Contents Index

Satanic Conceits in Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights

Peter McInerney

Milton and the Romantics, 4 (1980), 1-15

{1} The landscape of Romantic literature was obsessed with Satanic personalities. Devils ranged everywhere, from Radcliffe's Italy to Hogg's Scotland, from Brown's America to Maturin's Ireland. And sympathy for the Devil's party seemed to be the spirit of the age. Byron's desperate but glamorous supermen, Harold and Lara, Manfred and Cain, spurned salvation, preferring to risk damnation. Goethe's Werther made suicide appear to be an ethical imperative, and his Faust made apostasy justifiable. And while the Devil's popularity skyrocketed, Blake's Urizen and Shelley's Jupiter were giving the Supreme Being a bad name.

Among Romantics, sympathy for the Devil arose from the impact of his splendid performance as Satan, in Paradise Lost. Blake's and Shelley's notorious expressions of support are famous examples of the allure of his Romanticized agony. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell -- the title itself a provocation to the pious -- Blake insisted Milton wrote "at liberty . . . of the Devils and Hell, . . . because he was a true Poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it."1 And in his A Defence of Poetry, Shelley argued that "Milton's Devil as a moral being is . . . far superior to his God . . ." Among Romanticists, these oracular sayings have engendered what Shelley elsewhere calls "a pernicious casuistry" [PU] -- the practice of underestimating the faults of Romantic Satanists, and the tendency to overestimate the wrongs they suffer.2 Rationalizations of Satan's evil deeds and cant about the divine repression of his supposed virtues, have sometimes resulted in dangerous critical temporizings about the destructive behavior of Satan's Romantic sons.

It is no wonder that modern Miltonists, steeped by their great tutor in the violence and misery and sadness of sin, should have been outraged by Blake's and Shelley's statements, which they indignantly regarded as inaccurate and exploitative. But much of their outrage was due in its turn to misreading. Such misreading has given way to more judicious considerations of Romantic attitudes toward Satan and Paradise Lost. In fact, both Blake and Shelley revised their views, emptying them of exaggeration. What is more, the Miltonists' reaction proceeded by neglecting Wordsworth and Coleridge, and by assuming consensus about Byron's impieties.3 But among Romanticists, the {2} spectacle of defiance still intoxicates, pernicious casuistries persist, and there is a conviction that egomania equals humanism. The Melmoths and Cains who rebel against the Deity are presumed to strike a blow against tyranny, and to make a stand for the indignant integrity of the solitary Romantic self. And those "heroes" who nominate themselves as substitutes for Omnipotence, like Victor in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or like Heathcliff in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights, are said to be by that odd merit raised. The casuistries of Romanticists, when they celebrate Victor as a high technology Hippocrates, or when they admire Heathcliff as a landlocked Leander, really are pernicious, because they distort the texts and misrepresent Romanticism. In the words of the Editor in Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus -- perhaps the most incisive critique of Romanticism ever written -- there is a kind of "inward Satanic School" seething in the breasts of commentators on Mary's and Emily's novels. Teufelsdrockh's counter-defiance of it in Carlyle's work is an example of dissent, and an anthem for what follows:

The Everlasting No had said: "Behold, thou art fatherless, outcast, and the Universe is mine (the Devil's)"; to which my whole Me now made answer: "I am not thine, but Free, and forever hate thee!"4


