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Displaced, Erased, and Re-placed: Reframing Bodies in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights

I. Wuthering Heights Displaced

Since its publication in 1847, Wuthering Heights has proven notoriously difficult to “place” in historic or generic categories. In “The Face at the Window,” Heather Neilson locates the following characteristics of gothic novels in Wuthering Heights: “an emphasis on fear” and other extreme emotions, “prominent use of the supernatural (even when all phenomena have been logically explained away by the end of the tale), an archaic setting, the depiction of violence and passion, and stereotyped characters” (74). She goes on to explore the presence of these themes (in relation to sexual deviance) in Wuthering Heights, but before doing so she necessarily clarifies that although a conservative definition of the gothic refers “to a group of novels written by English authors between the 1760s and the 1820s” — which excludes Wuthering Heights by two decades! — she falls into the camp that defines the gothic “more liberally as a genre still vital and evolving” (74). Neilson’s definition is so vague it could be applied to any generic construct, literary or otherwise; and yet, it seems to work for a number of critics writing about Wuthering Heights.

Emily Rena-Dozier’s “Gothic Criticisms,” for instance, also locates a number of Neilson’s themes in Brontë’s novel, but her focus on the novel’s structure, its narratorial incoherence as a gothic construct, necessitates an important distinction. For both critics, Wuthering Heights’ gothic themes are enough to categorize it as such generically, but where Neilson ignores/displaces the gothic’s literary history, Rena-Dozier laments how literary history has ignored/erased the gothic. She claims the gothic genre’s “disreputable and embarrassing moment in the story of the British novel’s rise” is responsible for “Wuthering Heights’ long exile from the main line of the history of the novel,” and the unfortunate consequence of Wuthering Heights’ narratorial incoherence, she maintains, is its noticeable “absence from nineteenth-century literary history” (Rena-Dozier 758). Re-placing Wuthering Heights in literary history, Rena-Dozier explains that her reading “depends on a distinction between gothic and domestic narratives, in which the gothic is marked by a proliferation of narrative frames and voices, and represents the forces of violence, wildness and savagery, as opposed to the domestic, which is marked by an assumption of omniscient, totalizing narratorial awareness and associated with civilization, cultivation, and the feminine” (758). Claiming the “domestic fiction saved the novel,” she explains: “The British novel in the nineteenth century, it was generally agreed, was the domestic novel, and in order for the domestic novel to have triumphed the gothic had to be defeated, exised from the body of the novel in order for healthy tissue to regrow” (Rena-Dozier 759-60).

While many critics scrutinize various ways the novel breaks from gothic and other historic and generic categorical conventions, usually to celebrate Brontë’s innovations, many others like Rena-Dozier focus on its formal structure. Reading it as a reflection of the Victorian era’s “restructuring of traditional and popular play activities and introduction of new forms of play as a result of industrialism,” Brian Olszewski inspects the novel’s ludic qualities, and the role of narratorial interplay as “an important narrative economy in it” (1). Taking a much graver approach with “The Dead Are Not Annihilated,” Ingrid Geerken reads the novel’s structure as a feature of mortal regret, arguing “Catherine Earnshaw Linton’s death halfway through Wuthering Heights makes an accommodation to her loss a structural necessity”; she adds that although “regret is an experience that crosses historical boundaries,” Wuthering Heights “is an exemplary text of mortal regret” because Brontë — whose own “history is replete with the losses that motivate mortal regret” — is an author “deeply interested in the act of putting together a narrative that both contains and expresses intense grief” (373, 374). Like Geerken, a surprising number of critics incorporate anecdotal biographical information about Emily Brontë herself into their larger arguments — a practice not necessarily standard in literary criticism, but which provides further proof of the extent to which Wuthering Heights is uniquely unconventional. Even academic discourse surrounding the text breaks from its own generic conventions!


