Writing Style in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights: Diction & Tone

Instructor: Ian Matthews

Ian teaches college writing and has a Master's in Writing and Publishing

Emily Bronte's 'Wuthering Heights' is written as a journal by the novel's narrator, Lockwood. Within that journal are several other voices, as different characters tell Lockwood pieces of the story, but the writing style is all Bronte.

Writing Style in Wuthering Heights

The cover of Signet

It's important to remember that Emily Bronte's novel Wuthering Heights is written as the narrator Lockwood's journal. He's writing down the things that happen to him and transcribing Nelly's story of the events at Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange along the way. That unique approach influences the writing style of the book greatly--Lockwood's journal writing is introspective, sometimes deluded, and lofty in tone.

Bronte alters her diction and tone based on several factors, including the character that she's speaking through. As discussed below, the combination of Lockwood's journal and Nelly's narrative puts Bronte's writing through some interesting challenges.

Using Diction to Build Character

Social status is huge for the characters of Wuthering Heights--it's the main source of conflict, as some deal with being mistreated due to low social status and others try to elevate their own status at the expense of others. Diction is a great indicator of a character's social rank: the more elevated the diction, the more socially fancy the character.

Take a look at this line from Joseph, the servant at Wuthering Heights: ''There's nobbut t' missis; and shoo'll not oppen 't an ye mak' yer flaysome dins till neeght.'' It's written in the vernacular (a written translation of the way that ordinary people talk), so it's pretty hard to read. Since Joseph is a servant, his speaking and communicating are not as fancy or sophisticated as other characters. Another character, Hareton Earnshaw, speaks in a similar way at the beginning of the novel because even though Hareton is the rightful heir to Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff has reduced his social status to that of an illiterate servant.

Contrast that with a few sentences from Heathcliff: ''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? 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.'' Heathcliff used to have very low social status; the lowest of just about anybody at Wuthering Heights. Later in his life though, he makes a concerted effort to raise his social rank, and his diction changes as he does. Thus, further along in the story, Heathcliff speaks in longer sentences with fancier words.

Bronte the Poet

Bronte was a poet before she wrote Wuthering Heights, and her poetic instincts guide her writing in this her only novel. Take a look at this poem: ''Fall, Leaves, Fall'' and see if you can catch the similarities to the tone in the novel.

''Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;

Lengthen night and shorten day;

Every leaf speaks bliss to me

Fluttering from the autumn tree.

I shall smile when wreaths of snow

Blossom where the rose should grow;

I shall sing when night's decay

Ushers in a drearier day.''

Aside from the obvious parallels (the imagery of nature, the bleak subject matter, etc.), there's a solemn tone to the poem (and many of Bronte's other poems) that exists both here in this specific poem and in the novel Wuthering Heights. Compare this to the last few lines of the novel:

''I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells, listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass, and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.''

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