Wuthering Heights: Dreams of Equilibrium in Physiology and Physics
Department of Literature and Modern Languages
For a century after its publication, Wuthering Heights baffled readers. When first debuted, it was quickly and widely circulated, and while it was distinguished as "one of the greatest novels [of imaginative power] in the language" (Peck 357), it was also considered crude. Reviewers were quick to critique its disconcerting content and form, and called Wuthering Heights "a strange book. … wild, confused, disjointed, and improbable" (Review, Examiner 348), a "powerful" piece "thrown away" (Review, Tait's 346). A century later, a number of critics remained perturbed. In a frequently quoted passage from The Great Tradition (1964), F.R. Leavis confesses, "I have said nothing about Wuthering Heights because that astonishing work seems to me a kind of sport," fitting in, he remarked, with neither the Romantic tradition of Sir Walter Scott nor the "real[istic]" tradition of the eighteenth century (27). For fans and skeptics alike, the novel lacked "the drawing-room civility of novels like Jane Austen's, the social panorama found in [Charles] Dickens and [William] Thackeray, the individual focus of novels of development like Jane Eyre and Great Expectations, [and] the recognizable ordinariness of George Eliot's characters" (Newman 24). In short, it subverted the conventions expected of popular mid-century social-realist novels.
Farrar, A. M. (2016). Wuthering Heights: Dreams of Equilibrium in Physiology and Physics. Victorian Review, 42 (2), 307-322. https://doi.org/10.1353/vcr.2016.0066