The Early Life of Emily Bronte and Her Literary Techniques in Wuthering Heights

Yorkshire, England as the daughter of a clergyman. She grew up without a mother, because she died from cancer roughly nine months after giving birth to Emily’s sister, Anne, when Emily was only three. Emily was sent away to school at age 6, but was brought home when her two oldest sisters became fatally ill with tuberculosis because all of the children were weak and sickly to start off. The remaining Bronte children had very active imaginations, which stemmed from their independence and from their father’s writing.

Growing up at home without a formal education made Emily very shy, and she tried to return to school on her own at the school that Charlotte was teaching at, but instead returned home a few months later. Based on the way they were raised, Emily and Charlotte tried to find work in order to support themselves when they traveled to Brussels to study, but were unfortunately forced to return home when their aunt passed away.

As a result of the growing up having their imaginations carefully cultivated, Emily, Charlotte, and Anne all wrote several small works of literature. In collaboration with Anne, a fantasy world called Gondal was created, and they wrote a few short stories about this place together. Later on, Charlotte found some of Emily’s poems and insisted that poems by all three young women get published, but that they do so under false pen names, and chose male names to avoid criticism for being women.

Emily chose the name ‘Ellis’ because it was a name that could really apply to either a male or a female.

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Unfortunately, not many copies of their collective works were sold. In addition to the collaborative book of poetry, Emily used her pen name to publish Wuthering Heights. Interest in her writing was not great during her lifetime, but she today she is still considered to be a great writer, and the home in which she spent most of her life is now a museum that honors Emily and her sisters.

 From the style of writing to the plot of the books, the sisters’ books are very different. While Wuthering Heights is a “much darker and more disturbing” book, Jane Eyre is a very powerful book, “clearly written out of personal experience.” One artist who had read both books, Cornelia Parker, said that when she was a teenager, she preferred Jane Eyre for the “good end,” but when she reread the books as an adult, her opinion was changed because Wuthering Heights was a deeper book that had courage that she could not comprehend as a teenager.

Many of the men and women who were interviewed were more artistic, and those were the people that were able to delve deeper into Wuthering Heights that the academic and more literal people, who preferred Jane Eyre. These two sisters were able to capture different aspects of their similar lives and turn them into literary masterpieces of their own, because no two writers are the same, even if they grew up in more or less the same manner. Charlotte was able to take her childhood and her experiences to write a lighthearted book, while Emily took those same experiences and turned them into Wuthering Heights, a much darker and gloomier book.

Wuthering Heights had to battle its way across the obstacle course of literary critics, even though now it is considered to be one of the “greatest English novels” of all time, especially when it comes to the characters and the way they are developed. Many critics focused on the negative aspects of the book, including Charlotte when she wrote the preface for the second edition of the book, but the first fully positive review of it came from Sydney Dobell, which was published shortly before the second edition was released. Dobell described the brilliance of Emily’s writing in glowing terms.

One looks back at the wholes story as to a world of brilliant figures in an atmosphere of mist; shapes that come out upon the eye, and burn their colours into the brain, and depart into the enveloping fog.

This alone described the mood of the whole book; dark and mysterious with certain points burning their effects into the minds of the readers. He did not, however, make it clear that this book was the work of someone mature and sensitive. He found the work to be brilliant, but written by an “unformed… hand” and believed the writing to be the very first work of literature Emily had written.

Another critic who believed in the passions that Emily had when she wrote Wuthering Heights was John Skelton. He described her writing as a “volcano… beneath the flowers where we stand”, which meant that Emily’s writing is full of passion, ready to bubble over at any time and scorch those who have the courage and capacity to withstand her heat. Skelton also thought that her writing showed “massive strength,” which contrasts with what Dobell had said. There was, and still is, a lot of controversy over the content and style of Emily Bronte’s writing in Wuthering Heights.