II. Wuthering Heights Reframed

Emily Brontë, born between sisters Charlotte and Anne, is famously “the most mysterious figure of all of them. She is alternately the isolated artist striding the Yorkshire moors, the painfully shy girl-woman unable to leave the confines of her home, the heterodox creator capable of conceiving the amoral Heathcliff, the brusque intellect unwilling to deal with normal society, and the ethereal soul too fragile to confront the temporal world” (Brownson). Several critics point to Charlotte’s “Biographical Notice of Ellis and Acton Bell” as a primary source of confusion. Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell (the pseudonyms the sisters used, respectively, for Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Agnes Grey) were thought to be “in reality, one person” (C. Brontë). Unmasking the identities of all three sisters and elucidating the reason for publishing their novels under “positively masculine” names, Charlotte disclosed: “we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice” (C. Brontë). By then, early and nearly unanimously mixed reviews had already condemned Emily’s Wuthering Heights. In 1847 and 1848 respectively, Spectator and Examiner dismissed it as “coarse and disagreeable” and “coarse and loathsome”; Paterson’s Magazine went so far as to forewarn, “Read Jane Eyre is our advice, but burn Wuthering Heights”; and, most damningly, Graham’s Lady Magazine attacked Emily herself: “How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery” (Collins). Perhaps contemporary critics’ ongoing fascination with the mystery of Emily Bronte’s life’s relationship to her novel begins here, resulting from some combination of Graham’s indictment and Charlotte’s well-intentioned decision “to explain briefly the origin and authorship of the books” — which included her problematic assessment that an “interpreter ought always to have stood between [Emily] and the world” (C. Brontë).

Written after Emily’s and Anne’s deaths, Charlotte’s “Biographical Notice” is a body of text that attempts to re-place her sisters’ displaced and erased physical bodies. Publishing under male pseudonyms, all three sisters’ female bodies were displaced from their texts; thought to be a singular author, their individual bodies were doubly displaced from them. Emily’s and Anne’s deaths then effectively erased their bodies, while Charlotte’s “Biographical Notice of Ellis and Acton Bell” noticeably erases her own from the title. Re-placing them into the body of her text, Charlotte provides a paratextual frame through which readers/critics of the 1850 and subsequent editions of Wuthering Heights could re-frame their views of the novel, its author, her sisters, and their novels.


III. Lockwood Displaced

In “The Borders of Narrative,” H. Porter Abbott discusses the impact of the frame narrative in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, arguing that, without it, the “narrative of the governess is not the same narrative it is when embedded” (29). He acknowledges the critical debate about whether the governess is “a courageous heroine or a pathological, power-obsessed hallucinator,” but he maintains that the frame narrator’s character reference invites the former reading (Abbott 28). For Abbott, the frame narrator’s admission that “some time after the events in the tale she had become his sister’s governess and that ‘She was the most agreeable woman I have ever known in her position,’” supports the notion that “framing narratives can, and often do, play a vital role in the narratives they frame” (28-29). Abbott’s conclusion raises the question of whether Lockwood’s frame narrative in Wuthering Heights has any impact on Nelly Dean’s embedded narrative. It is tempting to conclude Lockwood is not much more than a robotic, willing pair of ears and writing implement-wielding fingers. His major contribution to Wuthering Heights would seem to be his willingness to listen to Nelly Dean’s story and to transcribe it. Arguably, his frame narrative does not impact Nelly’s central narrative; and in fact, “[his] being a character does not give any impact to the story and some parts of his direct experiences do not contribute much information to the whole story” (Tunsakul 23). Why, then, does Lockwood and his frame narrative exist at all?

