Comparing Jane Eyre & Wuthering Heights

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

The Bronte sisters are one of the most accomplished literary families of all time and their two masterpieces, Charlotte's ''Jane Eyre'' and Emily's ''Wuthering Heights,'' share many traits that reflect their upbringing and shared interests but also show the sisters' different styles.

Sibling Rivalry

If you have siblings, you know how intense sibling rivalry can be and how hard it can be to live in the shadow of an accomplished brother or sister. So now imagine that you are one of the greatest novelists of your time. But one of the other great writers of your time happens to be your own sister!

That was the situation the Bronte sisters found themselves in during the mid 19th century. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte, along with their brother Branwell, were well educated by their clergyman father. Growing up largely alone, the four siblings entertained each other with elaborate storytelling games.

As adults, all three Bronte sisters would publish novels considered masterpieces, though the two best-known are Charlotte's Jane Eyre and Emily's Wuthering Heights. Both were published in 1847 under male pseudonyms, though Jane Eyre was an immediate bestseller while Wuthering Heights took years to be widely read and recognized as a masterpiece.

The two novels share a lot in common besides the last name of their authors. Both have elements of the Gothic novel and a Byronic hero. But they also differ in important ways, such as showing Charlotte's more positive view of the world and human nature.

The Gothic

Both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights have been identified as containing elements of the Gothic novel. The Gothic novel is a genre that became popular in the 18th and 19th centuries thanks to Horace Walpole's 1764 bestseller, The Castle of Otranto. Gothic novels are known for their spooky settings-- usually in isolated old castles or grand houses-- their dark and moody tone, and hidden, often taboo secrets.

Jane Eyre shows its Gothic influence in its spooky, isolated settings like Lowood, Moor House, and Thornfield, which, as a rundown old manor house, is perhaps the most Gothic of the locations. The novel is also full of secrets, the biggest being Rochester's hidden wife Bertha. And there are seemingly supernatural occurences, another staple of the Gothic, like Jane's encounter with the ghost of her Uncle Reed, though these are later revealed to have logical explanations.

Wuthering Heights, like Jane Eyre, perhaps shows its Gothic influence most strongly in its location, the isolated and rundown country house Wuthering Heights. As the title indicates, the location plays an even bigger role in Emily's book. And its central lovers, Catherine and Heathcliff, are also full of family secrets that imperil their romance. And while it does not contain any supernatural elements, Wuthering Heights does hint at taboo topics like incest and necrophilia, another classic Gothic element.

Byronic Heroes

Both Heathcliff, the hero of Wuthering Heights, and Rochester, Jane's love interest in Jane Eyre, have been identified as Byronic heroes. Named for the early 19th century poet Lord Byron, who both wrote about and lived as a Byronic hero, the term describes a classic 'bad boy': a male hero who breaks the rules of social decorum but is undeniably charismatic and irresistible.

So Heathcliff and Rochester are both bad boys, but earn the title in different ways. Rochester is a gentleman, in title anyway, who rejects the rules of the social class he is born into. He's old, ugly, rude, violent, and keeps his wife locked in the attic. But despite all that, Jane, who's half his age, can't resist him because he is honest and passionate, unlike everyone else.

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