Emily Bronte’s “Wild Workshop,” Wuthering Heights

by Nicholas van der Waard


I was researching Emily Bronte’s life and works for Professor Sandy Norton’s Women’s Literature class and in doing so found that the Great Mediator for Emily Bronte to the general public was her older sister, Charlotte. The so-called “Sphinx of Literature” herself was infamously silent save for the only novel she left behind, and her awesome poetry. In reading the book, Wuthering Heights, I immediately loved it; something in it spoke to me, a sort of elemental force that was more or less lacking from Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 novel, Jane Eyre. Charlotte tempered her passion, subduing her wild protagonist with an older, chiding narrator and passing off most of the brunt of Jane’s wild nature onto her “double,” the mad, “goblin-like” Bertha (also compared to a vampire, which I found rather hilarious). Emily Bronte, on the other hand, frankly didn’t give a damn, creating what Charlotte describes as “the little black-haired swarthy thing, as dark as if it came from the Devil” (xiii): Heathcliff (that idea that dark is Devilish pops up now and then, though Austen wrote, in Northanger Abbey


“Oh! They give themselves such airs. They are the most conceited creatures in the

world, and think themselves of so much importance! By the by, though I have thought

of it a hundred times, I have always forgot to ask you what is your favourite complexion

in a man. Do you like them best dark or fair?” (64).


didn’t seem to fixate on the idea of black being universally negative when it suited her needs).


I loved Heathcliff instantly. “Whether it is right or advisable to create beings like Heathcliff, I do not know: I scarcely think it is,” writes Charlotte Bronte, about him. “But this I know: the writer who possesses the creative gift owns something of which he[, Ellis Bell,] is not always master—something that, at times, strangely wills and works for itself” (xiv “Editor’s Preface”). Of this, I can instantly relate, coming from a family where bi-polar disorder is par for the course; I am not always in control of my emotions, and they seem to have a will of their own. Despite all reason, the devil claws its way to the surface (“Je est un autre,” indeed, Rimbauld).


As to Emily’s novel, itself, Charlotte writes, “[in it] there broods ‘a horror of great darkness'; that, in it’s storm-heated and electrical atmosphere, we seem at times to breathe lightning” (xiii). I love that description, perhaps in the same fashion my 2-year old nephew pretends he is a triceratops: I long to be like a dragon, an elemental beast that breathes death (“and my breath death!” [Tolkien 245]).


Of poor Cathy, Charlotte writes: “Nor is [she] destitute of a certain strange beauty in her fierceness, or of honesty in the midst of perverted passion and passionate perversity [I adore her use of the chiasmus, here]” (xiii). Even if Charlotte Bronte was subdued (and let’s face it, tame) compared to her wild sister, she describes the novel well, and it is worth noting that she was her silent sister’s Greatest Defender. “Breathe lightning” and “strange beauty” are such awesome, well-turned phrases, possibly Charlotte attempting to emulate Emily’s work in her own, tempered fashion. It evokes the same kind of hellish grandeur I adore. Reading the novel, itself, I felt like Mr. Lockwood, a stranger “[left] with a brood of tigers!” (Wuthering Heights 4). Quite a delight, because is there any fun in Literature without at least a little bit of danger?


Antonio Losano sums up the novel well, too: “The novel straddles Romanticism and emergent Victorianism; it fuses romance and realism. Is is simultaneously a ghost story, a revenge tragedy, a local history, a passionate romance, and a powerful social commentary” (Losano 57). I love this refusal to be any one thing but, like the demon of Gerasenes, “is Legion [for we are many]” [Mark 5:9].


To it’s wicked protagonist, Losano writes


“…But Heathcliff cannot be ignored, and even disapproving readers and critics have tended to admire Heathcliff as a potent figure for social rebellion: as a lower-class character, Heathcliff destroys what he perceives as the unfeeling, staid, and passionless upper classes. The intensity of the bond between Catherine and Heathcliff also is itself a criticism of the dull and proper affection that motivates* Edgar or the other traditionally respectable people in the narrative. In Wuthering Heights Emily offers a truly radical view of individualism, social mobility and passion”(57).


I love this unabashed nature to Wuthering Heights and Emily’s natural commitment to passion and wild beauty. No chaser with this drink, and it may burn on the way down, but it’s all part of the fun. It finds beauty in the taboo and champions those that regular society would reject.


Being something of an outcast and reject, myself (according to my own views) and being bred on the valor of the Byronic Hero by my Romantic-loving mother (also a die-hard fan of Jim Morrison, from The Doors, who, in turn, borrowed the name of his band from Aldous Huxley’s book, The Doors of Perception, which was derived from William Blake’s sui generis work, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”—it’s all a big cycle, people), I found myself immediately falling in love with everything dark and hellish in Wuthering Heights. The novel doesn’t mask the nature of such things, but finds beauty in them regardless of the inextricable ugliness. It demonstrates that anything can be Beautiful from the right perspective and that what limits us are the constraints of society.


Like Adam Savage from Myth Busters always loves to say, Emily “rejected Victorian reality and substituted her own.” However, Emily didn’t just reject Victorian ideas, she smashed them, and personified her own notions of Beauty in a human Devil. Like Milton before her, who Blake described as “of the Devil’s party,” it is easy to see which camp Emily is in. I also count myself among that number. I long to “hew” my works in a “wild workshop, with simple tools, out of homely materials” (“Editor’s Preface” xiv).












Austen, Jane, and Claire Grogan. Northanger Abbey. Peterborough, Ont: Broadview Press, 2002. Print.


Bell, Currer. Biographical Notice of Ellis and Acton Bell. Wuthering Heights. By Emily Brontë. 1847. New York: Random House Publishers, 1943. Print.

Bell, Currer. Editor’s Preface. Wuthering Heights. By Emily Brontë. 1847. New York: Random House Publishers, 1943. Print.


Losano, Antonia. “The Brontë Sisters: Charlotte, Emily, and Anne.” Ed. Jay Parini.Scribner’s, 2002. 49-62. ProQuest. Web. 4 Mar. 2016.


Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Hobbit. 1937. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001. Print.


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