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Gothic in Wuthering Heights and Dorian Gray

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2227 words Published: 26th May 2017

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The duplicity or sometimes called the Doppelganger is a common theme in gothic fiction works such as “The Picture of Dorian Gray” or “Wuthering Heights”. While in the first novel, this theme regards the division of the main characters into two different bodies, in the latter, the self is no longer divided into different embodiments, but it can be found in the same character having the same appearance while portraying one self or the other.

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In other words, Dorian Gray has a certain different figure when they display the other self, while Cathy and Heathcliff have an inner other self not an outer one and are completely unaware of its existence. While in “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, the depiction of self is related to realism and the depiction of other self relates to gothic representation, in “Wuthering Heights”, when talking about Catherine it is the other way around.

“The Picture of Dorian Gray” tells the story of a young man who decides to make a Faustian bargain in order to gain and preserve eternal beauty. The novel can be interpreted as classic gothic horror fiction in which the reader can easily spot the Narcissus myth and the theme of duplicity which presents Dorian’s two selves: the public one constructed in a realist way and the private one, constructed with gothic means.

On the other hand, “Wuthering Heights” is a gothic novel in which the protagonists are, unlike other novels, anti-heroes. The main character, Heathcliff is a man whose desire of revenge destroys both himself and the other characters of the novel. He is depicted at first as a loving person but in the end as a violent revengeful man. The female protagonist, Catherine Earnshow is a woman who finds herself in crisis of identity. Both characters need to make a division in themselves in order to express their feelings for each other.

The division in “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is made with the help of a portrait, an outer body which guests the other self of the main character, whereas in “Wuthering Heights”, there is no need for another body.

Dorian Gray is presented in the first chapter as “a young man of extraordinary personal beauty”, unspoiled by sins and failure. The picture as it is presented in the first chapter reveals Dorian’s first and true image: he is young, handsome, and innocent, without stain. However, Dorian Gray will not remain this way throughout the novel. He will change and not in a positive way. This is where the author brings to light the duplicity theme.

Similar to Dorian Gray, Heathcliff is depicted in the beginning of the novel as a positive character. Although he lacks Dorian’s looks, he is a boy, and then a man capable to love and give. The audience is assured that Heathcliff does love Catherine and the way in which the author describes the brutal treatments Hindley applies to him can cause the reader pity for Heathcliff.

In the first chapters of the novel, before Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights, the entire atmosphere is one which abounds with gothic elements. The author presents here the first nature of Heathcliff, while entire passages describe the manor as a dark, bleak, unfriendly place. The main character can be interpreted as of pure gothic construction. He is a mysterious man whose past nobody knows, but on the other hand, he is presented as romantically involved with Catherine, thus as a positive character.

Exactly like Heathcliff, Dorian from the end of the second chapter is no longer Dorian from the beginning. The reader faces in just a few pages Dorian’s transition. His naivety and his purity disappear when he realises the importance of his beauty and the fact that he will lose it someday. Henry Wotton manipulates his mind and turns him into a person ready to sell his soul in order to preserve his beauty. In the moment when he sees the portrait, he is as fascinated by himself as Basil is and acts as if this is the first time when he sees himself. This passage comes similar to the moment when Narcissus sees his reflection in the water for the first time and brings the idea of self-worship which will finally lead to self-destruction. Infatuated with himself, Dorian becomes a Machiavellian person, wanting to preserve the moment, no matter the costs.

Dorian loses his innocence but, despite the fact that his soul is unceasingly deepening into the negative way of living, he is admired for his beauty and intelligence, for his talents. This leads him to plays with people’s minds hiding his true shape and making them believe that his appearances are similar to his inner self. This outer self, the one he displays in front of anyone is in total opposition to the self which he prefers to cover.

On the other hand Heathcliff does not feel the need to cover his other self. There is a certain moment in the book when Heathcliff changes his attitude. Feeling abandoned, Heathcliff feels the desire for revenge which brings up the other self in Heathcliff. He becomes a violent person who seems incapable of good feelings and begins acting like a demonic character, destroying everybody’s lives. His actions seem to be results of the distortion in his natural personality.

Dorian changes too. Dorian loses his innocence but, despite the fact that his soul is unceasingly deepening into the negative way of living, he is admired for his beauty and intelligence, for his talents. This leads him to plays with people’s minds hiding his true shape and making them believe that his appearances are similar to his inner self. This outer self, the one he displays in front of anyone is in total opposition to the inner self which he prefers to cover.

In order to construct the other self, Oscar Wilde refers to gothic imagery. He creates the key element, the picture and develops its image as the one of different character of the book. The first gothic element of the book is the Faustian theme. Dorian unconsciously sells his soul to the devil in order to obtain eternal youth and beauty. Henry Wotton plays the part of devil’s advocate, devil’s representative without even knowing it. He inspires Dorian to make the fatal wish: the paint should age instead of him. The fact that the portrait ages in Dorian’s stead cannot be logically explained, thus it is the supernatural element which lead to the development of the plot. From the very beginning presented as a fantastic element, the picture represents the embodiment of Dorian’s other self. His sins, his mistakes and his other nature are revealed on the canvas. Knowing that, Dorian wants to protect this image, wants to hide it and locks the portrait in the attic so as no one should see the image of his soul. Although he is aware of the fact that his soul is dark and stained with sins, he continues to live as before because he thinks he can no longer be forgiven and his soul saved.

