Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Response to Sandra Gilbert's "Emily Bronte's Bible of Hell"

Sandra Gilbert's impression of Wuthering Heights was intriguing to say the least; her idea of reversing the conventional perceptions of heaven and hell with respect to the novel, as well as the parallelism she exploited between Wuthering Heights and Paradise Lost was also remarkable. Having never read Paradise Lost I fear I was rather unable to follow a lot of the comparisons on a character level, but I do know enough about the work to understand the parallels that were being drawn.
I was also quite taken by Gilbert's passage regarding patriarchal society as it relates to female authors who grew up with little feminine influence from a mother:
If all women writers, metaphorical orphans in patriarchal culture, seek literary answers to the questions 'How are we fal'n/Fal'n by mistaken rules...?' motherless orphans like Mary Shelley and Emily Bronte almost seem to seek literal answers to that question, so passionately do their novels enact distinctive female literary obsessions (380)
I'm unsure how I feel regarding this passage; surely the lack of a mother figure in real life, compounded by being raised in a patriarchal culture, do influence a woman writer's work to an extent, but I don't quite understand what Gilbert means by "seeking literal answers". Perhaps she is saying that the way Shelley and Bronte portrayed their characters in their works was actually a way of projecting themselves onto their work and seeing how they would react in various circumstances?

But this seems rather far-fetched; for an author to place themselves so closely to a novel in that way while maintaining the objectivity needed to see how they would function in such a situation is next to impossible. Perhaps I'm misinterpreting Gilbert's claim.

I also enjoyed Gilbert's analysis of imprisonment from a Gothic perspective. Her analysis of how being imprisoned and starved (in both physical and metaphorical senses) brought to light some fascinating suggestions:

Starvation--both in the modern sense of malnutrition and the archaic Miltonic sense of freezing ("to starve in ice")--leads to weakness, immobility, death (391)
Starving in ice is a bountiful image of isolation and loneliness, and it helps to allow the reader to understand more parallels between Milton and Bronte in their work.

Gilbert's analysis was a rather thought-provoking read, and she may prove to be interesting as a reference in future Gothic novels, if that is her area of expertise.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Establishment of Mood in Wuthering Heights

I think what has surprised me most about this novel thus far is the incredible talent Ms. Bronte has for establishing a mood with such eloquent language. At first the diction of the novel was elevated to a point that I personally found briefly overwhelming; the words themselves weren't difficult to understand, of course, but their construction was rather intriguing and elevated in a way that can be expected of a Romantic novel; I feel very strongly that this is a Romantic novel.
The setting is described early with a great turn of phrase not only lending itself to the description of the landscape but also to the initial characters, Mr. Lockwood and Heathcliff. Lockwood describes the country as "completely removed from society. A perfect misanthropist's heaven" (3) which allows us as readers to examine not only the geographical isolation but also the inherent misanthropy of both gentlemen.
I found also that the story taking place in winter was very influential in changing the mood to something more somber than originally expected. Lockwood describes the day he first meets Heathcliff as "set[ting] in misty and cold" (7), and his eventual arrival again to Heathcliff's mansion not only helps to continue defining Heathcliff's grizzled demeanor but also the blankness with which he defends himself against the proverbial onslaught of other characters' company. His description of the house is particularly moving; "On that bleak hilltop the earth was hard with a black frost, and the air made me shiver through every limb" (7).
The darkness and bleakness of this novel makes it all the more fascinating and I can't wait to see how the characters interact with such a dark and bleak environment.