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Nature in Wuthering Heights

Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

The beautiful but dangerous natural elements in Emily Bronte's ''Wuthering Heights'' cause concern for newcomers, but natives find them comforting. Nature, like some of the characters in the novel, is often depicted as uncultivated and threatening.

Moors and Crags

The setting of Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte is the English moors. The moors are wild and open land in the highlands that can be a dangerous place to those unfamiliar with the area. Nearby Penistone Crags, with its sheer rock faces, is just as treacherous as the moors. In Bronte's novel, nature often parallels the novel's characters and plot; the dark landscape also contributes to the brooding tone of Wuthering Heights.

Ponden Kirk is the inspiration for Penistone Crags
Ponden Kirk

Wuthering Heights

Heathcliff's home is named Wuthering Heights. The house's name is derived from 'the atmospheric tumult to which its station is exposed in stormy weather. Pure, bracing ventilation they must have up there at all times, indeed: one may guess the power of the north wind blowing over the edge, by the excessive slant of a few stunted firs at the end of the house; and by a range of gaunt thorns all stretching their limbs one way, as if craving alms of the sun.'

The imagery contained in this description of wuthering focuses on the disordered and tumultuous weather and accurately reflects the atmosphere inside the house as well. The 'craving' or yearning stance of the thorns can be read as a reflection of Heathcliff. Heathcliff, owner of Wuthering Heights, spends most of his life yearning for a woman who has spurned him and, later, hoping for a ghostly visit from his beloved Catherine.

Heathcliff and Catherine

The novel's natural elements are the perfect complement to the main characters in Wuthering Heights. Heathcliff and Catherine's tumultuous relationship parallels the weather at the heights. There are other similarities between the main characters and nature, as well. Heathcliff, like the unforgiving landscape of the novel, is often violent and cruel. Catherine is as changeable as the weather on the moors, with unpredictable moods.

Danger and Confusion

The beautiful landscape of the novel is often fraught with danger, as housekeeper Nelly Dean explains. She warns young Cathy Linton about Penistone Crags. 'You could not climb them, they are too high and steep. In winter the frost is always there before it comes to us; and deep into summer I have found snow under that black hollow on the north-east side!'

The marshes are dangerous, too. At one point, Heathcliff imprisons Nelly Dean and Cathy Linton inside Wuthering Heights. In Nelly's absence, rumors begin to swirl in the village regarding her disappearance, and no one seems to have any difficulty believing Nelly has 'sunk in the Blackhorse marsh.'

Lockwood, Heathcliff's tenant, is a newcomer to the area, unaware that the natural beauty of the countryside can be so menacing. When Lockwood goes to see Heathcliff during a snowstorm, Heathcliff reacts with surprise. 'I wonder you should select the thick of a snow-storm to ramble about in. Do you know that you run a risk of being lost in the marshes?' Heathcliff asks. 'People familiar with these moors often miss their road on such evenings; and I can tell you there is no chance of a change at present.'

The risk is so great, in fact, that Lockwood is forced to spend the night at Wuthering Heights. There he experiences a vision or a nightmare every bit as frightening as the snow-covered landscape he is attempting to escape.

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