I can’t help thinking of novels as being a little like films. Each event, character and device has what, in film, we would call a ‘motivation’. I wanted to write briefly on the depth of information in Wuthering Heights, and the treatment of time. Generically speaking, the novelist withholds information in the first section of the story, narrated by Lockwood. His character, a newcomer, allows Bronte to narrate from a position of innocence and suspense. We have the information Lockwood has – very little. He narrates in the present. The following section introduces Ellen, the Earnshaws’ ex-maid. After a short section of her in-depth narration, Bronte allows readers to pause and reflect on Ellen’s privileged position in the family. Ellen has been able to see most all of the family’s relationships in detail. Her position allows her to play confidante and her role allows her access-all-areas. So you can see Ellen has a huge motivation for appearing in the novel. How else could all of the detail be related convincingly? Bronte has given us a not altogether unbiased narrator and narratee to bridge past and narrative-present.
The depth of information is explained charmingly by Lockwood. He clearly relishes the pace and detail of country life:
“One state resembles setting a hungry man down to a single dish on which he may concentrate his entire appetite, and do it justice – the other, introducing him to a table laid out by French cooks; he can perhaps extract as much enjoyment from the whole, but each part is a mere tom in his regard and remembrance” (55).
Ellen, also clearly enjoying relating the tale faithfully, responds:
“if I am to go on in true gossip’s fashion, I had better go on; and instead of leaping three years, I will be content to pass to the next summer” (55).
Here Bronte has drawn a line in the generic sand. From a suspenseful beginning, now we as readers are indulged with the depth of detail required to create character portraits.
Bronte, Emily. 2009. Wuthering Heights. Oxford: Oxford University Press.