The Victorian Era was the period of Queen Victoria’s prosperous reign in Britain; it lasted from 1837 to 1901. The period of time has wide connotations that most specifically relate to the high and strict moral standards of the society. Victorian morality is a term used to describe a set of values that Queen Victoria supported and inflicted throughout society; this includes sexual repression, low tolerance for crime and strong social ethic. Wuthering Heights was published in 1847 which was when Victorian morality began to peak in society, therefore this novel was seen as a shock to the readers. Grahams Lady Magazine said, in 1848, that the novel is “a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors,” this is because the themes explored in Wuthering Heights were unheard of during the reign of Queen Victoria due to her morality.
Wuthering Heights is set between 1777 and 1803, which was during the Industrial Revolution; at this time the middle class in society was emerging so that there wasn’t just aristocracy and working class. The Lintons represent the upper class in Wuthering Heights because they are the most elite family in the novel, whilst the Earnshaws represent the middle class because they were landowners who have servants. Heathcliff, who isn’t biologically part of the Earnshaw family, is frequently described as a “gypsy” and is said to be “a dirty, ragged, black haired child” who talks “gibberish” (chapter 4). The Marxist Study of the Bronte’s says, “Heathcliff is the outsider, who has no social place in the existing social structure” which places him below working class in society because he has no history; it went against the social norm for a middle class family to raise an orphan which is a factor, conveyed through Heathcliff, that contributes to the “depravity” in this novel.
The importance of social class in Victorian society is emphasised throughout Wuthering Heights. In chapter 9 Catherine says, “it would degrade her to marry Heathcliff” because he is of a lower social class than her. Catherine marries Edgar: she believes he can financially and socially secure her until she is able to aid Heathcliff in becoming a higher class in society. The treatment of Heathcliff by Hindley also highlights the importance of social class in the 19th century because Heathcliff is treated as a servant in his own household. This is because Hindley dislikes that fact that Heathcliff has no known heritage and feels superior to him, therefore he mistreats him, but there is an argument as to whether Heathcliff is a victim or a tyrant. Hayley R. Mitchel regards Heathcliff’s character as “complex and the central problem” of Wuthering Heights but claims that analysing his character determines what the novel is about.
A key feature of Gothic fiction is transgression, which is the violation of moral or political law; this is displayed frequently throughout Wuthering Heights, especially through the character of Heathcliff, and was not accepted in the Victorian Era. Fred Botting says, “the ambivalence associated with Gothic figures were seen as distinct signs of transgression.” In this novel, Heathcliff is viewed as the ambivalent, transgressive “Gothic figure” because he breaks many boundaries during the novel. Foreshadowing is used at the beginning of novel, specifically chapter 4, to convey Heathcliff’s change from being “not vindictive” to a usurper who over attempts to over rule Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange as an act of revenge against, the two families who ruined his relationship with Catherine, the Lintons and the Earnshaws. An obvious transgressive and revengeful act is “hanging up [Isabella’s] little dog” in chapter 14, this also activates Gothic terror for the reader because the situation is portrayed as a reality; therefore Botting says “it reasserts the values of society” through showing acts