While critics have scrutinized Emily Brontë's use of the framed narrative in Wuthering Heights (1847), raising questions about the reliability of the central narrators, Lockwood and Nelly Dean, scant attention has been paid to Isabella Heathcliff as the third narrator. Though readers have overlooked the importance of Isabella's narrative, Brontë highlights her narrative by including it as the only intact letter in the entire novel and devotes almost an entire chapter to her narrative. Isabella's narrative surfaces in a letter to Nelly Dean, offering a highly unorthodox portrait for the mid-Victorian period of the domestic abuse of a young bride from the gentry class. Isabella's letter, which comprises most of chapter 13, also becomes a critical tool to ferret out the reliability of Heathcliff's account in chapter 14 of their marriage. By analyzing the conflicting accounts of their marriage, this essay demonstrates that Heathcliff 's argument acts as a carefully crafted legal rationale, based upon the laws of coverture, to defend and sanction the domestic confinement of his wife. While the laws of coverture deprived women of a legal and economic voice, Brontë endows Isabella with a complex and at times ironic voice. Brontë paints a powerful portrait of the radical transformation of Isabella from the pampered and infantile Miss Linton to the hardened Mrs. Heathcliff, ending with her as the intrepid, fugitive wife, Isabella Heathcliff. Brontë demonstrates through Isabella's story that as long as the laws of coverture are intact, companionate marriage is at risk of being exploited and compromised.
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Research Article| December 01 2009
"My name was Isabella Linton": Coverture, Domestic Violence, and Mrs. Heathcliff's Narrative in Wuthering Heights
Judith E. Pike
Judith E. Pike
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Nineteenth-Century Literature (2009) 64 (3): 347–383.
Judith E. Pike; "My name was Isabella Linton": Coverture, Domestic Violence, and Mrs. Heathcliff's Narrative in Wuthering Heights. Nineteenth-Century Literature 1 December 2009; 64 (3): 347–383. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ncl.2009.64.3.347
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