dark and diabolical illustration whereas Thrushcross Grange is described as the summer time, portraying an artificial utopia whilst mirroring its respective inhabitants, something only a well-educated, thinking reader would understand. However in Jane Eyre, each setting symbolises the character’s development and conflicting circumstances throughout the story.
Each text is intended to appeal to the initial audience of the Victorian era, a time when Romantics placed great emphasis upon nature and human emotion, as seen in Wuthering Heights. On the other hand, Jane and Rochester’s relationship is based on mutual respect, something that rarely existed during the 19th century. Bronte’s targeted audience also believed that the role of a woman is only to give birth and to please her spouse.
Both novels are meant for a well-read audience, especially Bell’s, as the reader must be intellectually capable of comprehending the complicated emotions of the characters, and the complex and distinctive writing style of each author. The plot is appropriate for both genders, however, a female audience could potentially be more inclined to empathize with and recognise Catherine and Jane’s emotions as well as the whole theme of ‘love’ when compared to men.
Both novels possess a unique and sophisticated narrative structure that enables the reader to interpret the story, once the tone and context have been acknowledged. Bell’s novel is organised in a manner critics identify as ‘Chinese boxes’ which consists of narrative within a narrative where representing the outer frame of the story is Lockwood whereas Nelly Dean, his binary opposite, represents its inner frame.
In contrast to this, Bronte’s novel is structured and symbolised by the places and locations in which Jane lives and her transition into the different phases of adulthood. For instance the terms ‘Gate’ and ‘Head’ represented the symbolism behind the beginning of Jane’s journey at ‘Gateshead’ whereas at ‘Lowood’ she would feel ‘low’ and depressed as she reminiscing over traumas she had to endure in the past.
Bell and Bronte successfully express similar ideas of love, social class and the supernatural but they do so for different contexts in terms of the readers’ social interests. Bell expresses the central theme regarding the destructive nature of love by further relying upon symbolism of nature. The very setting of the wild and desolate moors foreshadows the protagonist’s love and imitates their intense personalities. They symbolise freedom and are a source of comfort to the Cathy and Heathcliff, who are incessantly drawn towards them.
Catherine also uses the metaphor of ‘eternal rocks’ to describe her love for Heathcliff, her one true love, as never-changing and powerful, whereas her love for Edgar, her spouse, is ‘like the foliage in the wood.’ This suggests that similar to the way in which foliage changes, her feelings towards him do too. In contrast, Bronte makes it evident through the use of personification, that Jane and Rochester’s relationship thrives on the basis of true love; a bond that unifies them as true love is meant to, in contrast to Catherine and Heathcliff’s situation where they yearn for a sense of fulfillment.
On the other hand, a knowledgeable reader is introduced to the theme of love by its absence within the Reed house, where Jane craves to be cherished. Hence, Jane says to Helen Burns: “to gain some real affection from you, or Miss Temple, or any other whim I truly love, I would willingly submit to have the bone of my arm broken, or let a bull toss me, or to stand behind a kicking horse, and let it dash its hoof at my chest.
The use of literary techniques by the authors implemented to appeal to a well-read reader also appeals to their different ideas regarding social class, which someone from that Victorian background could comprehend. Wuthering Heights is rife with class conflict. It is one of the main reasons, alongside other precarious circumstances and an unfavourable course of fate that drives the main characters towards individual self-destruction. The book is inspired by the era and culture it was composed in where social standing and property ownership went hand in hand.
This is proved when Heathcliff is treated differently than the other characters. He is declared ‘quite unfit for a decent house’ by the Lintons and is rejected by Catherine, despite her using personification to admit that ‘he is more myself than I am’, as ‘it would degrade [her] to marry Heathcliff’ due to his social background. Both the Earnshaws and Linton’s estates symbolise their respective nature. Wuthering Heights relates to anger and violence, represented by its murky and turbulent climate similar to its inhabitants, whereas Thrushcross Grange personifies civility and warmth.
Jane Eyre also illustrates a valid image of the Victorian era and its social footing of its time. It signifies the effects of class consciousness and demonstrates the deprecative demeanor certain lower classes would receive at the expense of egotistical elites. An example of such behaviour is when John Reed repeatedly reminds Jane of her ‘worthless’ orphan status that leaves her dependant upon his family. He further torments her by telling her, ‘you have no business to take our books; you are a dependent, mamma says; you have no money; your father left you none; you ought to beg…all the house belongs to me, or will do in a few years.”
Another example is of the manner in which Mr Brocklehurst showers Mrs Reed in compliments such as “charitable, kindness” solely due to her upper class status and contrasts this by resentfully labelling Jane as “dreadful, bad’ since she belongs to the commonalty. This is also an example how Bronte uses ‘pathetic fallacy’ as a method to conjure empathy for Jane, alongside narrative perspective that reinforces her emotions since the novel is in first-person.
Bell and Bronte’s novels are infused with Gothic elements which are expressed through a consistent mention of supernatural, intended to engross readers belonging to the early 19th century Victorian culture and other learned audiences for whom this is of interest. Wuthering Heights is located on an unsheltered and weather-beaten altitude. It’s earth is “…Hard…”, dull and it contains “…Black frost…” which symbolises its gothic nature as it is related to ‘nefariousness.’
From the introduction up till the greatly anticipated finale, Wuthering Heights is a novel where deceased characters haunt their significant others. In some instances, these haunting are welcomed. Heathcliff, for instance, is constantly reminded of his lover and finds himself conversing with her ghost . Bronte makes use of transcendental characters in order to accentuate the ferocity of the protagonist’s affection and connection amongst each other, proving that even death cannot come between them.
However, in spite of the fact that there are no ethereal beings present in Jane Eyre, every phase of Jane’s life is foreshadowed by her imagination’s interpretation of otherworldly visitations. Bronte’s use of the supernatural element in her novel is consistent with the literary technique of foreshadowing.
For instance, Helen Burns’ reflection of her perilous premonition and glee regarding the concept of everlastingness can be witnessed when she expresses: ‘We are, and must be, one and all, burdened with faults in this world…and sin will fall from us with this cumbrous flame of flesh,’ are undoubtedly a premonition of the untimely end that becomes her shortly after she befriends Jane.
Another example of the supernatural foreshadowing events in Jane’s life is when she hears Rochester’s voice calling out for her from across the moors, signifying that he needs her. This is how both authors integrate a similar theme but execute it differently with the use of distinct writing styles.
Although both the novels Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre share a mutual purpose, each text successfully incorporates literary and stylistic techniques in order to convey common themes regarding social class, love and the supernatural. Both texts consist of imagery, symbolism, metaphors and personification whilst simultaneously identifying with Victorian morals and understanding regarding extreme emotions and the importance of balance, so that an educated audience can appreciate how each author has used their culture to make the reader understand the ideas that come out of them.
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