Critical Interpretations of Wuthering Heights (AO4)
SUMMARY Feminist literary theory focuses on the presentation of women in male and female-authored literary texts. Their interest centres on the variety of ways in which females (both writers and characters) rebel against traditionally patriarchal values handed down to them through generations of male writers and characters.
o Elaine Showalter in The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture 1830 – 1980
(Showalter writes more specifically about Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Bertha Mason, Rochester’s mad wife in the novel. However, you can link her theories to the presentation of female ‘madness’ in the characters of Catherine Earnshaw and Isabella Linton in Wuthering Heights):
‘Bronte offers several explanations for Bertha’s madness, all taken from the discourse of Victorian psychiatry. As Rochester tells the story […] after their marriage, Bertha becomes ‘intemperate and unchaste’, a monster of sexual appetite who finally is pronounced mad by ‘medical men’. Bronte’s account echoes the beliefs of Victorian psychiatry about the transmission of madness: […] the reproductive system was the sources of mental illness in women […] and is linked to the periodicity of the menstrual cycle […] Bertha suffers from the ‘moral insanity’ associated with women’s sexual desires.’
o Ellen Moers (1976)
‘the puzzles of Wuthering Heights may be best resolved if the novel is read as a statement of a very serious kind about a girl’s childhood and the adult woman’s tragic yearning to return to it. Catherine’s impossible love for Heathcliff becomes comprehensible as a pre-adolescent (but not pre-sexual) love modelled after the sister-brother relationship. The gratuitous cruelties of the novel are thus justified as realistic attributes of the nursery world – and as frankly joyous memories of childhood eroticism.’
Gilbert and Gubar (1979) The Madwoman in...