Emily Bronte’s book Wuthering Heights and Charlotte Bronte’s book Jane Eyre not only use similar subjects of feminism and marriage, but both books have also grown out of the same environment since the authors are sisters. However, although the tone of Wuthering Heights is oriented towards passionate and emotional love, the tone of Jane Eyre is more oriented towards the conflict between love and autonomy. While both Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre describe the coming of age stories for women looking to marry, Wuthering Heights uses a frame narrative with multiple unreliable narrators to create a unique Gothic theme with a Bildungsroman form. As a frame narrative, Wuthering Heights contains a main narrative that sets the stage for a more important second narrative, which allows Bronte to place emphasis on the past through a set of extended flashbacks that reveal the nature of the characters. Furthermore, by using flashbacks to examine and emphasize the past, Bronte allows the reader to construct their own interpretation of the story since each flashback relates a different and equally unreliable narrative on the events, causing the reader to choose between certain interpretations.
As sisters, Emily and Charlotte Bronte have shared many experiences that enriched their writing and their books. For instance, Jane Eyre’s plot at the Lowood School was most likely partially inspired by Charlotte’s experience with tuberculosis as the BBC states that, "All three sisters attended different schools at various times as well as being taught at home. The Brontë children were often left alone together in their isolated home and all began to write stories at an early age, [and] all three sisters were employed… as teachers and governesses. 1842, Charlotte and Emily went to Brussels to improve their French, but had to return home early after the death of their aunt Elizabeth [from tuberculosis]" (“The Bronte Sisters (1818-1855)”). The sisters’ shared experiences in school and as a family have led to similarities between Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights in both subject matter and the personality of characters such as Jane and Heathcliff or St. John and Joseph. For instance, while Charlotte Bronte explores the role of governess and social class, she constructs Jane as an orphan with ambiguous class standing with ambitious goals, which is similar to how Emily Bronte constructs Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. The difference is that although Heathcliff achieves power through vague means without an education, Jane strives for aristocratic manners, sophistication, and education even though she is poor and powerless. Jane’s ambition in Jane Eyre matches how Charlotte Bronte was treated as a governess and expected to have the manners of the aristocracy despite her status as a poor servant. Despite the shared experiences of the Bronte sisters, there exist many differences in tone and structure between Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.
Although Wuthering Heights has a very distinct Gothic theme that emphasizes the passion of love, Jane Eyre places greater emphasizes on the autonomy of women and the development of Jane. For instance, Jane is more preoccupied with maintaining her autonomy than experiencing the passion of love as she states that, “I care for myself. The more solitary, the more friendless, the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect myself. I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad—as I am now” (C. Bronte 321). On the other hand, Catherine is more concerned with her love for Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights and the experience of love than with her autonomy when she explains to Nelly that “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him; and that, not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same, and [Edgar’s] is as different as a moonbeam from lightning, or frost from fire” (E. Bronte 80). Furthermore, unlike Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights uses multiple narrators to create a frame narrative. In Wuthering Heights, both Nelly and Lockwood are unreliable narrators; Nelly frequently lies to other characters in order to ease the pain of the truth, and Lockwood frequently misinterprets or misunderstands parts of the story. For example, in order to get Linton to stay with his abusive father, Nelly must lie to him by observing that, “[Linton] was finally got off with several delusive assurances that his absence should be short; that Mr. Edgar and Cathy would visit him; and other promises, equally ill-founded, which I invented and reiterated, at intervals throughout the way” (E. Bronte 205). Unlike Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Emily Bronte’s use of unreliable narrators allows her to draw readers in by involving them in the process of deciding on and cross-checking narrators’ stories.
“The Bronte Sisters (1818-1855).” BBC History. BBC. Web. 19 February 2015.
Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Hazleton: Electronic Classics Series, 2003. Penn State University. Web. 19 February 2015.
Bronte, Emily. Wuthering Heights. New York: Dover, 1996. Print.