The "Satanic School" of commentators on Romantic literature is not readily identifiable, because their pernicious casuistries arise as specific, topical responses to individual works. This lack of identifiability is due in part to the deconstruction of Romanticism by new critics and historians of ideas. Few Romanticists, in the wake of the ongoing controversy about a definition of "Romanticism," have attempted comprehensive characterizations of the literature.5 But underlying the Satanic School's discrete commentaries is a shared illusion that Romanticism has to do with revolt against any assumption of authority over to the masses by Christian churches and states, against Philistinism in literature and art, against philosophies and psychologies descended from Locke's Essay, which place limits on the "outreach" of the human will. This stance sounds noble, but the compounded premise has no more striking analogue than the argument of Milton's Satan, "rolling in the fiery Gulf" (I, 52), and speaking "from sense of injured merit" (I, 98), that "To reign is worth ambition though in Hell" (I, 262). Certainly many Romantic characters echo this position, such as Maturin's Melmoth, Byron's Manfred, Shelley's Cenci, or Mary Shelley's Monster and Brontë's Heathcliff. {3} But none of these characters is typical or normative, and the works in which they appear form but a small part of the literature, so they provide an unstable ground for the Satanic School's readings of the period's mood. On the contrary, it is more common (if less glamorous) to find in Romantic literature that tame, domestic, hearthside, and ordinary virtues triumph and are validated. The most recent Melmoth does not go the way of his ancestor's overripe flesh. Rather than commit mass murders, the speakers in Coleridge's conversation poems compromise with petty annoyances, and even the Ancient Mariner chooses love over defiance of cosmic inevitability. Wordsworth's extra-ecclesiastical, ex-cathedral pastor, the Wanderer of The Excursion -- the major example of the Wordsworthian sublime long after the other Romantics had passed away -- is still offering affirmations when the Solitary has run out of objections. Do Jane Austen's heroines shout "No!" in thunder? Instead, more often, Romantic literature resolves tensions between good and evil, and urges patience, fortitude, and charity in place of despondency and madness. And whenever Satanic protagonists do strut and fret through Romantic narratives, their choices are rejected. In Frankenstein, Victor dies tortured by guilt, and the Monster immolates himself. In Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff starves himself to death.

The Satanic School of Romanticists neglects this other Romanticism, the literature of restraint and community, though it is more extensive and more representative. And while it overemphasizes the early Blake's or Shelley's attitudes toward Satan, it overlooks the opinions of Romanticism's most brilliant critic, Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In The Statesman's Manual Coleridge observes that

. . . in its utmost abstraction and consequent state of reprobation, the will becomes Satanic pride and rebellious self-idolatry in the relations of the spirit to itself, and remorseless despotism relatively to others; the more hopeless as the more obdurate by its subjugation of sensual impulses, by its superiority to toil and pain and pleasure; in short, by the fearful resolve to find in itself alone the one absolute motive of action, under which all other motives from without must be either subordinated or crushed.

This is the character which Milton has so philosophically as well as sublimely embodied in the Satan of his Paradise Lost.6

The nihilistic will Coleridge points to in Satan is the leading characteristic of his Romantic heirs, and Coleridge's remark constitutes a formula for the figure as he appears in Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights. But before moving to a demonstration of this claim, it is worthwhile to consider why the Romantic agonies of Satan's metamorphoses have been misconstrued.7

{4} Part of the reason for rationalized readings of Satanic figures in Romantic prose fiction has to do with their origin in Satan himself, the Prince of Darkness and Error. Satan fooled angels and men, and the talent for deception is evident in his Romantic heirs.8 This talent is presented in Book III of Paradise Lost. When he travels out of Hell through Chaos and alights on the Sun, Satan encounters Uriel and asks him for information about the Universal Maker's "new happy Race of Men" (III, 379). Satan's motives are of course not benign, but Uriel, whom Satan flatters as "Interpreter" of God's "authentic will" (III, 657, 656), even Uriel is blind to Satan's real identity. At the conclusion of Satan's request, and prior to Uriel's unhappy decision to give him directions to Eden, the Poet explains Uriel's gullibility by noting Satan's skill at deception:

So spake the false dissembler unperceiv'd;
For neither Man nor Angel can discern
Hypocrisy, the only evil that walks
Invisibly, except to God alone,
By his permissive will, through Heaven and Earth;

(III, 681-5).
If Uriel will err in the face of Satanic rhetoric, isn't it at least equally likely that Satan's human audience will as well? Satan's sons, like their sire, can hide their treachery from everyone except God, so it is not surprising that some Romanticists do not discern the hypocrisy and evil of a Victor or a Heathcliff.

