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Bronte: Wuthering Heights

5. Heroes and Villains

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the characters of Wuthering Heights, focusing in particular on what we think about them morally. Do we approve or disapprove of Heathcliff, for example? Do we like him? Is he a victim of a tyrant? Is what he does excusable? In particular, we think about: (i) the scene in Chapter 4 where Heathcliff demands Hindley swap horses with him – and Hindley’s violent reaction; (ii) the figure of Catherine – is she a Romantic heroine or simply selfish and cruel? Or somewhere in between?; and (iii) Charlotte Brontë’s preface to the 1850 edition of the novel, in which she describes Heathcliff as “a man’s shape animated by demon life – a Ghoul – an Afreet.”


In this course, Professor John Bowen (University of York) explores Emily Brontë’s 1848 novel, Wuthering Heights. In the first module, we provide an introduction to the novel as a whole, focusing in particular on Brontë’s life, her character, and the impact of her only novel – Wuthering Heights. After that, we think about the Brontë family, life in Haworth, and the setting of the novel. In the third module, we think about Emily’s early experience of death, her interest in Romanticism, and the power of the past in the novel, before turning in the fourth module to the question of how we judge characters in the novel – especially the figure of Heathcliff. Do we approve or disapprove of him? Is he a victim or a tyrant? In the sixth module, we think about the origins of some of characters in the novel, before turning in the seventh module to the question of who the main characters in the novel are. Is it Heathcliff? Catherine? Both of them together? Or neither? In the eighth module, we think about the critical reception of the novel, while in the ninth module, we consider the way the story is told in Wuthering Heights, including the strange repetition of names throughout the novel. Finally, in the tenth novel, we consider the related themes of character psychology, the way the characters in the novel tend to treat each other, and the transformation of Heathcliff in the novel’s final pages.


John Bowen is Professor of Nineteenth-Century Literature at the University of York. His main research areas are in nineteenth- and twentieth-century fiction, in particular the works of Charles Dickens and other major Victorian novelists including the Brontes, Wilkie Collins and Anthony Trollope, but he has also written on modern poetry and fiction: he has a particular interest in mid-twentieth century novelists such as Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell and George Orwell.

Professor Bowen is the author of Other Dickens: Pickwick to Chuzzlewit (Oxford University Press, 2000, 2003) and has edited Dickens's Barnaby Rudge for Penguin; Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers (2014) and Phineas Redux (2011) for Oxford World’s Classics; and Palgrave Advances in Charles Dickens Studies with Robert L. Patten. He is the author of more than fifty academic articles and book chapters, including contributions to the Oxford History of the Novel in English, Oxford Reader’s Companion to Dickens, the Cambridge Companion to Wilkie Collins, Cambridge Companion to European Novelists and the Cambridge History of English Literature. He has worked closely with many leading cultural organisations, including the British Library, BBC, V&A, RSC and Museum of London, and was academic advisor to the Museum of London Dickens bicentenary exhibition 2012 and to the Royal Shakespeare Company for David Edgar’s adaptation of A Christmas Carol 2017-18.

A former President of the Dickens Society and Co-Director of the University of California Dickens Project, Professor Bowen s the current President of the Dickens Fellowship 2017-19 and a Fellow of the English Association (FEA). He is a member of the Advisory Boards of the British Library ‘Discovering Literature’ website and of the Oxford Clarendon Dickens; has given many keynote addresses and public lectures around the world; has frequently reviewed for the Times Literary Supplement; and has contributed to a number of television documentaries and radio programmes, including BBC Radio 4's Front Row, Open Book, Beyond Belief, PM, Today and Woman's Hour, Channel 4’s Dickens’s Secret Lover and BBC2’s Being the Brontes (2016). He is currently writing Reading Dickens for Cambridge University Press and editing Dickens’s Bleak House for Norton and George Orwell's 1984 for Oxford World's Classics.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Bowen, J. (2020, September 12). Bronte: Wuthering Heights - Heroes and Villains [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Bowen, J. "Bronte: Wuthering Heights – Heroes and Villains." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 12 Sep 2020,