Religion in Wuthering Heights

BibleReligion plays a part in Wuthering Heights in a number of ways, though formal religion seems to remain in the background. The versions of religious belief that the novel presents are surprising considering Emily Brontë’s upbringing. Certainly, many Victorian readers found them unacceptable and shocking. In literary terms, the picture of religion given in the novel fits with the largely godless pattern of tragedy or the inverted values of the Gothic. (See Literary context)

A variety of religious beliefs 

Characters in Wuthering Heights represent a range of religious beliefs and attitudes:

  • Joseph espouses maxims from the Bible but is portrayed as a hypocrite and is compared to the Pharisees. There is no love or mercy in his attitude, only judgement. As the most obviously religious character in the novel, he establishes an atmosphere of harsh Christianity, based on punishment and strict, restrictive rules. (See Characterisation: Joseph, for more.) Emily Brontë, more than her sisters, seems to have largely rejected her father’s Christian faith, perhaps because she spent more time at home than they did.
  • Nelly’s generally caring attitude seems to stem from a basic Christian belief. She is happy to leave judgement and justice to God.
  • Lockwood shows no strong religious belief, but his dream of the sermon in Chapter 3 establishes the idea of forgiveness of sin which is relevant throughout the novel. We might observe that there is plenty of sin and not much forgiveness.
  • Catherine and Heathcliff establish their own religious ideologies, including their own versions of ‘heaven’ based on their love of nature. At the end of the novel, Heathcliff has clearly rejected Christian beliefs and the author seems to suggest that Heathcliff and Catherine may be able to inhabit their own heaven together after death. Both characters are linked with supernatural powers other than the Christian God. In Chapter 17, Isabella recounts how Heathcliff prays for revenge to a god of ‘senseless dust and ashes’.
  • Most other characters seem to have little religious sensibility. Although, in Catherine’s childhood, attendance at church and visits from the curate are regular occurrences, these are not sustained once the older Earnshaws die, nor have they had a clear impact on the behaviour of the protagonists. Arguably, characters as diverse as Edgar and Hindley would benefit from pursuing Christian virtues. Even Isabella sees revenge as the only way to relieve her suffering.
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.