by Emily Brontë
Gothic Fiction, Romance, Psychological Thriller
Wuthering Heights has just about all the elements of a Gothic novel, but the characters are a lot more complex than your average Gothic protagonists and antagonists. Heathcliff's motivations and responses go beyond the flat character of the average Gothic villain. Catherine is far from the vulnerable, threatened maiden in need of rescuing. And instead of a ruined, crumbling castle, we have Wuthering Heights. Finally, the novel provokes greater consideration of morality than the usual action-driven Gothic novel.
Still, Wuthering Heights has plenty of spooky Gothic qualities, like imprisonment, dark stairways, stormy weather, nightmares, extreme landscapes, melancholy figures, moonlight and candles, torture and excessive cruelty, necrophilia, a supernatural presence, madness, maniacal behavior, communication between the living and the dead – you get the point. In the Gothic tradition, Brontë features tyrannical fathers and a troubled family line. In this case, the threat comes from Heathcliff, the outsider, who causes havoc by usurping the family line and taking all of its property.
Some of the darkest themes of the Gothic novel emerge with the implications of incest (through the romantic love of Heathcliff and Catherine, who may be half-brother and sister – though the marriage of cousins would not have been seen as scandalous) and the suggestion of necrophilia (through Heathcliff's perverse interactions with Catherine's corpse).
The Gothic genre often reveals larger societal anxieties. In Wuthering Heights, it may help to reveal contemporary fears about a foreign presence in the house, threats to patrimony, or an influx of immigration (through places like Liverpool, England) in the form of the so-called "gypsy." It is important to note that Wuthering Heights was published well after the trend in Gothic novels had petered out, so several critics saw the genre, and thus the novel, as tired and overdone.
That Wuthering Heights is a romance is undeniable. The love between Heathcliff and Catherine transcends the boundaries between life and death. While several marriages and sub-romances occur, the one between the two protagonists is far and away the most dramatic and memorable. All the characters are driven by their appetites – desire, passion, lust, and ambition. The plotline is propelled toward the reunion of the two lovers, so that when Catherine dies halfway through the book, the reader really wants to know how the romantic story will be resolved. Heathcliff often shows up in top-ten lists of romantic fictional protagonists – often making number one. Despite being unforgivably malicious, Heathcliff is still a major hunk. (For details, see "Trivia.")
Though Wuthering Heights could not be exclusively categorized as a psychological thriller (there are too many Gothic elements), it strongly features the complexities of Heathcliff's character. In the tradition of this genre, Heathcliff's motivations, his tricks and schemes, his revenge and manipulation, are represented in great detail. Brontë creates enormous suspense by making the reader wonder how Heathcliff will calm his troubled soul and resolve his feelings of vengeance.