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The moments when Dorian is possessed by his other self, abound with gothic elements. So are the moments when Heathcliff becomes violent and the author presents his inner sense of revenge and hatred. In Wilde’s novel, the scene of the murder is presented in a dark atmosphere with the lamp casting shadows on the wall and the blowing wind. Moreover, Dorian kills Basil only after he looks at the portrait and seems to be captivated by something hiding beneath the canvas. Violence breaks through and he stabs the painter without any sense of remorse. The way in which he decides to make the body disappear is a result of his mad ego that seems to have no feelings and to be totally detached from the realist life. Science is here presented it its negative part. With science, Dorian finalises the murder, making the evidence disappear forever.

His other soul has become a malicious and manipulative person. He confides in the book Henry gives him and takes it for granted, as a way of living. It is a poisonous book, symbol of his degraded life. Moreover, the gothic atmosphere appears again when Dorian visits the opium den which is the reflection of Dorian’s state of mind. The den is a place of lost souls where Dorian finds comfort, he “cures his soul by means of senses”, because he suffers not only physical but also mental.

Catherine, on the other hand does not change in a negative way. She is ashamed of her natural self and decides to make a step further, to change and to embrace another self in which she will finally feel uncomfortable. In childhood she is her true self, without carrying about her future as woman and as a wife. She has internal conflicts which intensify her psychological complexity. She suffers from a self-divided personality, regarding what she truly desires and what she thinks she should become as a woman. This is a point where one could speak of her id, what she desires, her instinctive impulses and her super-ego, what she thinks she should become as a woman, her moral ideas, and the expectations of the patriarchal society.

After returning from Thrushcross Grange she is different because, not only does she act differently but she struggle to refrain from her usual behaviour. Nelly actually realises what has happened to Cathy and even says that she “adopt(ed) a double character without exactly intending to deceive anyone”. Catherine’s conversation with Nelly is the final evidence that she has a divided self. She tells her that she loves Heathcliff, that she is Heathcliff, suggesting that her real self is the one which complements Heathcliff, which makes her like him, turning them into the figure of an androgynous. She is able to refrain from her true self until Heathcliff’s returning. Now she suffers again from an identity crisis. She looks in the mirror and says that the image is not hers, it is in fact the reflection of the part she had to play in order to be a respected woman, to fit in the bed of Procrustes the society showed her. Once Heathcliff is back, she is unable to live in this way anymore and this destroys her. There is the interpretation which says that Heathcliff, being Catherine’s matching person, actually is her doppelganger, her dark hide, which she wants to hide, exactly like Dorian Gray. This is suggested several times when the main characters say that the other is part of their lives, oh themselves „I cannot live without my life! Cannot live without my soul!”; „I am Heathcliff”.

The ways in which the protagonists are firstly presented is a romantic one with characters relating to nature who rebel against the world they live in. The gothic atmosphere is intensified by supernatural elements and melodrama. But Bronte created two different places where Catherine leaves, suggesting her split personality. The first one, the Wuthering Heights identifies with her true self and it is presented with gothic constructions such as the description of the moors, the manor, the atmosphere, the, wind, the storm or the rain. On the other hand, Thrushcross Grange is depicted in a positive manner, in a realist way, with all the elements of the common life representing Catherine’s other self. There is a striking difference between these two as it is between Catherine’s sides.

The realist depictions in “Wuthering Heights” are somehow related to the other part of the novel, starting with the first scene where the reader encounters Young Cathy. Her and Hareton’s story is depicted in a realistic way, especially because of the happy ending.

In the second case, the realism of the novel is depicted from Wilde’s representation of the Victorian world. Dorian is after all, an aristocrat living in a rich world where dines and opera are something common. His first self, the one everyone knows, the one Basil has painted at the beginning of the novel is the one living in this world. He is a rich art connoisseur; he likes parties and luncheons and attends theatre and opera. The Victorian society presented in the novel is one where people live from undeserved inheritance and enjoy gossiping and judging the world around. Dorian lives a secret life within an apparently respectable society. While a beautiful forever-young man in his public life, Dorian is presented as a debauched, violent person.

The atmosphere in the next chapter is completely different from the one in the previous. The life at the countryside seems idyllic but Dorian is uncomfortable here because he feels he is stalked by James Vane. James’ presence is like a ghost haunting Dorian throughout the novel, being the embodiment of Dorian’s conscience. In the other book, the main character is not haunted by feelings or remorse, but by Catherine’s ghost who has not find peace. This idea brings another gothic element to both stories.

In both novels, the theme of the divided self dominates the entire atmosphere, but in “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is easier to observe. However, the three characters that experience this kind of mental or physical division are presented as tormented souls, unable to find their rest.


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