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Timelines in Emily Brontë’s «Wuthering Heights»

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Michael Weber

The temporal structure of Wuthering Heights has long been regarded as opaque or even flawed. This is explained by the fact that the years 1778, 1801 and 1802do not entirely cohere with the numerous relative time references in the novel if, as scholarship contends, the years 1801 and 1802 refer to Ellen Dean’s narration of the story. By means of mathematically precise calculations and a grammatical analysis of the text, this critical new approach argues that the time frame of Wuthering Heights is sound if the years 1801 and 1802 date the writing of Mr. Lockwood’s diary. The crucial differentiation between the recording of Mr. Lockwood’s diary and the narration of Ellen Dean’s story leads to a deeper understanding of the intentions of the two narrators and the behaviour of the protagonists.

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II. The Temporal Structure of the Novel

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If narratological and chronological errors are to be avoided, a distinction must be systematically made between Ellen Dean’s story and Mr. Lockwood’s report.1 In the novel, Ellen Dean’s “story” is also referred to as a “narrative” and a “tale”, though significantly Mr. Lockwood does not use such terms to describe what he imparts. To a degree, Knoepflmacher (1994, p. 48) already makes this differentiation in his distinction between “Lockwood time” and “Earnshaw time”, by which he means Ellen Dean’s “chronicle”. Yet, he has no specific chronological objective in making this distinction, evidenced by the fact that the numerous, seemingly contradictory time references do not concern him as such. Miyoshi (1969, pp. 217f.) rightly points out that this “narrative duplication” allows “a subtle manipulation of time”. Solomon (1959, p. 81) recognises this potential ten years before Miyoshi when he speaks of the carefully handled “manipulation of time sequence and angle of vision”.

The Report and the Story – Formal and Functional Narrative Aspects

The report and the story are easily distinguished from one another thanks to the stylistic idiosyncrasies of the reporter and the storyteller. What is more, the story is composed exclusively in the past simple, and sections are indicated by breaks in the text. The present tense is only used when Ellen Dean speaks as if to herself at the end of a section, and therefore serves to distinguish between the narrated events of the past and the personal reflections of the narrator in...

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