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Determining Wuthering Heights

Ideology, Intertexts, Tradition

María Valero Redondo

Recent criticism on Emily Brontë and her novel has tried to correct the deep-rooted belief that Emily Brontë was a literary "genius" isolated in the moors of Haworth. Indeed, an overview of recent Brontë scholarship indicates that two important critical shifts have lately cropped up: an increasing sociological attention to cultural studies on the one hand and an emphasis on interdisciplinarity. The present book is an unprecedented and groundbreaking study on Wuthering Heights. It detaches itself from the current productive vogue for sociological approaches to narrative texts which has contributed to obscure the focus on anomalous intertextual relations, and prioritizes the literary context over any other biographical, historical, or cultural context. Determining Wuthering Heights postulates a determinate intertextual meaning of Emily Brontë’s novel, enriching its heterogeneity by examining its dialogic relation with previous, contemporary and subsequent texts in order to confirm that Emily Brontë’s novel is not sui generis.

The target audience of the book would be members of the academic community interested in Victorian literature in general (researchers, scholars…) and in Wuthering Heights in particular. However, since Wuthering Heights has become a classic novel which is today read and discussed in universities around the world, the subject may also appeal to students who have to take a course on Victorian Literature and/or on the Brontës.

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7 Wuthering Heights: A Bildungsroman

Delimitation of the Context


My heart leaps up when I beholdA rainbow in the sky:So was it now I am a man;So be it when I shall grow old,Or let me die!The Child is father of the Man;I could wish my days to beBound each to each by natural piety.

(William Wordsworth, “My Heart Leaps Up” 1802)

In An Introduction to the English Novel (1951), Arnold Kettle states that Wuthering Heights “is essentially the same kind of novel as Oliver Twist” (Kettle 131). According to Kettle, the novel is neither a romance nor a romantic novel and, though it is certainly not a picaresque novel or a moral fable, it has indeed a strong pattern of picaresque fiction (Kettle 131). This picaresque pattern, however, cannot be summarized in a single sentence as it happens with Oliver Twist, but its seed can be discerned as a significant theme in Wuthering Heights.1 In this chapter, I would like to read the told—and untold—story of Heathcliff as a potential Bildungsroman, using some of Charles Dickens’ novels (David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, Great Expectations) and other nineteenth-century novels as intertexts.2 Dickens was initiating a tradition when he decided to put a child as ←251 | 252→the protagonist of a novel for adults (Tillotson 50). This was virtually unknown when he wrote Oliver Twist and The Old Curiosity Shop (1841).3 In fact, in studies of Dickens’ novels, “the figure of the child and the topic of...

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