Although Wuthering Heights was Emily Brontes only novel, it is notable for the narrative technique she employed and the level of craftsmanship involved in it. Although there are only two obvious narrators, Lockwood and Nelly Dean, a variety of other narratives are interspersed throughout the novel. The reasons for this are that the whole action of Wuthering Heights is presented in the form of eyewitness narrations by people who have played some part in the narration they describe. Unlike other novels where parallel narratives exist i.e. same event, within the same time frame being narrated from different perspectives, Wuthering Heights has a multi-layered narration, each individual narrative opening out from its parent to reveal a new stratum (level) of the story. This intricate technique helps to maintain a continuos narrative despite of the difficulties posed by the huge time-shifts involved in the novel.
Lockwoods narrative is the outer framework of the story. He is then present as the recipient of Nellys story and she in turn is the recipient of tertiary narratives.
A.) Heathcliff: Chapter 6, 29
B.) Isabella: Chapter 13, 17
C.) Cathy: Chapter 24
D.) Zilla: Chapter 30.
Nellys narrative is so dramatised that we could argue that much of it is in the form of a tertiary narration, e.g. the conversation involving Heathcliff, Catherine and Edgar on Heathcliffs return is recorded in the words of the participants. The effect of this is to present the story directly to the reader so that our perception is constantly changing as if we were witnessing a drama.
The difficulty facing the author at the beginning if the novel was to find a method by which the reader could be introduced into the household of the Heights, so that its characters and its ambience could be understood. The purpose of Brontes narrative is to draw the reader into a position where he can only judge its events from within. Lockwood presents the normal outsider or the reader, by drawing him into the penetralium, the reader is cleverly introduced to the realities of this hostile and bewildering environment. The narrative form poses severe limitations for the author in that she cannot use her own voice, the story must speak entirely for itself, its values must be self-generated, created for us by the language which must be emotive and strong, particularly in moments of self revelation and strong feeling. In Wuthering Heights each narrative takes place within the action occupying an important place in the dramatic structure so that the reader never stands completely outside the story. We, like Lockwood, find ourselves as the direct recipients of Nellys narrative, we are immediately inside the world of Wuthering Heights and therefore the events loom large and have a more dramatic impact, because they are not prefaced for us by editorial comment or introduction provided in the first person by the author.
While the larger frameworks of Lockwood and Nellys narratives, provide the necessary objectivity, the smaller more condensed narratives like Catherines diary give us direct glimpses into the imaginary lives of the main protagonists, these together form the core of the story and are joined in subtle ways with each other. They suddenly appear without warning and the memory of them remains vibrant in the background. The modify over veins of all the outward events that Nelly or Lockwood describe, allowing for an individual response or appreciation to the core developments of the story. Bronte seeks to engage the reader directly through the reactions of her narrators, the technique is abrupt and dramatic allowing little time for insight but confronting us with a sharply focused scene where the characters are realised first as physical presences, they are set in motion at once and the chain if events begins to occur, the reader is immediately caught up in the overall experience of the story without having time to consider its meaning. The background, the setting, the climate, the houses and the animals all take on a life of their own, images of past and present are flashed together "a glare of white letters startled from the dark as vivid as spectres - the air swarming with Catherines".
Thus the novel itself begins at a point where the action is almost completed. The questions which Lockwood asks of Nelly Dean, promote answers which give him little insight but it is Lockwoods fascination with the character of Mr. Heathcliff which causes his mind to become "tiresomely active", thus requiring a full circumstantial narrative. The kind of curiosity aroused by Bronte in Lockwood and therefore in the reader, demands a complete imaginative reliving of the past. It is only through experiencing the events as Lockwood did from Heathcliffs arrival to that point in time that he can be in a position to understand the complex set of relationships he witnessed in the household of Wuthering Heights, that is why the apparently artificial narrative structure is both necessary and convincing and we accept its conventions without questions. Past and present interact on one another forming a single close knit drama without division into parts.
