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Timelines in Emily Brontë’s «Wuthering Heights»


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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VII. The Chronology as Practical Narratology


Sanger assumes that Emily Brontë omitted dates from Wuthering Heights so that the reader can “feel the lapse of time without being pestered” by them (Sanger 1926, p. 8). That may be true, but this assumption is contradicted by the fact that the chronological vagueness and inconsistencies in the novel baffle readers and actually draw their attention to the passage of time. The question therefore is whether, aside from directing readers’ attention and generating suspense, there are dramatic and mimetic intentions lying behind the sophisticated mystification of time in Wuthering Heights.1 The effort with which the chronology is concealed suggests that Emily Brontë’s motives coincide with Ellen Dean’s interests and that the representation of reality in the novel (in the sense of Auerbach’s Wirklichkeitsbeschreibung) is cryptic. This fact would also explain why Emily Brontë does not have her “own voice” as author in the novel. If her voice appears at all, it is as a hint of irony, conveyed in Mr. Lockwood’s casual comments (with regard to the idiosyncrasies of ghosts, or the moths in the famous closing scene of the novel) or in the macabre humour of Joseph’s remarks (for example, when he says that Mr. Heathcliff “looks girnning at death” (WH, 414)). The fact that the creation of a first-person narrator, not to mention two of them, allows the author to distance herself from the narrative content and the narrators has been debated often enough and certainly also applies to Wuthering Heights. It is therefore...

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