Is Wuthering Heights a romance, or a ghost story? In this podcast, James Quinnell examines the types of haunting that the characters of Brontë’s novel experience, hauntings that express a longing for home and for a greater connection between the living and the dead. This podcast was recorded as part of the Late Summer Lecture Series 2013.
Wuthering Heights has been described as a haunted novel (it is more of a ghost story than a romance) and this haunting is an expression of homesickness. This lecture explores the connection between haunting and homesickness in Emily Brontë’s novel and a selection of her poetry. For Brontë, ghosts are an expression of longing and desire; characters in Wuthering Heights and the Gondal creations in the poetry seek out ghosts; they raise rather than exorcise them. Emily Brontë’s vision of the ghostly is that home is made with them rather than that they are banished.
Using ideas from Stephen Greenblatt, the hospitality to ghosts can be seen as situating Brontë in a pre-reformation world with its strong sense of the claims of previous generations. This is expressed in the Roman Catholic teaching of the communion of saints where the dead have claims on the intercessions of the living. Brontë’s use of ghosts is an expression of a homesickness at living in a post-reformation world where the dead are really dead and there is no possibility of return. Such a state is, arguably, what Heathcliff means by the “abyss” where he cannot find Catherine.
Ghosts and homesickness suggest Brontë as not being at home in a post-reformation world. By contrast, they intimate that she is strongly attached to earth. Her ghosts do not come from another world to admonish. They wander the earth as an expression of attachment to the earthly and rejection of heaven. The term “spirit of place” aptly articulates the way that Wuthering Heights haunts many readers with its strong sense of a vividly created place.
Late Summer Lectures is a series of lectures given by PhD students, bringing new research to a public audience. This lecture was one of a pair on the theme of Hauntings, House and Home in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. The second lecture on Jane Eyre and Masculinity is also available to listen to.
Other lectures in this series featured Dickensian steampunk, the Newcastle poetry scene, and writing about Irish airmen. See here to listen to them all.