The nineteenth century is famous for many things, one of which being the Gothic revival. Both Emily Brontë and Charles Dickens can be seen to have been influenced by this period as their novels can be seen to embody various elements of the Gothic Genre. The nineteenth century can also be seen as the period that commercialised the romance novel; the rise in popularity demanded an increase of romance novels which lead to the genres devaluing. But unlike many texts, Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations are not seen to be devalued and, in many ways are enhanced by the author’s use of the genre.
Both Wuthering Heights and Great Expectations can be seen to contain elements of the Gothic genre, which can stereotypically be defined by characters such as the oppressive and dominant villain and the innocent and virginal heroine; eerie, mysterious and often haunted settings and unexplainable, usually supernatural, occurrences. It can be argued that the setting of a Gothic novel is a separate character in itself, which ‘not only evokes the atmosphere of horror and dread, but also portrays the deterioration of its world. The decaying, ruined scenery implies that at one time there was a thriving world… Now, all that lasts is the decaying shell of a once thriving dwelling.’ (De Vore)This is true of Satis house in Great Expectations which Dickens describes as, ‘[O]f old brick, and dismal … all was empty and disused. The cold wind seemed to blow colder there than outside the gate … The place will stand idle as it is till it falls.’ (Great Expectations: 41-3)This decaying state can be seen as symbolic, representing how a stationary and repetitive lifestyle, such as that of Miss Havisham’s, can be detrimental causing her life to become stagnant, ‘in shutting out the light of day, she had shut out infinitely more; that, in seclusion, she had secluded herself from a thousand natural and healing influences; that, her mind, brooding solitary, had grown diseased’. (Great Expectations: 314) Emily Brontë presents Wuthering heights as a more stereotypically Gothic building, with a crumbling structure embellished with the ghostly faces of stone gargoyles. ‘Before passing the threshold, I paused to admire a quantity of grotesque carving lavished over the front, and especially about the principle door, above which, among a wilderness of crumbled griffins and shameless little boys, I detected the date “1500”.’ (Wuthering Heights: 2) The Gothic appearance of Wuthering Heights is enhanced by the wild, misty moors that surrounds it and the knowledge that, other than Thrushcross Grange, it is almost completely isolated from the outside world in its own microcosmic environment.
The critic Lyn Pykett discusses feminist notions of the Female Gothic being a separate and complex genre from that of the Gothic, suggesting that it simultaneously represents the fears of women and their wishes to escape from them. The heroine of the Female Gothic is said to enact fantasies of female power through the portrayal of her strong character, this can be seen in Wuthering Heights through Catherine Earnshaw and also in Great Expectations through Estella. Contrary to this notion the Female Gothic also shows how the female condition can be seen as a constraint, which can also be seen to relate to Catherine Earnshaw as she becomes confined in marriage and womanhood.
‘Catherine’s puberty is marked by her confinement to the couch of Thrushcross Grange. Womanhood and marriage to Edgar further confine her within the genteel household, and the denouement of her particular Gothic plot involves her imprisonment in increasingly confined spaces: the house, her room and finally “this shattered prison” her body, from which she longs to escape as she does from womanhood itself. ’ (Pykett 1989: P77)
Miss Havisham, in Great Expectations can also be seen as constrained by marriage, but