Arguing that frame narratives re-frame displaced and erased bodies, by re-placing them, this paper will take as its primary concern the displaced and erased bodies of Lockwood himself and Ellen “Nelly” Dean. The structural complexity of Lockwood’s frame narrative — although it does not impact events in the others’ lives — re-frames our interpretations of them by re-placing them in the body of what is ultimately his written text, his diary. Rebecca Steinitz maintains that “though Lockwood’s voice begins the novel, the dated entry, immediacy, and first person account of events and thoughts which characterize the diary […] functions primarily as a frame, an excuse for telling this story” (407). She compares his diary, which “appears to function primarily to transmit narrative,” to Catherine’s, a “revelation of experience and subjectivity” (407). Lockwood’s, she points out, “has no specificity, no book or pages,” whereas “Catherine’s is emphatically material” (Steinitz 407). Steinitz goes on to synthesize existing criticism that has “subsumed the novel’s diaries under some larger rubric. Often, that rubric has been textuality itself, as one or both diaries take their place among the novel’s diverse books, letters, and inscriptions” (407). She argues, however, that these readings “overlook their particularity as diaries,” and says:

in Wuthering Heights, materiality becomes the significant locus for the diaristic, a locus foregrounded in particular by Emily Brontë’s idiosyncratic reorganization of diaristic temporality. That is, useful for its temporal schema, the diary ultimately works, both thematically and literally, as an object which itself promises a space for the realization of its writer’s and reader’s desires. Indeed, despite their many differences of status, both Catherine and Lockwood — the marginalized young farmer’s daughter, and the gentleman, a socially central figure who insists upon marginalizing himself — use their diaries to deal precisely with their senses of displacement. In the novel, then, the diary itself becomes the proverbial place of one’s own, but its very status as such reveals how, psychologically, textually, and materially, one’s own place can never be secured. (Steinitz 408)

If Lockwood’s frame narrative/diary functions to draw attention to his own displacement (and Catherine’s diary to her own), then it also draws attention to Nelly’s — for she has no diary. Until Lockwood comes along, she is psychologically, textually, and materially adrift, with nowhere for her own desires to go. By creating space in his diary for her story, in her own words, and then by condensing later installments of it, Lockwood’s diary is not just an excuse to tell the story, nor is its function limited to simply transmitting narrative.

Nelly’s displacement, however, pales, I think, in comparison to Lockwood’s, who begins his story with this admission: “my dear mother used to say I should never have a comfortable home, and only last summer I proved myself perfectly unworthy of one” (Brontë 3). Whether employed at Wuthering Heights or Thrushcross Grange, Nelly does have a place she calls home. The only time she is unaccounted for are the few days after her banishment as a child, but she seems to have taken it upon herself to return — which is to say, she re-inserts herself back where she thinks she belongs — because, as she says, she knew the banishment was not “perpetual” (Brontë 32). A temporary displacement, Nelly’s decision to include it in her narrative actually draws attention to her erased body — but only for a moment. Nonetheless, it foreshadows her future banishment from Wuthering Heights to Thrushcross Grange, which she will describe as a kind of death. Lockwood, however, has banished himself from the company of his social peers and run away to Wuthering Heights, “a perfect misanthropist’s Heaven” (Brontë 1)! That his first description of place in the novel names it “Heaven” allows for a possible reading of the death of Lockwood-the-misanthropist, which lends itself nicely to the idea that his frame narrative/diary provides a space for Nelly’s — a touching justification for the reason his frame narrative should exist at all. For if his frame narrative is in fact about his own displacement, about his personal journey of self-banishment from what his mother maintains is his perpetual homelessness to the “misanthropist’s Heaven” of Wuthering Heights, where he will literally disappear for great lengths of time, then it is actually quite sweet that although he is already physically displaced he erases himself from the body of his own text in order to re-place Nelly — a demonstratively unselfish narrative act.

