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Frankenstein & Wuthering Heights Comparison

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.

Emily Bronte's ''Wuthering Heights'' and Mary Shelley's ''Frankenstein'' are two of the greatest examples of 19th century Gothic fiction. Both include Gothic elements such as the supernatural and taboo subject matter, as well as versions of the Byronic hero, but they handle them differently. In this lesson, we will explore the similarities and differences in these two classics

Two Young Geniuses

Nineteenth century England saw a flowering of female novelists who, despite the traditional barriers to women writing and publishing, had a huge impact on English literature. Two of these were Emily Bronte and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, who both wrote masterpieces at a young age. Bronte published Wuthering Heights, her only novel, in 1847at the age of 29, a year before she died tragically young. Shelley, meanwhile, was only 20 when Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus was published in 1818.

Both novels show the influence of the Gothic novel, a genre popular in the 18th and early 19th centuries in England. Gothic novels often dealt with taboo subject matter, especially those taboos related to sex and death, and included supernatural elements. And many featured a Byronic hero who breaks society's rules.

Wuthering Heights and Frankenstein both include this Gothic elements, but handle them in very different ways.

The Supernatural

Gothic writers and readers were fascinated by all manner of supernatural occurences: ghosts, vampires, the living dead, and so on. Both Wuthering Heights and Frankenstein feature characters who try to 'cheat death' in some way, using supernatural means.

In Wuthering Heights, the dead Catherine seems to haunt the house of Wuthering Heights and its surrounding moors, in particular beckoning to her lost love Heathcliff. And there are implications that Heathcliff himself, with his mysterious origins and Gypsy background, is a supernatural creature. He is teased for being a demon as a child, due to his dark skin. And at the end of the novel, Isabella wonders if he might actually be a demon or ghoul after enduring her abusive relationship with him. And the novel ends with Heathcliff and Catherine reunited in death, seemingly fated to haunt the moors forever.

In Frankenstein, the scientist Victor Frankenstein develops a technique for actually animating body parts, leading to the creation of his hideous monster. But unlike in Wuthering Heights, which is based in old religious traditions about ghosts, the supernatural in Frankenstein is grounded in science. Frankenstein uses chemistry and biology to develop his technique for bringing people back to life.

Because of this, Frankenstein is often considered the first science fiction novel, looking forward to a world in which scientists can do things that are seemingly magic. Wuthering Heights, on the other hand, looks back to older traditions about ghosts, demons, and unsettled spirits.

Taboos

One of the things that appealed to audiences about Gothic fiction is their willingness to break taboos. A taboo, simply, is something that is forbidden by a culture, tied to either religious belief or just social custom. Taboos regulate proper behavior over things ranging from sexual activity to death and burial.

One taboo that both Wuthering Heights and Frankenstein plays with is the divide between living and dead. In Victorian culture, as in many others, dead bodies were laid to rest in the ground with the belief that one should not disturb them. For one thing, it violated religious beliefs about the separation of this world and the next. For another, it's just creepy and gross. But both Heathcliff and Frankenstein refuse to follow these taboos.

In Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff bribes a gravedigger to dig up Catherine's corpse 18 years after she died. He stares at it in a creepy fashion, which many readers have interpreted as hinting at necrophilia. He then makes the gravedigger promise to bury them side by side. When asked about disturbing the dead, Heathcliff says Catherine has been disturbing him for 18 years.

In Frankenstein, contrary to popular belief, Victor Frankenstein does not actually make his monster out of the parts of dead bodies, though it is often portrayed that way in adaptations. Instead, his process is vaguely described but seems to involve actually creating and animating body parts. The monster he creates, though, has the look of an animated corpse, with yellowish, see-through skin. So while not literally made of dead body parts, the monster still gives the impression of a dead body brought back to life, violating the same taboo that Heathcliff does when he digs up Catherine.

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