The Brontës

This week The FrankenPod (rss feed for podcast app) episode is a conversation with Megan from Oh No! Lit Class on the literary family the Brontës. The gothic classic Jane Eyre was penned by Charlotte and Emily wrote the eerily gothic Wuthering Heights. It’s a bit of a rambling chat in which we also delve into the comedy sci-fi world of Douglas Adams, the childhood trauma of the Goosebumps series and the Byronic elements of Christian Gray, so I don’t have a script to publish. So here are some quotes from the works of the children of Patrick Brontë who survived to adulthood:

Photo by John Illingworth
Photo by John Illingworth. Branwell Brontë A wood statue by the canal depicting Branwell, the black sheep of the Brontë family, as well as other landmarks and characteristics of Calderdale. Branwell was for a couple of years a booking clerk at the nearby Luddendenfoot railway station but left under a cloud.

Patrick Branwell Brontë

Thorpe Green by Patrick Branwell Brönte

I sit, this evening, far away,
From all I used to know,

And nought reminds my soul to-day
Of happy long ago.Unwelcome cares, unthought-of fears,
Around my room arise;
I seek for suns of former years
But clouds o’ercast my skies.Yes-Memory, wherefore does thy voice
Bring old times back to view,
As thou wouldst bid me not rejoice
In thoughts and prospects new?I’ll thank thee, Memory, in the hour
When troubled thoughts are mine-
For thou, like suns in April’s shower,
On shadowy scenes wilt shine.I’ll thank thee when approaching death
Would quench life’s feeble ember,
For thou wouldst even renew my breath
With thy sweet word ‘Remember’!

Charlotte Bronte by G. Richmond 1850
Charlotte Bronte by G. Richmond 1850

Charlotte Brontë

Quote from Jane Eyre spoken by Jane herself:

“If people were always kind and obedient to those who are cruel and unjust, the wicked people would have it all their own way: they would never feel afraid, and so they would never alter, but would grow worse and worse. When we are struck at without a reason, we should strike back again very hard; I am sure we should—so hard as to teach the person who struck us never to do it again. […] I must dislike those who, whatever I do to please them, persist in disliking me; I must resist those who punish me unjustly. It is as natural as that I should love those who show me affection, or submit to punishment when I feel it is deserved.”

Disputed portrait by her brother Branwell; sources are in disagreement over whether this image is of Emily or Anne
Disputed portrait by her brother Branwell; sources are in disagreement over whether this image is of Emily or Anne

Emily Brontë

Quote from Wuthering Heights, taken from Nelly’s final narration:

Mr. Kenneth was perplexed to pronounce of what disorder the master died. I concealed the fact of his having swallowed nothing for four days, fearing it might lead to trouble, and then, I am persuaded, he did not abstain on purpose: it was the consequence of his strange illness, not the cause.

We buried him, to the scandal of the whole neighbourhood, as he wished. Earnshaw and I, the sexton, and six men to carry the coffin, comprehended the whole attendance. The six men departed when they had let it down into the grave: we stayed to see it covered. Hareton, with a streaming face, dug green sods, and laid them over the brown mould himself: at present it is as smooth and verdant as its companion mounds—and I hope its tenant sleeps as soundly. But the country folks, if you ask them, would swear on the Bible that he walks: there are those who speak to having met him near the church, and on the moor, and even within this house. Idle tales, you’ll say, and so say I. Yet that old man by the kitchen fire affirms he has seen two on ’em looking out of his chamber window on every rainy night since his death

Anne Brontë Drawn by Charlotte
Anne Brontë Drawn by Charlotte

Anne Brontë

From the introduction to The Tenant of Wildfell Hall:

I am satisfied that if a book is a good one, it is so whatever the sex of the author may be. All novels are or should be written for both men and women to read, and I am at a loss to conceive how a man should permit himself to write anything that would be really disgraceful to a woman, or why a woman should be censured for writing anything that would be proper and becoming for a man.