Throughout history, writing has always had a particular point of view, or “gaze”; whether that gaze was from a character’s point of view, or as if from someone on the outside looking in. In this story, the gaze that Bronte writes about is that of an outsider, but still that of a character as well. Lockwood writes in his diary about the Wuthering Heights, a large mansion that Heathcliff resides in, and about Thrushcross Grange where he has rented a room. His housekeeper is the one telling the story to him, because she has spent her whole life living on the estate and caring for the family. The gaze in this story is more complex than that of other stories, because of the way it is told, so it is constantly under scrutiny.

also spoke of the different images that come to his mind as Nelly talks about the families that she works for, and the goings on in their lives. He believes that he is gazing into their lives by way of Nelly’s storytelling. In Wuthering Heights, Bronte used a writing style which was almost more visual than narrative, because she wanted her readers to see what they were reading as if it were in front of them; this was before imagery such as this was used regularly in novels of this genre. Her characters are often speaking, or using more details to describe what is going on than a typical book would do. The characters also speak in terms that would be read in the manner they were spoken, such as when Joseph speaks to Lockwood when he asks what he should do (17).

Much of the conversation that Nelly, the housekeeper, relays to Lockwood is filled with metaphors that only serve to confuse the man, but that he is careful to record in order to figure them out later. Wuthering Heights uses this concept of gaze, both in point of view and how the story is viewed by the readers, in order to carefully develop characters that have depth and emotions beyond those that can be conveyed without using detailed imagery. “Gaze” is considered to be one of the most powerful ways to convey a message to one’s readers.

Many critics use Medusa as an example for that, because her gaze is so powerful that it turns men to stone if they look her in the eye, but they are drawn to gaze at her because of the serpents in her hair and the concept of eyes that are staring back at them. The center of this book is definitely one that was written as a woman, as Bronte thought herself to be an empowered woman, ahead of her time. The fact that a woman is telling this story to a man, and Cathy is really running the estate in the background, not Heathcliff, tells us the real story.

The first inkling of a woman in control is Lockwood first comes to the house and he is confronted by angry dogs and a “lusty dame, with tucked up gown, bare arms, and fire-flushed cheeks” (6) comes to his rescue while the men are down in the cellar. Bronte wished that she could publish her book originally under her own name instead of under her male pen name so that she could claim credit for her own writing. Unfortunately, she died of consumption at age thirty before her writing was really appreciated in the literary world because of the critical controversy over the writing style and content.

Although Bronte was writing this book for herself, she was still very careful to maintain her position that the book was fictional. She did her best to relate the book to real life places and events, but even while she kept up with her characters, she made sure to keep them realistic as well. Bronte wanted to make the book as accurate as she could without basing it upon facts and people she knew. As she was writing her story from the position of the housekeeper telling a tale to Lockwood, Bronte had quite a challenge to keep up with this. She allowed herself to get lost in her writing to the point that sometimes her readers could feel that she was really there, writing the book from inside Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange.

Nelly was not always consistent in her manner of story-telling, but Lockwood did his best to follow along. The story is dark and gloomy, which gives the impression that Bronte was in a dark and gloomy place in her life as well. Heathcliff was portrayed as an angry older man who had no filter, and had no concept of courtesy at all. Lockwood meets him and learns of his angry personality very early on, and decides that his personality goes very well with the landscape and the weather that blows through the estates.

Bronte did not always come right out and say some of the things that she was writing about, and that was shown with her characters as well, particularly with Cathy. One of the things that she found the easiest to write about was nature, and the things that could go wrong out on the moors, especially when bad weather set in. Bronte’s characters reflected some of the things that she did in her own life, such as omissions about her life and Cathy’s descriptive omissions. Although Lockwood did not do a great job of portraying the natural side of things in his diary, Nelly was careful to describe them. The way the characters could change and fluidly become angry or calm was like the weather on the moors as well.

Nelly was trusted by almost everyone in the book, and therefore she is able to connect the dots between the families and has managed to form a reasonably fluid story to tell to Lockwood. The way she tells the story is as if she had been practicing telling it for years and years, though sometimes the story is happening in what is considered present time. Nelly is able to keep track of all the drama and confusion that goes on, and can carefully make sense of it like nobody else because of how well she has gotten to know the other people in her life.

In part, Nelly is just a nosy housekeeper who stirs up trouble just because she can, but her personality is just that of someone who has a thirst for information. Due to this thirst for something worthy of her attention, she looks to the other characters of the book to aid her in her narration, though she tells Lockwood about the families from her own viewpoint. Nelly is not as well-developed as Heathcliff or Cathy, because she does not talk about herself nearly as much as she discusses the Earnshaws and Lintons, and Lockwood is only writing in his journal about the adventures that are described to him. At times during Nelly’s narration, the readers lose touch with the fact that the story is being narrated, and are pulled into the story as if they are watching the events happen themselves, rather than reading about them being relayed.