In addition to fathoming the character of Satan, Coleridge also recognized the effect of confusion Satan produces, and our liability to deceit by his latter-day manifestations: "from inattention to the possibility of such a character as well as from ignorance of its elements, even men of honest intentions too frequently become fascinated."9 Invisibly, evil attracts belief in what is a lie, perverting judgment, prompting error. Met by our capacity for self-deception or "fascination" (fascinare, to bewitch; to enchant; to practice witchcraft), Satan's hypocritical disguises and uses of rhetoric overpower readers. The ruthless force of evil's hypocrisy is carefully plotted in the poem, and the precision of its displacement of the most honest intentions has chilled generations of readers. Victor and Heathcliff share Satan's ability to fascinate, so much so that many readers of Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights come away without awareness of their brutal criminality. Like readers of Paradise Lost, they must be surprised by their sin of misreading.

The consequence of blindness to evil and hypocrisy was given definition more than a decade ago, when Stanley Fish's reading of the {5} poem demonstrated Milton's strategy of causing us to participate in the thoughts and emotions and choices of Adam and Eve, and of compelling us to re-enact the Fall.10 Despite the pronouncements of early Blake or Shelley, Miltonists have been aware that Milton knew what he was doing and certainly was not of the Devil's party "without knowing it." The myth of Milton's inadvertent or unconscious advocacy of Satan's position, given exciting emphasis by Blake and Shelley, and used as an axiom in their commentaries, has no foundation. But the myth has been transposed to the cases of Mary Shelley and Brontë, to the works in which the Devil reappears, and it has been rarely challenged. Like the creator of Satan, the creators of Victor and Heathcliff have been judged not fully in control. Mary Shelley rose to defend herself against the charge that her work's design was accidental or undetermined in her Introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein.11 Brontë could not reply to her sister Charlotte's posthumous evaluation of her artistry, which stated bluntly: "she did not know what she had done."12 This transposed myth has done as much to generate misreadings of the novels as its original did to license misreadings of Milton's poem. One specific consequence is that Satan, Victor, and Heathcliff are objects of sympathy. In other words, Milton's Satan, Mary Shelley's Victor, and Brontë's Heathcliff can be defended by various pernicious casuistries, and among these one which argues that each author's condemnation of his or her overreacher is a slip. Accordingly, if Milton's Satan finishes his career in defeat and humiliation, this development is a clumsy flurry of penance for enjoying him in the rest of the poem. And if Mary Shelley's Victor or Brontë's Heathcliff do not quite succeed in their ambitious rebellions against the wrongs they suffer, their terrorist actions and gruesome fates do not condemn their egomaniacal energies. The imputation is that the effect of Satan's intrinsic hypocrisy is to confuse the writer on Satanic themes, and thus the argument that neither Mary or Emily knew what she was doing furnishes the reason why their Satanic conceits have been misinterpreted. And of course, readers of Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights, seduced by the hypocrisy and evil of their Satanists and complacent about the ignorance of the authors, ignore the texts' explicit condemnatory judgments of Victor and Heathcliff.


In the Preface he wrote to the first edition of Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818), Shelley listed some of the inspirations for {6} the novel -- the Iliad, Shakespeare, "and most especially Milton, in Paradise Lost . . ." (6).13 Milton's influence on the novel can be observed beginning with the title page, whose epigraph is taken from Adam's speech to God complaining about the Fall (X, 743-5):
Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
To mould me Man? did I solicit thee
From darkness to promote me? ----
The epigraph recalls Milton's intention to deploy a theodicy, and alerts us to the likelihood that the novel will be a "modern" version of it. But the epigraph, or the Monster's account of reading Paradise Lost and his subsequent conversion to Satanism, are among the obvious symptoms of the poem's influence. Less obvious is the novel's revision of the poem's concern with the relation between Creator and creation -- here expressed by the drama of Victor's relation to his Monster.14 But Frankenstein is not new clothes for Paradise Lost so much as it is an attempt to take up discussion of the human condition where the poem leaves off. And the fact of death is the most important feature of man's fate from thence. The novel is interested in men and women after the Fall, especially in consequence of their disobedience, solicited by Satan, which "Brought Death into the world, and all our woe" (I, 3). Death is a deep presence in Frankenstein. The narrative is as littered by bodies as the last scene of Hamlet. Victor's struggle against death is the novel's occasion, one of its major actions, and the source of Victor's degeneration into Satanism. Wuthering Heights is similarly corpse-ridden, and Heathcliff's eventual worship of death is made to appear as a logical development of his Satanic prerogatives. From Wordsworth's "We Are Seven" to Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale," Romantic literature is half in love with the subject of death. Tombstone meditations are as common as mountaintop visions, and "the graveyard school" is not less important than the Satanic. Satan's status in the poem as the agent of death is preserved in Mary Shelley's and Brontë's novels, where it is conferred on Victor and Heathcliff. In both works, the Satanists leave death in their wake.

