Emily Bronte and Gender in Wuthering Heights
In Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë explores the gender identity of both herself and her characters. She published the book under the name of Ellis Bell, which many readers took to be that of a man. As critic Nicola Thompson points out, most critics at the time noted the book’s “‘power,’ a characteristic invariably associated in Victorian literary criticism with male authors” (Thompson 346). Indeed, the novel was deemed by some as “too ‘male,’ and perhaps therefore not suited for a ‘feminized’ reading public” (Thompson 361). In a biographical preface to the novel’s 1880 reprint, Emily’s sister Charlotte explains that the sisters chose to write under assumed names to protect themselves from the scrutiny often faced by Victorian female writers. Given the reaction to Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë clearly achieved this objective.
The issue of the author’s gender raises an interesting question about literary interpretation. One feminist outlook is that gender should not affect analysis of a work; the words should be all that matter. Emily Brontë never revealed the book’s true, female authorship, but perhaps it was only her untimely death that precluded her disclosure. We cannot assume from her decision to write as Ellis Bell that...
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