The two-part structure of Wuthering Heights

The point of division

Firstly, it needs to be recognised that there is a dividing point in the novel with the death of Catherine and the birth of her daughter. This could be seen as occurring at Chapter 16 with Catherine’s burial. An alternative is to wait until the end of Chapter 17 which then includes another birth (Linton) and another death (Hindley), as well as Isabella running away. Following these events there is a twelve year gap before those of the next chapter, which provides an obvious break. (The novel’s initial two volume publication did not recognise either of these points, breaking off the narrative at the end of Chapter 14 and restarting at Chapter 15.)

Two stories

If we examine Wuthering Heights as a novel of two halves, interesting patterns emerge:

  • The first part can be seen as providing the motivations for Heathcliff’s revenge, which we see him carrying out in the second part
  • It is also possible to see the first part as the story of Heathcliff and Catherine, and the second part as the story of Cathy and Hareton. This works in part, though Hareton is hardly a major figure through most of the second half.
  • It is perhaps better to see the two parts as the stories of the two Catherines. This then draws attention to the comparisons between their stories and their characters. When Nelly outlines the similarities and differences which Cathy has to her mother at the beginning of Chapter 18, it serves to focus the reader’s attention on the start of the fresh story.

Criticisms of the ‘two part’ novel

By dividing Wuthering Heights in this way, attention is drawn to the fact that the second half can simply be seen as a repetition of the first, and a less powerful one at that. Indeed, at least one film version of the novel finishes with Catherine’s death. The reader wonders whether disaster and suffering will be repeated in the second half as characters and events seem to mirror each other.

The two-part structure is based largely on doubling of characters, a familiar Gothic device. (See Characterisation: Doubling characters). However, Heathcliff is a constant presence throughout both parts, and this can be seen as a unifying device by Brontë.

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