QD Leavis on Wuthering Heights

"I would make a plea, then, for criticism of Wuthering Heights to turn its attention to the human core of the novel, to recognize its truly human centrality. How can we fail to see that the novel is based on an interest in, concern for, and knowledge of, real life? We cannot do it justice, establish what the experience of reading it really is, by making analyses of its lock and window imagery, or by explaining it as being concerned with children of calm and children of storm, or by putting forward such bright ideas as that ‘Wuthering Heights might be viewed at long range as a variant of the demon-lover motif’ (The Gates of Horn, H. Levin) or that ‘Nelly Dean is Evil’ ---these are the products of an age which conceives literary criticism as either a game or an industry, not as a humane study. To learn anything of this novel’s true nature we must put it into the category of novels it belongs to---I have specified Women in Love and Jules et Jim and might add Anna Karenina and Great Expectations---and recognize its relation to the social literary history of its own time. The human truths Wuthering Heights is intended to establish are, it is necessary to admit, obscured in places and to varying degrees by discordant trimmings or left-overs from earlier writings or stages of its conception; for these, stylistic and other evidence exists in the text. Nor could we expect such complexity and such technical skill to have been achieved in a first novel otherwise; it is necessary to distinguish what is genuine complexity from what is merely confusion. That there is the complexity of accomplished art we must feel in the ending, ambiguous, impersonal, disquieting but final. And when we compare the genius devoted to creating Nelly Dean, Joseph, Zillah, Frances, Lockwood, and two Catherines, and to setting then in significant action, with the very perfunctory attention given to Heathcliff and Hareton as wholes (attention directed only when these two are wheeled out to perform necessary parts at certain points in the exposition of the theme to which---like Isabella and Edgar Linton---they are subsidiary) then we can surely not misinterpret the intention and the nature of the achievement of Wuthering Heights."

 

QD Leavis: A fresh approach to Wuthering Heights, pp. 137-138, in Lectures in America, by FR and QD Leavis. London: Chatto and Windus