Abbott points out that “any narrative of any length is studded with embedded micro-narratives as well” (30). His example is Malvolio in Twelfth Night, who has “told himself a little story that tells us in turn something about him and the way he thinks. The thoughts of characters in novels are full of little narratives […], just as our own thoughts are when we entertain fears of hopes about what might happen or remember fragments of our past or simply plan our day” (Abbott 30). Less obvious than Nelly’s central narrative embedded within Lockwood’s frame narrative, then, are multiple micro-narratives embedded within. These seemingly minor micro-narratives are no less “embedded,” Abbot tells us, than others. And indeed, in the opening chapters of Wuthering Heights, well before Nelly’s narrative begins, a displaced Lockwood seemingly attempts to erase himself, and re-place himself, by embedding a number of micro-narratives within his own. Perhaps because he so rarely controls the narrative(s) of Wuthering Heights and has little control over the events of his own life prior to seeking refuge at Thrushcross Grange, he begins his narrative on the run from his own heart’s desire — “a most fascinating creature, a real goddess,” who unfortunately returned his affections with “the sweetest of all imaginable looks,” only for him to shrink “icily” into himself “like a snail” (Brontë 3, 4). He would have us believe his “curious turn of disposition” earned him “the reputation of deliberate heartlessness,” but in fact his hasty retreat to Thrushcross Grange instantiates him as a coward, quite afraid of that “poor innocent” woman “led to doubt her own senses […], overwhelmed with confusion” (Brontë 4, 1, 4).

When the novel opens, Lockwood — as-yet unnamed — introduces readers to his “solitary neighbour” (1). The neighbor, identified by name, “Mr. Heathcliff,” is clearly the subject of his attention, as well as he is the subject of the novel’s opening paragraph, which concludes as follows:

[…] He little imagined how my heart warmed towards him when I beheld his black eyes withdraw so suspiciously under their brows, as I rode up, and when his fingers sheltered themselves, with a jealous resolution, still further in his waistcoat, as I announced my name.

“Mr. Heathcliff?” I said.

A nod was the answer.

“Mr. Lockwood, your new tenant, sir […].

The narrator observes that he and Mr. Heathcliff are “a suitable pair to divide the desolation between [them]” (Brontë 1). If the conflation of their identities is merely suggested when he conjoins them as “a suitable pair,” it is confirmed when he says: “I announced my name. ‘Mr. Heathcliff’” (Brontë 1)? Strikingly, Lockwood seems to ask Heathcliff if his own name is Mr. Heathcliff, which becomes even stranger when he reports “[a] nod was the answer” (Brontë 1). This (mis)reading draws attention to Lockwood’s immediate attempt to begin erasing his own narrative in an effort to serve, and preserve (as a written record), the more dominant Heathcliff’s. Despite the attempt, Lockwood’s narrative is still authoritative and he does not successfully erase himself. Occuping two temporal narrative positions, he experiences the “present” event, in which he writes about meeting Heathcliff, and the past event of having met Heathcliff. In the transition from expositing that he announced his name, to the “Mr. Heathcliff?” he presumes, the text itself creates and complicates the invisibility of categorical boundaries between present and past, Thrushcross Grange and Wuthering Heights, outsider/tenant (Lockwood) and insider/landlord (Heathcliff). The creation of these in-between spaces is established early in Lockwood’s frame — between the very first paragraph break and line of dialogue—as they are among the primary spatial concerns of Nelly’s much-longer central narrative enframed within. Indeed, the opening scene would lose nothing if it excluded the “Mr. Heathcliff?” and “nod” lines and, instead, transitioned from “I announced my name” to “Mr. Lockwood, your new tenant, sir” (Brontë 1).

[…] He little imagined how my heart warmed towards him when I beheld his black eyes withdraw so suspiciously under their brows, as I rode up, and when his fingers sheltered themselves, with a jealous resolution, still further in his waistcoat, as I announced my name. “Mr. Lockwood, your new tenant, sir […].