The year 1801 is the storys starting and finishing point up to the time of Lockwoods arrival at Wuthering Heights, as is September 1802 the start and finish of the events dealt with in the final chapters. Nellys story is studded with dates which allows us to work out the precise dates of major events, the ages of the characters and often even the day of the week when an event occurs.
The only sudden jumps from present to distant past:
Catherines Diary: Chapter 3.
Beginning of Nellys Narrative: Chapter 4.
Heathcliffs 2nd narrative: Chapter 29.
As the novel contains a history of 2 families whose fates are worked out over three generations, it is important that a reasonable exact timescale is adhered to. Without cluttering the narrative with dates, Bronte achieves this by the precise plotting of the lives of Catherine and Heathcliff. Their life stories provide the time framework for the novel and other events and the births, lives and deaths of other characters are related to us in conjunction with developments in the lives of the two main characters.
Lockwood as Narrator
Lockwood is the outsider, coming into a world in which he finds bewildering and hostile, hes a city gentleman who has stumbled on a primitive uncivilised world which he doesnt understand, but which fascinates him. He arrives at the end of November 1801 as a tenant of Thrushcross Grange. After his initial meetings with his landlord, Mr. Heathcliff, he is laid up for two months during which time his fascination with Wuthering Heights leads to the beginning of Nellys narrative. By January 1802, he is sufficiently recovered to return to the Heights where he informs Heathcliff of his intention to return to London for 6 months. He returns briefly in September 1802, when he hears the conclusion of Nellys narrative and the final events of the novel take place.
In the novel Lockwood presents the situation as he sees it, the reader is thus brought closer to the action, seeing it through the eyes of the narrator himself. The presence of Lockwood in the book allows the author the author to begin the story near the end and work backwards and forwards in time with little difficulty. The opening chapters of the book are narrated by Lockwood and provide the reader with their introduction to this early 19th century world. The format of Lockwoods narrative is that of a personal diary, which allows the development for the reader of an easy intimacy with an impartial character whose style - self-conscious, a little affected and facetious is nicely calculated to engage sympathy, while allowing ground for the reader to be amused at the narrators expense.
With all his limitations, Lockwood is intelligent and perceptive and his precise detailed descriptions are used by his creator to create subtle changes in situation and character, an example of this is that when Lockwood first visited Wuthering Heights, he commented on the chained gate, while at the end of the novel when he returns to find Heathcliff dead, he noticed "Both doors and lattices were open". Changes in character are also hinted at by Lockwoods eye for detail, he has noticed changes in both Cathy and Hareton - Cathy once described by Lockwood as "the little witch", now has "a voice as sweet as a silver bell". Hareton described in the opening chapters as a boor and a clown and has by the end of the novel become "a young man respectably dressed" with "handsome features", therefore Lockwood, by fulfilling the role as the detached outsider and observer, brings a dimension to the novel which is quite different from the perception provided by Nelly.
Lockwoods Style as Narrator
Lockwood uses an educated literacy language marked by detailed factual description and perceptive observation and comment, both on situation and character. An example of this is his description of Hareton "Meanwhile, the young man had slung onto his person a decidedly shabby upper garment, and, erecting himself before the blaze, looked down on me from the corner of his eyes, for all the world as if there was some mortal feud unavenged still between us. I began to doubt whether he was a servant or not... his bearing was free, almost haughty and he showed none of a domestics assiduity in attending to the lady of the house."
Lockwoods sentences are often complex consisting of a number of clauses or long phrases, frequently separated by dashes or semi-colons, examples, "he probably swayed by the presidential considerations of the folly of offending a good tenant - released a little in the laconic style of chipping of his pronouns and auxiliary and introducing what he supposed would be a subject of interest to me." A noticeable aspect of Lockwoods style is his use of words of Latin origin, e.g. prudential, laconic, auxiliary. By the end of Chapter 3, Lockwoods style has become more complex in that his sentence structure is complicated, large numbers of adjectival and adverbial clause, a liberal use of the semi-colon and comma, to give the impression of a narrator whose command of language is sophisticated. "My human fixture and her satellites, rushed to welcome me; explaining tumultuously, they had completely given me up; everybody conjectured (guessed) that I perished last night; and they were wondering how they must set about the search for my remains.
