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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 1802 do 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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V. The Ghost

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Reading Wuthering Heights today, one could be forgiven for thinking that the world in the novel is richer than our own because it seems to include fantastical elements. At least this is a view that is sometimes posited, based on the fact that some of the novel’s protagonists allege that they have seen a ghost. But is the reader also meant to believe in the appearance of a ghost? After all, what the protagonists believe is one thing, but what the novel means by it is quite another. This chapter will show that the novel does not contain any supernatural phenomena whatsoever, exposing the phenomena as figments of the characters’ imagination.

On 17 November 1800, on his second visit to Wuthering Heights, Mr. Lockwood tries to get some sleep in the “large oak case” in the former room of Catherine Earnshaw (WH, 21). On the evening of Edgar Linton’s funeral at the beginning of September 1800, Mr. Heathcliff divulges to Ellen Dean that Catherine’s ghost has appeared to him at the window of this room many times before (WH, 357). It is for this reason that he has forbidden anyone from staying in it (WH, 20). It will also be in this room that Mr. Heathcliff dies in April 1801. On the night of 17 November 1800, Mr. Lockwood – who knows nothing of all this on his visit – is almost frightened to death by a ghost in the very same room. Strikingly, the scenario outwardly resembles...

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