Upon first encountering Heathcliff, Lockwood observes — as if his observations are to be taken as factual — “He little imagined how my heart warmed towards him when I beheld his black eyes withdraw so suspiciously under their brows” (Brontë 1). Already, from within his own frame narrative Lockwood has created a micro-narrative on the other man’s behalf. In a bizarre turn, he then embeds a further micro-narrative of Heathcliff’s jealous fingers within that of Heathcliff’s suspicious eyes indicating cluelessness: “his fingers sheltered themselves, with a jealous resolution, still further in his waistcoat” (Brontë 1). All this — just to explain/narrativize why Heathcliff does not shake his hand. Once inside, Lockwood further elaborates on the embedded narrative, still stuck on creating for himself some explanation why Heathcliff would not shake his hand. Having known the other man all of a few minutes, Lockwood is already over-eager (long before he ever asks Nelly to tell him the “facts”) to write Heathcliff’s biography:

I know, by instinct, his reserve springs from an aversion to showy displays of feeling — to manifestations of mutual kindliness. He’ll love and hate, equally under cover, and esteem it a species of impertinence to be loved or hated again — No, I’m running on too fast — I bestow my own attributes over-liberally on him. Mr. Heathcliff may have entirely dissimilar reasons for keeping his hand out of the way, when he meets a would-be acquaintance, to those which actuate me. (Brontë 3)

The intrusion of Lockwood’s thoughts, within his thoughts, is telling. For he has taken the first embedded narrative (his explanation for Heathcliff’s lack of handshake) as an opportunity to attempt to tell his own story. Here is a man desperate to “find” himself — embodied within the actions of another man, in his flight to the other man’s land “completely removed from the stir of society” (Brontë 1)!

Although readers are not yet aware as the novel opens, Lockwood’s first physical description of Heathcliff — his “black eyes [withdrew] so suspiciously under their brows” and his fingers, jealous of his eyes, “sheltered themselves […] still further in his waistcoat” — perfectly embodies his own, soon-to-come confession that he, too, “[shrinks] icily into [himself], like a snail” (Brontë 1, 4). Seen from a distance, Lockwood, may seem to have shrunk into himself by running from society to the solitude and isolation of Thrushcross Grange, but when the novel opens it is remarkable how very unlike a snail, and how intrusive and invasive, his presence actually is. In “Wuthering Heights: At the Threshold of Interpretation,” Carol Jacobs observes: “We enter Wuthering Heights through the voice of Lockwood, who devotes the first three chapters of his narrative to what he twice calls the ‘repetition of my intrusion’” (50). Again and again, Lockwood observes how Heathcliff’s body language, actions, and words all “expressed the sentiment, ‘Go to the Deuce!’” (Brontë 1). Despite Heathcliff’s wishes, or in spite of them, Lockwood returns the following day and makes “repeated efforts to force his way into the penetralium. [… to] the innermost chamber of the structure and to the enclosed oaken bed within, and here he experiences the very center of Wuthering Heights” (Jacobs 50). For someone who goes to such lengths to conflate himself with Heathcliff, seemingly to prove how similar they are in their desire for isolation from society, Lockwood can’t — or won’t, as he makes his way from the margins to the center — take a hint from the man whose anti-social behaviors he recognizes and, as confessional diarist, narrates as his own. Perhaps this is because Heathcliff has so firmly established his own displacement, erasure, and re-placement by this point in his own narrative, he is more resistant to and resilient against Lockwood’s attempts to rewrite even these miniscule micro-narratives. (That Lockwood will rewrite Nelly’s entire narrative for the bulk of the duration of Volume II, and take the words out of her mouth and make them his own, may be read as how he manages to re-place her while simultaneously re-placing himself.)


IV. Nelly Displaced

In Frameworks: Narrative Levels and Embedded Narrative, William Nelles draws attention to Angela Moger’s claim that the function of frames is to highlight and even mock the impossibility of reading any central narrative conventionally; he concludes: “embedding and embedded narratives can always be viewed in terms of supplement and lack. Thus narrative embedding often has the paradoxical effect not only of producing the illusion of a more profound realism or aesthetic unity, […] but also of undercutting that illusion at the same time” (149). Brian Olszewski interprets the two narratives in competition as a playful construct: “Less a product of how the novel remains in a state of transition between acts of narrating the same story, this interplay [… formalizes and exploits] a ludism inherent to narrative and extends the rules of the novelistic game” (2). And yet, despite “all its effects,” writes John T. Matthews, “the frame seems to take its identity as a function of something else — the center, the destination, the interior that it serves. […] By indicating all that is not-the-story, the frame’s marginality becomes indispensable to providing the ground which defines the figure of the narrative. […] So far as it is successful the frame must suppress its content, for otherwise it diminishes the enframed” (25-26). To be sure, the function of Lockwood’s frame invites readers to question narrative conventions, and, whether or not it is having fun bouncing back and forth between narrators, it certainly attempts to suppress its content to serve Nelly’s embedded narrative so self-consciously as to make itself indispensable.