In Frankenstein, Victor's and the Monster's attitudes toward death are defiant, and in a similar way: they want to triumph over it. The Monster's strategy of attrition, conceived to force Victor to create a mate for him so he can "propagate a race of devils" (163), is one instance of a compromise plan to alleviate the burden of mortality he bears. However, it is Victor who first conceives the ambition to conquer death, and whose whole life is dedicated to that end. His purpose is to frustrate death, "that most irreparable evil" (38), and to find means to "renew life where death had apparently devoted the body to {7} corruption" (49). Appearing as an ultimate expression of the Hippocratic oath, Victor's purpose is really an assault against "Justice" in Paradise Lost: "Man disobeying,/ . . . He with his whole posterity must die,/ Die hee or Justice must" (III, 203, 209-10). This "Modern Prometheus," as the novel's subtitle characterizes him, who educates himself at Ingolstadt, Faust's alma mater,15 acts in rebellion against God's order in the poem. The Monster's Satanism, his resistance to this order, is similarly deliberate, but it is undisguised: "I, like the arch fiend, bore a hell within me . . . I declared everlasting war against the species . . . My daily vows rose for revenge -- a deep and deadly revenge" (132, 133, 138). In this regard the Monster is not Satanic. Victor's Satanism is more perfect, because it is more subtle and hypocritical. It may seem, even to Victor, that his doomed attempt to repair death, "that most irreparable evil," is an imitation of God's action in the poem of bringing good out of evil. It may seem an effort to undertake Christ's sacrifice again. But in the poem death has already been converted from evil to good, Death's "mortal sting disarm'd" (III, 253) by the Son. Victor's career is rather a version of Satan's, a monomaniacal project to contravene Heaven, and Victor's ambitions are similar to Satan's. Like him, Victor prefers to reign: "A new species would bless me as its creator . . . No father could claim the gratitude of his child so completely as I should deserve theirs" (49). And like Satan, the effect of Victor's labor "must be to pervert that end" of death redeemed, "And out of good still to find means of evil" (I, 164-5).

In Paradise Lost, the effect of Satan's hypocrisy is to enhance the disguise that evil, by its nature, already wears. Satan's true identity, and his aim of infecting the human race with death, are invisible to Uriel, the "Interpreter." The same mixture of hypocrisy and evil in Victor, under other circumstances, has the same hoodwinking effect on some of his interpreters, who find him "paradoxical" and "ambiguous." So distinguished a Romanticist as Harold Bloom, in an essay on Frankenstein, writes that one of two large "paradoxes" in the novel is that Victor "was successful . . ." even though he failed to create a species who would bless him. The other paradox, according to Bloom, is that Victor's "intention" is a good one, even though its execution is flawed. The effect of this reading is not to discover paradoxes but to invent them. Victor wasn't successful in his fundamental goal of eliminating death, as Bloom himself eloquently admits: "Frankenstein breaks through the barrier that separates man from God and gives apparent life, but in doing so he gives only death in life."16

Traditionally understood as an evil action,17 Victor's barrier-breaking wins a Satanic prize, a false success. He brings death to the lives of his Monster, his brother, servant, friend, wife, father, and to himself. Except for Walton's rejection of his advice to sail deeper among dangerous icebergs, Victor might have brought death to Walton and his whole crew, also. With these details in mind, no casuistry that turns on distinctions between Victor's "intention" and his act can be credited. Here, too, we find an invented paradox. Victor's intentions are not good but evil. His resonance as a Satanic type, and his Satanic willfulness make this position inevitable, if not automatic. Schooled to emphasize the novel's unremitting punishments of Victor, Bloom recognizes but suppresses them, erring on the side of mercy.

