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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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VIII. Answers and Solutions

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VIII.  Answers and Solutions

Wuthering Heights can be covered with a network of numbers so fine that even small fish cannot slip through its mesh. The network is created by linking together the named absolute years dispersed throughout the text (there are only three) and the time references masked by relative time expressions, which often requires calculating forwards and backwards in several steps on the timeline. According to Sanger (1926, p. 11), there are “nearly a hundred” references to time in total, while Daley (2003, p. 357) claims that there are over 600. In fact, there are 365, as many as a year has days. The homogeneous distribution pattern of the time references suggests that, initially, the story was precisely dated throughout with the help of a calendar, and then, in a second step, the numbers were either removed or replaced by relative time expressions, with the odd exception. In addition, conspicuous clusters of numbers are to be found, as well as passages without chronologically usable time references. Time references always seem to accumulate whenever Mr. Lockwood and Ellen Dean take turns talking, and whenever scenic passages are imminent or the narrative situation changes. The chronologically “empty spaces” in the text are more summary in nature. With the help of the numbers obtained using this grid, the existence of which Vera Nünning (2004, p. 58) has suspected, the internal and external evidence of the chronology is verifiable. It is a concordance of all the time data and...

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