At the beginning of chapter two, when we first meet Nelly, Lockwood tells us, “the housekeeper, a matronly lady taken as a fixture along with the house, could not, or would not comprehend my request that I might be served at five” (Brontë 6). Already, it could be said, Nelly has asserted dominance over Lockwood’s narrative. He will eat, but on her schedule and not his, despite his superiority as paying master of the house and her supposed subservience as housekeeper. In “The Villain of Wuthering Heights,” James Hafley argues that Nelly’s long-ago displacement upon young Heathcliff’s arrival is motive enough for a number of misdeeds and omissions that set so much of the dramatic traumas into action; that she is narrator of these events is suspect—how much is truth, how much is admission of guilt, how much is omitted, how much is unjustified pride? Hafley is a harsh critic of Nelly Dean, and he admits that her unwillingness to serve Lockwood when he desires “doesn’t involve even a mildly spectacular instance of her evil-doing, [yet] nonetheless is of major importance in the establishment of her character” (201).

Bouncing from Wuthering Heights to Thrushcross Grange and back and forth again, Nelly seems always to be displaced. In fact, at the very beginning of her own narrative about her childhood she comes right out and laments the arrival of Heathcliff — for his body displaces her own as the charity case in the Earnshaw household, and on his first night there she “was sent out of the house” (Brontë 32). James Hafley reads this incident as Nelly’s motive for a slew of unforgivable offenses. Accusing her to be “The Villain in Wuthering Heights,” he recounts her first appearance in the text as the housekeeper who refuses to serve Lockwood at his customary dinner time. Hafley reminds us of Heathcliff’s first speech, in which he claims Thrushcross Grange as his own and grumbles that he would not be inconvenienced if he could help it. Hafley argues, “If Nelly has inconvenienced Lockwood slightly, she has ‘inconvenienced’ Heathcliff to the point of tragedy; and unless Heathcliff is to be seen as either a straw man or a devil he must be looked at as tragically helpless, an Othello, in Nelly’s hands” (201). Hafley’s reading leans heavily on Nelly’s slip of tongue: “she tells Lockwood that ‘Hareton is the last of them [the Earnshaws], as our Miss Cathy is of us — I mean, of the Lintons’” (202). But where Hafley reads her slip of tongue as an admission of an insatiable desire to identify with the Lintons, I argue that it provides further evidence of Nelly’s displacement.

The real injustice, however, is not that Heathcliff usurps Nelly’s place as a near equal to the Earnshaw children when, before his arrival, she “was almost always at Wuthering Heights; because [her] mother had nursed Mr. Hindley Earnshaw [… and she was] used to playing with the children” (Brontë 30). Instead, I can’t help but think Nelly’s first and most damaging displacement occurs before her story even begins — prior to the events surrounding Heathcliff’s arrival. As Nelly tells it, she is displaced and banished from the household upon his arrival; but what she fails to either recognize or tell is that, really, she should never have thought herself to be in such a position at all. Her real displacement, then, prior to the start of her story, is having been allowed to believe that she was ever like the Earnshaw children to begin with. Nelly’s own story begins in displacement. Whether she is aware or not, she does not acknowledge it. Rather than see her as a villain, I see her as a sort of tragic figure who, even in her own construction of herself, is unable to accurately construct her self. But can anyone? Can any of us tell the stories of ourselves, accurately? Nelly’s version of events — anyone’s version of any events — is always a narrative, always constructed, and always embedded in other narratives, even those (like Lockwood’s) that have no impact on them whatsoever.


