Nested Narrative Timescales in Wuthering Heights

           While reading Wuthering Heights, our discussion of nested timescales (especially from our Origin of the Species week) was an extremely helpful guiding framing device for me. There are practically innumerable nested timescales, histories, and even dimensions in the novel. Firstly, the narrative framework of the story is designed to be nested by multiple degrees; the narrator (Lockwood) is a visitor of the world of a story that unfolds through a secondary storyteller (Nelly) who shares a tangled history with Lockwood. In other words, the story of Heathcliff and Catherine lives only within Nelly (already coloring the story with potential biases), and the reader only has access to Nelly’s story through Lockwood, who only has access to the story through encountering his landlord, Heathcliff. This narrative nesting created for me a sense that Heathcliff and Catherine’s story is buried and unready rather than a story meant for exhibition. It is obscured deep beneath the Moors, accessible only through excavation assisted by those that know where to find the story and how to transcribe it. In the same way, this narrative nesting creates a sense that this story, of Heathcliff and Catherine, is one of infinite histories nested in the world of Wuthering Heights. The moors are brimming with untold history, and it is only through the chance meeting of Lockwood and Heathcliff that we learn of this one.

           Below the nested surface of the multiple narrators, the history of Heathcliff and Catherine does not unfold linearly – it unfolds, refolds, closes, reopens, and compounds in depth as it untangled by our narrators. Retellings of memories are frequently excavated from an active, present moment as the story unfolds. For example, just after Heathcliff returns to Catherine, Nelly and Catherine discuss the fact that Heathcliff would be staying at Wuthering Heights: “‘ He explained it,’ [Catherine] replied. ‘I wondered as much as you – He said he called to gather information concerning me, for you, supposing you resided there still; and Joseph told Hindley, who came out and fell into questioning him of what he had been doing, and how he had been living: and finally, desired him to walk in – There was some persons sitting at cards – Heathcliff joined them…” (99). This sequence of action continues as Catherine explains how Heathcliff managed to stay at Wuthering Heights upon his return to the moors. In one moment, the reader is first in a room with Nelly and Lockwood (the narrators), then in a room with Catherine and Nelly and finally across the road at Wuthering Heights with Heathcliff, Joseph, and Hindley. Action happens on top of action in Wuthering Heights, not sequentially, creating worlds inside worlds inside the constant of the misty moors.

           Sometimes nested action happens across dimensions in the novel. Throughout Wuthering Heights, the setting, the characters, and even the story itself are being haunted. Even Heathcliff’s name is the name of Hindley and Catherine’s dead brother, making him, in a way, inhabit the body of a ghost from his introduction to the Earnshaws (38). The dead and their spirits nest inside the living world, and those that move through the moors cannot escape their presence. In the first ghost scene, Lockwood, to Heathcliff’s shock, discovers Catherine’s scribblings in books, her name etched on the window, and ultimately Catherine’s herself in ghost form. In this moment, Lockwood becomes immediately (and terrifyingly) acquainted with the multi-dimensional world of Wuthering Heights. The interaction of the dead world and the living world created, to me, the most intense sense of burial and nesting. The dead and the living are thought to inhabit entirely different realms of dimension, but when they collide in moments like these, the potential historical energy of setting – Wuthering Heights, Thrushcross Grange, and the moors themselves – was frighteningly vibrant.

There are ecosystems of history throughout the novel that interact, bump up against, inform, and discount one another. A single character’s life is inextricably interwoven with another; multiple layers of narration encase the story of Heathcliff and Catherine; and the setting holds not only this story but the potential, mysterious presence of more stories as entangled as theirs. This nesting exemplifies a distinctly Victorian narrative rhythm – one that is relentlessly interdependent on the relationships between singular entities, whether they be characters, narrators, settings, or histories. 


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