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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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VI. The Genealogies of the Earnshaw and Linton Families

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Using the definitive chronology as a basis, a critical genealogy can be drawn up and contrasted with the genealogies of the traditional chronologies. The term “critical” indicates that some items in the genealogy cannot be determined definitively. The chronology underlying Wuthering Heights does not resolve the issues raised by the genealogy, but it does highlight the fact that previous ideas regarding the parentage of Mr. Heathcliff, Cathy and Linton Heathcliff have been far too simple. What is more, it shows that Ellen Dean’s chronological obfuscation simultaneously hints at and conceals family secrets in a confusing interplay of insinuation and discretion, leading the listener or reader to fictionalise the narrative discourse according to their own ideas, that is with undemonstrated causalities.

The Critical Genealogy

As a family chronicle, the crucial point of Wuthering Heights is not the old, much-discussed question of whether Mr. Heathcliff is an illegitimate son, that is a natural son, of Mr. Earnshaw. It is more the question of who Mr. Heathcliff’s descendants are. His ancestry is kept in the dark, which is obviously how it is supposed to be. There are no truly useful chronological facts regarding his origin, either.

After Mr. Earnshaw brings him to Wuthering Heights in 1771, he is given the name of Heathcliff, after a deceased child of the Earnshaws. Mr. Earnshaw takes to Heathcliff “strangely” (WH, 44) and allows him to play with Catherine and live with the family. He is brought up by...

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