V. Lockwood and Nelly Reframed

And yet, without Lockwood’s transcription, Nelly’s story would not exist as a physical object. At the end of her first installment, her oral tale draws attention to itself as Lockwood’s aural experience as she concludes: “I really thought [Heathcliff] not vindictive — I was deceived, completely, as you will hear” (Brontë 34). Four weeks later, when Lockwood convinces Nelly to resume, he admits, “I am too weak to read, yet I feel as if I could enjoy something interesting. Why not have up Mrs. Dean to finish her tale” (Brontë 80)? It is unclear whether Lockwood’s use of “interesting” and “tale” indicate if he takes her any less seriously now than he did upon baiting her to tell her story, “hoping she would prove a regular gossip” (Brontë 28). But one week later, at the beginning of Volume II, Lockwood tells the reader, “I have now heard all my neighbor’s history, at different settings, as the housekeeper could spare time from more important occupations. I’ll continue it in her own words, only a little condensed. She is, on the whole, a very fair narrator and I don’t think I could improve her style” (Brontë 137). With all of Volume II remaining we readers no longer occupy the same position as Lockwood, listening to Nelly’s story. Now, at the beginning of the second half of the book, Lockwood, who tells the story from some fixed point in the future, takes over the narrative. He admits to cutting things out of Nelly’s version but claims to retain her “style.”

To whom, though, is he telling the story? For whom does he write his diary? Whether Lockwood writes for himself or for an intended audience, his diary establishes itself in his first entry as a sort of proof-of-life document for himself and the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights. In his second diary entry, Lockwood’s own unquiet slumber, his dreams, are situated at the center of his journey from Thrushcross Grange to Wuthering Heights and back again. As the journey nearly kills him, it might be read as a near brush with or even a metaphorical death; upon his return, in fact, his servants are quick to remark that “they had completely given [him] up” for dead (Brontë 26). And his third diary entry, which marks the beginning of his convalescence, or his self-erasure, introduces Nelly Dean’s multi-chapter narrative and concludes with a brief, half-paragraph return to his own: “In truth, I felt rather disposed to defer the sequel of her narrative, myself: now that she is vanished to her rest, and I have meditated for another hour or two, I shall summon courage to go, also, in spite of aching laziness of head and limbs” (79). The phrase “vanished to her rest” is particularly interesting, as it disposes of the body completely before laying it to “rest”; also curious is Lockwood’s claim that courage is the prerequisite for sleep. A plausible explanation is that, in his feverish condition, he anticipates another night of bad dreams and will need to be brave to face them. A stranger explanation is that he anticipates not another night of bad dreams but a night of unquiet slumber. In having dreamed the dead to life the night before, he has nearly sacrificed his own life. For the spirit of Catherine’s to become, his own has begun to un-become; and in his weakened condition, perhaps tonight will kill him off entirely.

Considering the fact that his own narrative faded quickly in this third diary entry, only to be overtaken by Nelly Dean’s bold, strong, “salt of the earth” narrative, Lockwood’s record of life can be (literally) read as disappearing. His narrative text is “vanishing to rest,” and, frighteningly, it is even more invisible than already-dead Catherine’s. Her diary, “written, as well as printed” (an odd distinction), is conflated with her name scratched into the paint of the window ledge (Brontë 22). As Lockwood does not wish Heathcliff to know he has read it, he substitutes one text for the other. The diary vanishes, but the other, far more visible, remains; and it is an anomaly, for her scratched name is not so much an addition to the painted writing surface than it is a subtraction of it. Even the absence of ink, the ghost of paint, exists more vibrantly than Lockwood’s vanished narrative, the letters of her name rising “from the dark, as vivid as spectres — the air swarm[ing] with Catherines” (Brontë 15). Afraid to “vanish to rest” entirely, Lockwood must be brave; but it certainly can’t be of much comfort to him that Nelly’s narrative concluded with three great threats: imminent death, unread letters, and the body forgotten.