Overview/Review – “To Save the Life of the Novel” Sadomasochism and Representation in “Wuthering Heights” – Robin DeRosa

“To Save the Life of the Novel” Sadomasochism and Representation in “Wuthering Heights” – Robin DeRosa

The article “To Save the Life of the Novel” Sadomasochism and Representation in “Wuthering Heights”  by Robin DeRosa, is attempting to set up Wuthering Heights as a novel that engages in discourse about Sadomasochism and the fluctuating power balance that is intrinsic to our understanding of both Catherine and Heathcliff’s cruelty toward each other and the narrative arc of their tortured relationship. The article also posits that Heathcliff’s masochism correlates with his access to the common language of the household and Catherine’s sadism with her access to text, such as books. The catalyst for the change in the power dynamic between the two is cited as being Catherine’s impending death, reversing the role of Sadomasochism in the relationship. Not only are the roles of torturer and victim reversed but they are shown to coexist within the same entity, as Heathcliff is both cruel and self-destructive upon Catherine’s demise. The article also considers Lockwood and other characters as part of the sadomasochistic spectrum leaving Nelly as the empowered figure in a text riddled with entities struggling for and against a ‘death drive’ (DeRosa, 3) and mortality. The role of this book within the Victorian cultural and literary landscape is also examined, with the subversion  and convention to realism examined as the sadomasochistic impulses of Catherine and Heathcliff have the effect of distancing them as subjects from traditional romantic texts.

Psychological criticism is the foundational form of critical analysis with the sadomasochism of the key characters being the predominant preoccupation of the article. The theories of sadism and masochism as outlined by Freudian psychology are included as part of the argument. The article uses these Freudian theories to explain what is sighted as a “death drive” (DeRosa, 3) in Heathcliff and eventually Catherine. Also underpinning the argument is deconstructionist critical analysis in the form of pointing to sadomasochism as a way a deconstructing the characters to alter the typical way that the novel engages with realism, with the Victorian literary preoccupation with writing a novel that achieves accurate realism and the unachievable nature of this goal that us being strived for. DeRosa also uses historical critical analysis in the article as she engages in the discourse regarding Wuthering Heights and it’s place within the Victorian literary canon, pointing to some of the more controversial aspects of the text in contrast to it’s contemporaries.

DeRosa successfully outlined the ways in which the text demonstrated the sadomasochism of the early relationship between Heathcliff and Catherine but failed to make a persuasive correlation between the experience of text and language as the determining factor in the power balance in regards to Catherine as her sadism is not explicitly demonstrated through her use of text, and her relationship with text is relatively unchanging as her sadism diminishes. The article successfully argues that the subversive nature of Wuthering Heights and Brontë’s approach to romance and realism was directly playing with notions of repressive Victorian social conventions by outlining attitudes towards realism and sexuality in literary circles and mainstream social values. 

When writing my upcoming critical essay I could use this article to address the fourth topic offered for this assessment;

“Compare and contrast the ways in which Victorian texts conform to or subvert the central precepts of literary realism.”

The attention given to Victorian discourse on realism would allow me to argue that Wuthering Heights subverts precepts of reality by displacing the central characters roles as subject and object. The roles of torturer and tortured create a dichotomy that reflects the power dynamics at play within Victorian literature whilst reducing the ability of the characters to exercise self determination, rendering them impotent in the face of forces greater than themselves. The line between the supernatural and the very real human experience is blurred using self destructive and self preservation impulses of which the characters are at the mercy. This abstract force plays with realism constructs allowing Brontë to both engage in realism and the gothic in one narrative, creating a text that constantly weaves in and out of real human experience and the haunting ghostly spectre of damnation. Sadomasochism is almost hauntingly supernatural in its manifestation, allowing the narrative of Catherine and her hold on Heathcliff to continue from beyond the grave, sweeping up others such as Lockwood and Nelly in its wake.  


  • Brontë, Emily and Richard J Dunn. Wuthering Heights. New York: Norton, 2003. Print.
  • De Rosa, Robin. “To Save the Life of the Novel” Sadomasochism and Representation in “Wuthering Heights”, Rocky Mountain Review of Language and Literature, Vol. 52, No. 1 (1998), pp. 27-43. JSTOR, Web. 1st October 2016.

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