George Levine is more persistent, like many of us cheerfully addicted to Frankenstein, and he is an advocate of its excellence. In "The Ambiguous Heritage of Frankenstein," Levine enforces an earlier reading which attacked the novel for being "anti-heroic," timidly unwilling to endorse Victor's magnificent will, and weakly traitorous in allowing Walton, "a lesser man," to survive. Levine's most recent statement of this view is based, like Bloom's reading, on a vision of paradox in Victor's character, and in the novel as a whole:

. . . Mary Shelley has imagined the responsibilities of God shifted to mankind. The burden is too great to allow us an easy moral placing of Victor. The theme of the overreacher in this context brings us to the kind of impasse that Frankenstein itself reaches . . . That is, we see that the ambition is heroic and admirable, yet deadly because humans are incapable of fulfilling their dreams in material reality, or, paradoxically, of bearing responsibility for them should they succeed. [Levine 10]18
But like Bloom's, Levine's perception of paradox is invented through interpretation, not discovered as a presence in the text. The impasse of paradox or ambiguity is Levine's, not Frankenstein's. How can an ambition that is "deadly" -- and we need only to count the corpses of William, Justine, Clerval, Elizabeth, or Victor himself to concur -- be at the same time "heroic and admirable"? How can human beings "succeed" in fulfilling an ambition they are "incapable of fulfilling"? As in Uriel's interpretation, in Levine's "suspicion sleeps/ At wisdom's Gate" (III, 686-7). Levine is partly right -- the novel does prevent some of its readers from "an easy moral placing of Victor." But the novel is certainly unequivocal about Victor's immoral egotism, and, as he tells Walton his autobiography, so is Victor himself. I hope, he says, "that the gratification of your wishes may not be a serpent to sting you, as mine has been" (24). Like Satan, Victor {9} acts as a "false dissembler," and as many readers assemble his narrative, "from inattention to the possibility of such a character as well as from ignorance of its elements," they become fascinated. Their goodness in overestimating Victor's wrongs, and in overlooking his faults, "thinks no ill/ Where no ill seems" (III, 688-9).

Is it a paradox that the most accurate analysis of Victor's character is still Coleridge's, though he was writing two years before Frankenstein was published, and discussing Satan in Paradise Lost? Not at all: Victor is a descendant of Satan and so closely resembles him in the effect of error he causes in readers, that the same quality of will is shared by both. Thus, point for point, Coleridge's analysis of Satan's character is supported by the example of Victor. Victor's will is concentrated into a condition of "utmost abstraction" from the concerns of others during his solitary research at Ingolstadt, and occasions a "consequent state of reprobation," for Victor not only misforms and mistreats his creation, he lies about it to himself and others. His will "becomes Satanic pride and rebellious self-idolatry in the relations of the spirit to itself," and he decides to play God. His will becomes "remorseless despotism relatively to others," as the Monster and Victor's family learn to their cost. Victor's will is "the more obdurate by its subjugation of sensual impulses, by its superiority to toil and pain and pleasure": he severs relation with those who love him while at the gory task he sets himself, and appears "rather like one doomed by slavery to toil in the mines" (51). Finally, Victor's character evinces that "fearful resolve to find in itself alone the one absolute motive of action": "One secret which I alone possessed was the hope to which I had dedicated myself . . . A resistless, and almost frantic impulse, urged me forward; I seemed to have lost all soul or sensation but for this one pursuit" (49-50). Like Satan to Eve, Victor appears to readers as not what he is.


