Wuthering Heights as a Gothic Novel | Emily Bronte | Gothic elements in Wuthering Heights

Gothic fiction is a literary genre that contains elements of terror, death, and romance. In literature, it is said that gothic fiction was started with Horace Walpole. Horace Walpole’s novel “The Castle of Otranto” which is regarded as the first gothic fiction in English literature was published in 1764.

The major characteristics of gothic fiction comprise horror, haunted settings, spirits, apparitions, gloominess, insanity, and secrets. Emily Bronte’s famous novel “Wuthering Heights” which was published in December 1847 is also considered gothic fiction because it demonstrates both the characteristics of romantic and gothic literature.

Haunted and Gloomy setting in Wuthering Heights:

The most important characteristic of gothic fiction is haunted and gloomy settings. The story takes place on the  unpleasantly rough and wild English moors. The setting of the novel is most of the time portrayed as savage and gloomy, adding to the dusky and dark mood of the novel. Emily Bronte has shown the gothic setting of Wuthering Heights from the very second page of the novel with gothic vocabulary like “grotesque”, “wilderness”, and “griffins” etc. These gothic words immediately create a sense of dread and horror in the reader’s mind. The building of Wuthering Heights was also constructed 300 years ago, so it is understandable that many generations resided there and possibly it has seen many evils and deaths. All these make the building of Wuthering Heights an eerie and ghostly building and apparently a perfect setting for a gothic novel.

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The word “Wuthering” distinctly means the horribly fierce and wild weather and we can see such numerous accounts of the weather in the novel as well. Storms and lightning are very much evident in every important scene, for example when Heathcliff all of a sudden escapes, when Catherine dies, and when Catherine chooses to marry Edgar Linton, there is a lightning and storm. Bronte employs such weather descriptions to reveal the passion, desire and emotions of the characters in the novel.

Dark images and morbidity:

Morbidity was spread around Wuthering Heights. Bronte presented this morbidness through the images of hostile dogs “other dogs haunted other recesses”. (Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights). We can simply explain this representation of dogs as a symbol of evil which is observing us from every part of the house. The darkness of Wuthering Heights is shown as opposed to the brilliance of Thrushcross Grange. Thrushcross Grange is an appealing place “carpeted with crimson”. By employing contrastive settings, it is the purpose of the gothic novel to show two clearly different worlds that are not at all pleasant nor definite to the reader. 

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Supernatural elements in Wuthering Heights:

Emily Bronte employed multiple supernatural elements such as ghosts, dreams and vision, burial ground etc

Ghosts are also a major characteristic of gothic fiction. But in Wuthering Heights, ghosts are shown in such fashion that their actual presence is obscure. No matter whether ghosts are real or not, they signify the intervention of the past within the present day and they never let people forget or overlook the past. In Chapter 3, Lockwood finds Catherine’s ghost revealing itself to him. Lockwood struggles to describe to himself what is happening: “Why did I think of Linton?” This implies that he considers the sight of Catherine as an illusion of his mind. Whether Catherine’s ghost is real or not, Lockwood’s reaction certainly creates a terror in the reader’s mind.

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After Catharine’s death, Heathcliff was so desperate to meet her that he even tried to hold Catharine by digging her grave. He heard something there but there was no one there. But Heathcliff was sure that the sound that he heard was of Catharine. So, by way of these scary illustrations, we sensed the frightful ghost that might make sound and be sensed like a human being. In the final chapter of the novel, the roaming ghosts of Heathcliff and Catherine is also evoked a sense of terror in the reader’s mind. 

Gothic element in character development:

 Heathcliff, the hero of the novel “Wuthering Heights”, is a typical gothic protagonist. Heathcliff has also been considered a Byronic hero, an admired but faulty character. The characteristics of a Byronic hero are also evident in Heathcliff’s character: an unsettled and enigmatic past, (nobody knows his birthplace and his parents) manipulative and cunning (he wins Isabella’s compassion and takes advantage of it later.)  Heathcliff never expresses any concerns in ruining those for whom he does not care. Isabella Linton becomes enamored with Heathcliff and is exploited so badly that she leaves Heathcliff. In this way, Heathcliff is a supreme example of a Byronic as well as a gothic protagonist.

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As opposed to Heathcliff, Isabella, just like other gothic novel’s women characters, is feeble, and confined by Heathcliff. At first Heathcliff wins Isabella’s compassion and love and takes advantage of it later. Isabella eloped with Heathcliff without listening to anyone. But later he had to repent because she was tormented, confined and had to die dismally far away from her pleasant home. So such honest and feeble women characters are very common in gothic fictions.


We cannot categorize “Wuthering Heights” solely as a gothic novel, but we can’t also deny the fact that Bronte’s novel has some gothic elements in it. To conclude, we can say that Catherine’s ghost, the morbid and mysterious setting of the residence Wuthering Heights, and Heathcliff’s character make “Wuthering Heights” a gothic novel and evoke a strong feeling of fear, trepidation, and agony in the reader’s mind.

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