Lockwood uses Nelly’s narration of Heathcliff’s life to distract him from his illness, which he acquired during his time wandering around outdoors in the snow after a miserable stay at Wuthering Heights. After Nelly finished her work every night, she would tell him more of the Earnshaw and Linton tale, which he would then record in his diary in order to remember all of it.

Lockwood’s diary tale ends with the death of Heathcliff and another marriage, after which Lockwood returns to his regular life. Not much else is told about Lockwood himself, as he does not write very much in his diary about himself, which is where the story comes from.

On the very first page, Bronte uses Lockwood to set the tone for the attitude that Heathcliff displays when he describes Heathcliff as having “black eyes withdraw[ing] so suspiciously under their brows” (1) upon their first meeting. Heathcliff is a dark character who has been through a lot in his time both on the estate and as a child, which leads the readers to understand his appearance as a very unpleasant man to encounter. By the end of the book, he has been developed into a cranky old man, and even when he is in “good humour,” he is still suspicious and contemptuous (413-415). Throughout the book, Nelly’s descriptions lead us to believe that Heathcliff really is a pleasant and romantic man, but he is frustrated by his love for Catherine, and he does not want to express his love while she is not there to accept what he has to offer her.

Unlike in other works of literature, Heathcliff is a romantic hero who does not make a change for the better at any point; his unpleasantness is a fixed personality trait in the entirety of Bronte’s work. Despite his return to the estate with money after being driven away by the actions of Hindley Earnshaw, the property is allowed to fall into disarray, which contributes further to the dark features of Heathcliff’s life. Heathcliff begins this adventure as a lonely orphan who has nothing at all, but progresses to what is essentially a servant in the house of the girl he loves and loves him, but he gets rejected for a ‘better’ man.

He finally gets out of the situation he is stuck in, then returns when he has money and social status in an attempt to win back the woman he loved and lost, only to lose her again in death. Heathcliff finishes his life as a bitter man with nothing to live for but the people who treated him badly as a young boy and the estate he worked so hard to win over. When he finally dies at the end of Bronte’s book, he is returned to the love he missed out on when he is buried with Catherine.

While Heathcliff is in love with Catherine, he marries her sister-in-law, Isabella, instead, because she is more suited to be his wife by all social standards. Unfortunately, Catherine died young, which made life at Wuthering Heights depressing and unpleasant at times from the grief of its occupants. Tensions are high at the Heights after her death, especially between family members, who never seem to get along after she is gone. Catherine had chosen to marry Edgar because his social status was better, and he was a gentleman, even though the true love of her life was Heathcliff. Cathy was torn between the two men that she loved, and she described her conflicted emotions while she tried to make her decision.

Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same, and Linton’s is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire My love for Linton is like the foliage inthe woods. Time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath – a source of little visible delight, but necessary.

During her life, she is torn between staying with the family she is born into, or living her life without the man that she claimed to love, and this is also expressed by her burial; she is not laid to rest with either the Earnshaws or the Lintons, but alone in her own corner of the grounds, where later she is joined by Heathcliff.

The images formed in the minds of Bronte’s readers are vivid and carefully cultivated by the dialogue in Nelly’s retelling of the events going on at the estate. The images that are brought to the minds of the readers rival those that other writers have created, such as “the sea could be as readily contained in that horse-trough, as her whole affection be monopolized by him” (188) when Heathcliff is talking about the marriage between Cathy and Edgar, because it is a simile `that brings to mind a strange image of one trying to fit the entire ocean into such a small container.

Later, Joseph is trying to convince Linton to eat something, and he places a “basin of milk-porridge” (263) in front of him, which emphasizes the size and consistency of the meal he should be eating. Without the way Nelly tells the story, with a retold version of the original retelling of events, nothing would be conveyed to the readers in the same way. Bronte uses different kinds of language based on who is speaking, as well as different descriptive words for different settings. She also thoughtfully changes the metaphors around to maintain a fluid transition between characters and the time period about which they are speaking. Such a complex narration put into such simple words for her time made her writing unique, and very different even from her sister’s writing.

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The Early Life of Emily Bronte and Her Literary Techniques in Wuthering Heights. (2023, Feb 20). Retrieved from

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