In this essay I will aim to describe how my experience of Emily Brönte’s novel “Wuthering Heights” has been altered as a result of my reading the critical essay by Susan Meyer included in the edition of the novel. The latter is the last in a number of critical essays concerning the novel, all of which argues for their different critical approaches and point to symbolism, hidden themes and aspects of the novel to which it would be advantageous for the reader to direct his attention. What sets Meyer’s essay apart from the others, is that she does not focus on only one perspective, but combines several to provide a fuller interpretation of the novel. I will argue that she, in addition to this, presents her own perspective. In order to find how my experience of the novel altered by reading Meyer, I had to make sure that my first reading of the novel was a process in which I passed judgment upon and decided how to relate to the actions of the characters and their conduct. In addition to this, an awareness of the fact that there were underlying themes and symbolism in the novel had to be present, in order to have something to compare the themes and symbolism of the critical essays to. How was my experience of the novel altered by reading Meyer, and in what ways did this essay prove to be more beneficial to the reader than the single perspective essays represented by the also included Wion essay?
Having read Susan Meyer’s essay and then reread the novel my awareness of several points of which I had been previously unaware arose. This was mainly in relation to theme and the role of the characters. My first reading had produced a notion of the novel conveying some sort of social criticism, but, having read Meyer’s essay, I came to acknowledge just how prominent this theme was. The novel is primarily thematically critical of various forms of social oppression enacted by contemporary society of the time, more specifically inflicted upon the colonised peoples and women, and to some extent the working class (i). However, having stated this, I found that the driving force in the novel, at least according to Meyer, is these oppressed groups fighting back and ultimately winning, primarily through the character of Heathcliff.
The essay’s interpretation of the role of Heathcliff, combined with the theme above, also enriched my experience of the novel. I had not really seen Heathcliff as a representative of anyone or anything but himself until rereading the novel. What seemed most intriguing were the ways in which Heathcliff was shown to represent the colonised peoples and the determined manner in which he reversed his relationship to those to which he had been subjugated (symbolic of the reverse imperialism). The essay also helped me become aware of the fact that the novel had close connections to the real world, not just in themes but also in small details such as Heathcliff’s three year long absence, which, “as a calculation of dates in the novel reveals, takes place between 1780 and 1783, the last three years of the American Revolutionary War” (ii). These enlightening facts are the result of a closer study that gives meaning to the novel, results that I may not have been able to achieve myself without the benefit of Meyer’s essay.
Is, then, Meyer’s approach in some ways more beneficial to the reader than the other approaches, being one that claims to be combining several perspectives rather than arguing just one? I would say that this is the case, but not in the manner which one may at first expect. In theory, any such essay that considers more than one perspective would have more to offer the reader than one that focuses primary on one. The perspectives are being weighed against each other in significance, and also, such a combination of perspectives provides a fuller picture of literary phenomena such as the roles of the characters. The single perspective essay, although useful in the thorough way it presents its perspective, is inevitably bound to consider only those aspects of the novel that support that particular perspective, thus giving an incomplete picture of the novel.
Philip K. Wion’s essay of psychoanalytic perspective “The Absent Mother in Wuthering Heights” shows ways in which a single perspective essay is less successful as a means of understanding the novel than an essay such as Meyer’s. Although Wion is touching central issues in the novel such as the identity of the characters, this is only a minor point. His main point, though not his only point, is that of the mother figure, and the basis for his focus on this is, I believe, his knowledge of the author’s problems with coping with the death of her own mother. I consider this to be slightly misguided, as Wion to a larger extent than the others fails to focus on the novel as an entity in its own right, and becomes too preoccupied with the author. A theme of little prominence and consequence is given too much attention due to similarities to the life of the author. Although the link between the author and the novel is present, the primary focus of such an essay should be the novel in itself. The essay suffers the fate of many other similar single perspective essays, it fails to focus on prominent and influential themes in the novel and through lack of hard textual evidence impose its views upon lesser evidence (iii). Instead of joining together several minor perspectives, which would have presented the reader with a sense of the variety of themes and possibly some interconnectedness, Wion has to lean on information that need not necessarily be of any consequence to the novel to grant his perspective validity. This makes the essay less successful as a means of understanding the novel than, in fact, all the other essays, but Meyer’s essay of combining perspectives in particular.
The status of Meyer’s essay as being a more effective tool in understanding the novel than the others is based in its dual goal of presenting a new perspective in addition to providing a combination of perspectives. The essay does not actually combine perspectives merely for the benefit of the reader as much as for the purpose of providing a basis for a new perspective, which leaves the reader with a myriad of impressions. The main one, though, is that of the novel as a testimony to reverse imperialism, as is indeed indicated in the very title of the essay (iv). Thus, the essay actually goes beyond the others, as it both presents a new perspective, as well as leaving the reader with an interpretation of decisive sections of the novel in accordance with the most befitting critical approach. Meyer recognises and takes into account that the novel does, in fact, have several themes and can be critically approached in an equal multitude of ways. In conveying this she provides an approach much more beneficial to the reader than the other critics. By using the other approaches as a basis for her own perspective, she gives the latter a status, or at least an air, of superiority as it is well founded, not only in the text, but also in a variety of other approaches.
“Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brönte is a novel packed with various themes. It can be read and reread with focus on a new theme each time, and one would thus get several different impressions of the novel. However, an essay such as the one by Meyer can go a long way in touching on all the themes and thereby providing a much more effective and, to the reader, beneficial tool than the other essays. Also, it ensures that the themes it presents are of influence in the text, and often connected in some manner. My experience of the novel was certainly enriched by having read the essay, and this to a much greater extent than would have been the case after reading a single perspective essay.
(i) The same conclusion is reached by Linda H. Peterson in the introduction to Meyer’s essay (Peterson 479). The similarities between the situations of these groups as well became clear to me through the essay, as I had at first perceived Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship to be a purely amorous one.)
(ii) Meyer 495
(iii) The Wion essay is also a complete essay, it is not taken from a larger argument, so one would expect it to be more focused than it is.
(iv) Meyer 480
Emily Brontë, ‘Wuthering Heights’, edited by, and including introductions by, Linda H. Peterson (Boston and New York: St. Martin’s Press; 2nd ed, 2003).
Critical Essays included in this ed.:
Susan Meyer, ‘Your Father Was Emperor of China, and Your Mother an Indian Queen’: Reverse Imperialism in Wuthering Heights (Reprinted from ‘Imperialism at Home: Race and Victorian Women’s Fiction’, Cornell University Press, 1996)
Philip K. Wion, ‘The Absent Mother in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights’ (Reprinted from ‘American Imago 42:2’, John Hopkins Press, 1985)
(original essay written for the course ENG1301, 07.04.2006)