Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights is deemed a complex novel, with its wide ranging themes of love, betrayal, suffering and imprisonment. It contains all the elements of a Gothic novel in nature but with the added ingredient of realism, but it is not just this blending of Gothic with realism that makes the novel so multifaceted, it is also Brontë’s use of multiple narrators that adds to the complexities of this novel. And it is the resulting effect of the different narrative voices in Wuthering Heights that this essay seeks to discuss.
There are two distinct narrative voices in Wuthering Heights, that of Mr Lockwood and Nelly Dean, but within the novel we also encounter tertiary narratives from Catherine Earnshaw, Isabella and Zillah. The opening narrative of the novel begins with Lockwood who is the primary narrator and author of the story and it is Lockwood’s narrative that provides the outer frame for the story as he introduces the reader to Heathcliff and the inhabitants at the Heights.
During Lockwood’s visit to the Heights he uncovers the diary of Catherine Earnshaw scribbled within several volumes of mildewed books. His reading of the diary temporarily transports the reader back in time and into the first tertiary narrative of Catherine Earnshaw before Lockwood reinstates himself as the narrator and propels us back to the present. His visit is also the catalyst that drives him to question his servant Nelly Dean regarding his poorly received reception from his hosts at the Heights. It is at this point we are introduced to the second and most prominent narrator Nelly Dean, who begins by taking us back some twenty years to the beginning of her story. As with Lockwood, it is within Nelly’s narrative that we are introduced to the tertiary narratives of Isabella, in the form of a letter and Zillah, when Nelly recalls a conversation they once held.
This multi-layered narrative is akin to Russian nesting dolls, wherein a story is nestled within a story. Each layer, each individual narrative, opens out from its parent to present the reader with a new viewpoint, constantly changing our perception and creating uncertainty. As Da Sousa Correa explains ‘the narrative and generic complexities of the novel, such as borrowings from a range of genres and its multiple narrators, which work in opposition to the novel’s structural coherence and can often create uncertainty and disorientation in the reader’ (Correa, 2012, pg.374). However despite the obvious drawback in using multiple narrators, this narrative technique is necessary to help sustain the story as we constantly jump between the past and present. It also facilitates in pulling the reader into the story, they become an observer to the events each narrator participates in. But what is the effect of this narrative approach and how do these individual narratives contribute to this unfolding story?
When we examine Lockwood we discover he is an outsider, he views the inhabitants of Wuthering Heights...