The imminent death in this case is Cathy’s, for Nelly recounts how the doctor orders her to “take care she did not throw herself down stairs, or out of the window,” which can’t not trigger Lockwood’s memory of her desperate attempt to come in through the window (Brontë 78). The unread letters are those that Nelly “had just begun to teach” little Hareton (Brontë 79). If, for Lockwood, text is proof of life, then illiteracy is a grave threat, and Hareton the executioner of it. Even worse, as Nelly laments, for Hareton proof of life exists only in memory: “I was persuaded to leave Wuthering Heights […] and, since then, he has been a stranger, and it’s very queer to think it, but I’ve no doubt he has completely forgotten all about Ellen Dean and that he was ever more than all the world to her, and she to him” (Brontë 79)! Having vanished from Hareton’s life, Nelly essentially ceases to exist. Vanishing “to rest” at Thrushcross Grange, Nelly, via her own textual narrative firmly embedded in Lockwood’s third diary entry, is herself re-placed. Perhaps Lockwood — who fancies himself coldhearted and antisocial — is in fact performing an act of sacrificial kindness. No longer simply the proof of his own life, Lockwood’s diary now houses and protects proof of Nelly’s (which in turn houses the rest of the characters’).

Recalling Charlotte Brontë’s confusing character description of strong, simple Emily, perhaps the best example recounts that while dying of tuberculosis she refused to see a doctor until it was too late; a close second is the story of being “bitten by a (possibly) rabid dog which resulted in her walking calmly into the kitchen and cauterizing the wound herself with a hot iron” (“Emily Jane Brontë”). Arguably, every living thing hovers over the threshold between life and death, but these anecdotes about Emily’s strength and simplicity serve to highlight the heightened drama of existing between life and imminent death. As if the knowledge of Death standing on one’s doorstep is not a profoundly human-enough problem, the in-between spaces Emily occupies — consumptive, cauterized — are marked by her body’s pain and suffering. And this in-between space, which so characterizes what little we know of her life, is precisely where her Lockwood resides.

Ultimately, his own body in pain also contribute to the larger conversation about Wuthering Heights generic categorization, for the acts of writing and reflecting are quite Romantic, yet the trope of the diary (not to mention a found diary-within-a-diary!) as well as the violence of a dream about a ghost (and not just any ghost but one that bleeds!) is all very gothic; and yet, the domestic — “associated with civilization, cultivation, and the feminine” (which are in turn associated more with Thrushcross Grange than Wuthering Heights) — also looms large during Nelly Dean’s medicinal storytelling/narratorial nursing as Lockwood is slowly re-placed in that most domestic and personal, private space of the bedroom (Rena-Dozier). And although it may seem as if Lockwood finally exercises some control over his own narrative when he decides, against Heathcliff’s wishes, to return again the next day — “I shall go, notwithstanding” — he will be rewarded for his decision by (1) being attacked by dogs once again and “forced to lie there till their malignant masters,” men more powerful than he, rescue him, and (2) being immobilized by a nightmare and, once again, yelling “aloud, in a frenzy of fright” (Brontë 5, 13-14, 21). The “yell was not ideal,” he tells us, which may well be the understatement of the novel (Brontë 21). But, as it is also a diarist’s confession, it serves from that moment of intense fright to assert, I am here! Once written, preserved in text, it becomes, I was there!


Works Cited

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Neilson, Heather. “‘The face at the window’: Gothic thematics in Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights, and The Turn of the Screw.” Sydney Studies in English 19 (1993): 74-87. Print.

Nelles, William. Frameworks: Narrative Levels and Embedded Narrative. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1997. Print.

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Tunsakul, Rangisma. “Narrators’ Reliability in Wuthering Heights: A Structural Study.” Master’s thesis, Thammasat University, 2009.

Liminality Revisited

Sappho: "Who ever desires what is not gone?"