Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights
New York, NY 10027
A novel of cruelty, poisoned love, ruthless necessity, intergenerational vendettas, memory and revenge, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights remains an opulent enigma. First published under the male pseudonym, Ellis Bell, the book puzzled and repulsed its initial readers, who castigated it for immorality but reluctantly acknowledged its inscrutable power. In a preface to the novel, Charlotte Brontë attempted to vindicate her sister by arguing that, Emily “did not know what she had done” in creating characters like Heathcliff and Catherine. Charlotte’s claim is one of the most famous in a long tradition of criticism that positions Wuthering Heights as ignorant of the conditions of its own creation, a work channeled from elsewhere rather than the result of deliberate labor, “hewn in a wild workshop,” as Charlotte puts it, like “a granite block on a solitary moor . . . moulded with at least one element of grandeur—power.” Charlotte lionizes Emily as a genius at the cost, merely, of excusing her from responsibility for everything in Wuthering Heights that unsettles so persistently and profoundly.
Why have readers found Wuthering Heights such an enduringly disturbing book? And why have critics turned to this novel in order to make claims about narrative theory, gender, desire, the social dynamics of Victorian empire, vengeance, song, industrialization, and personhood? What should readers make of the arc of the vengeful Heathcliff, especially with respect to the operations of race and ethnicity? How does the novel picture problems of justice, malice, property, and sex? How should we understand this novel’s debts to the Gothic, Romanticism, realism, and to its own moment of composition? And what does it mean to call Wuthering Heights a work of genius or to call Brontë herself a genius?
In addition to the text of Wuthering Heights, this course will feature a selection of critical and creative responses, which are likely to include (among others) the work of Anne Carson, Claire Jarvis, Minae Mizumura, Caryl Phillips, Susan Stewart, Raymond Williams, and Virginia Woolf.
Course ScheduleMonday, 6:30-9:30pm
April 08 — April 29, 2019