Nelly Dean as Narrator
Nelly Deans narrative, though copious and detailed, has an extraordinary, sometimes breathless energy as if she were describing events that she had witnessed an hour ago, every moment of which is vividly present to her. Nellys narrative is an art of stark immediacy - of making the past live for us in the present. As much of Nellys narrative is unfolded in the words of the actual characters, we the readers, feel that the narrative is moulded by the pressure of events, not that the shape and interpretation of events is being fashioned by the narrator. The sense of actuality is conveyed by a series of concrete details that fall artlessly into place. Nellys sureness in relating her narrative seems to arise out of an astonishing clear memory, the impression of rapid excitement is achieved by concentrating our attention on movement and gesture, action and reaction, intermixed with vehement dialogue which convinces by its emphatic speech rhythms and plain language. The dialogue has no trace of a conscious stylist, it is noticeable for the brief rapidity of the sentence, an example of this is Nellys recollection of the time leading up to Catherines death, when Catherine emplored her to open the window of her room - "Oh, if I were but in my own bed in the old house!" she went on bitterly, wringing her hands, "And that wind sounding in the firs by the lattice. "Do let me feel it! - it comes straight down the moor - do let me have one breath!"
Nellys value as a narrator is clear from this example, she brings us very close to the action and is in one way deeply engaged in it. The intimate affairs of the Grange and the Heights have taken up her whole life, however, her position as a professional housekeeper means that her interests in events is largely practical. She provides the inner frame of the narrative and we see this world of the successive generations of Earnshaws and Lintons through her eyes, although much of the dialogue, in the interests of objectivity, is that of the characters themselves. As a narrator reporting the past from the present, she has the benefit of hindsight and can therefore depart from the straight chronological narrative to hint at the future.
A major contrast between Nelly and Lockwood is that she, to an extent, is a character within her own narrative, which causes her several problems. At times she is involved in the action, she is now describing and therefore she treads a difficult path between romantic indulgence and moral rectitude, she both encourages and discourages relationships. Her attitude to theme sways between approval and disapproval, depending on her mood. This is primarily evident in the role she plays in the love triangle between Heathcliff, Catherine and Edgar; at times taking Edgars side while yet arranging the last meeting between Heathcliff and Catherine by leaving the window open for him. She adopted a similar position between the relationship between Cathy and Linton, at time colluding with Cathy and at other times judging and betraying her for writing against her fathers wishes. There is an ambivalence in Nellys attitude and this combined with her meddling nature renders her moral stance inconsistent and even hypocritical. Despite these shortcomings, she is vigorous, lively narrator with a formidable memory whose energy and unflagging interests allow the reader an insight into the lives of characters.
As a narrator, Nellys style differs substantially from that of Lockwood, much of her narrative consists of verbatim dialogue and as such is the language of the characters in Wuthering Heights. When she herself is speaking as a narrator, her language is lively, colloquial and imaginative, this has the effect of bringing characters to life and providing the reader with many vivid and precise images, an example of this is her reference to Heathcliffs life "Its a cuckoos, sir - I know all about it, except where he was born, and who were his parents, and how he got his money at first. And that Hareton, has been cast out like a unfledged dunnock." In this example the tagging on of the phrase "at first" suggests that Nelly knows how he got his money later and therefore arouses our interest in Heathcliff. Nelly is limited because of her conventional, religious and moral sentiments, which often prevent her from a greater understanding of the emotions or motives of the characters. This is important in Brontes technique as it allows the reader to believe that they have a better understanding of the characters and the developments, than either of her narrators. The inclusion of so much dialogue and the tertiary narratives of the central characters provide a direct communication between the reader and character allowing for greater immediacy and for an individual response on behalf of the reader. In this respect both Nelly and Lockwood are merely facilitators providing a mechanism through which the reader can enter a world of Wuthering Heights and react in an individual fashion to the events which transpire.