Like Frankenstein, Wuthering Heights is dominated by a male character whose "will becomes Satanic pride and rebellious self-idolatry." And like Victor in Mary Shelley's novel, Heathcliff in Brontë's is sometimes adored for this. Also, since Heathcliff's end is not pretty, and since his behavior is fatal to most of his close relations, readers unable to reconcile their fascination with the text's condemnation have invented ambiguity and paradox in their interpretations. Not all readers -- the record of commentary on Wuthering Heights19 is better balanced than that on Frankenstein -- but sentimental notions {10} of Heathcliff, and especially of his relationship to Catherine, are still very popular. Perception of ambiguity and paradox began with the text's second reader, Charlotte Brontë, and set the terms for subsequent repetitions:
Her imagination . . . wrought creations like Heathcliff, like Earnshaw, like Catherine. Having formed these beings, she did not know what she had done. If the auditor of her work when read in manuscript, shuddered under the grinding influence of natures so relentless and implacable, of spirits so lost and fallen; if it was complained that the mere hearing of certain vivid and fearful scenes banished sleep by night, and disturbed mental peace by day, Ellis Bell would wonder what was meant, and suspect the complainant of affectation. (10-11).20
Charlotte creates an image of Emily that urges us to regard her as unable to understand the novel she wrote. Indeed, Charlotte makes Emily appear an idiot. But Charlotte's account at least suggests that Emily was convinced that her novel was not ambiguous or paradoxical. Suppose Emily was right, and her reaction fair -- then paradox and ambiguity will be located in Charlotte's reading, and not in the text. But before taking Emily's side in this matter, it is important to identify the novel's connection to the Satanic tradition.

The Brontës' interest in Paradise Lost, and particularly Emily's, was intense. Milton's importance was equalled only by Byron's,21 and the heritage of Satan on one hand, and the Corsair or Manfred on the other, is pronounced in Heathcliff. Because of its exploration of this type, its preoccupation with several gothic conventions, its psychologized landscapes, and its discussion of transcendental egoism, Wuthering Heights is often understood and taught as an example of Romantic literature.22 Its setting would seem to warrant this classification. The novel's first word, the date "1801" (13), sets it just as the Romantic period in England gets under way. But of course, Wuthering Heights was published almost half a century later, while Tennyson was polishing that quintessentially Victorian elegy In Memoriam. If Mary Shelley's novel was published at the height of the Romantic movement, Emily's appeared some time after the movement had waned. Wuthering Heights is not Romantic, but is instead an historical novel about Romanticism. It is a view back toward a period when the possibility of an unlimited human will seemed plausible, a view from a period that denied it. Wuthering Heights does not trot out another version of the glamorous Satanic overreacher. Instead it is an early Victorian essay at psychological anthropology, measuring the extinction of that species a generation before. With this in mind, Heathcliff's character stands as an anachronism; his ambitions are {11} obsolete pretensions. Brontë's wonder that her novel caused shock in Charlotte is perhaps due to surprise that anyone might take a Satanist seriously in the Victorian age.

That readers did so and do so today is the result of several energies active in Wuthering Heights, all focused on or emanating from Heathcliff. Frankenstein's Satanist conceived a large ambition, to triumph over death. Heathcliff embraces the same one most desperately while Catherine is dying -- "I love my murderer" (135), and lives from then on as, in Brontë's words, "a Ghoul -- an Afreet" (12). But certainly Heathcliff is no scientist, and his hope to endure death and so "live" at last with Catherine depends not on technology but on superstition. Heathcliff's fascination arises instead from his appearance as a passionate lover -- a Satanic Don Juan. Heathcliff's scorn of death is coupled with his constancy to Catherine. For some readers, this coupling stimulates the illusion that death is a prerequisite to the "love" that Heathcliff and Catherine have, and the further illusion that what they have really is love: "One admires and rereads the novel for the grand passion of Heathcliff and Cathy."23 According to this view, Heathcliff and Catherine give all for love -- give their lives -- and by doing so preserve life and love after their deaths. But like Victor's, Heathcliff's actions and intentions are not what they seem. For what kind of "love" is the lot of Catherine and Heathcliff, and what kind of "life" do they enjoy? Their love is no version of Shelley's idea, not certainly an experience "of everything excellent or lovely that we are capable of conceiving as belonging to the nature of man."24 Instead, Heathcliff's actions create hate, love's opposite, and his intentions are revenge and destruction. Charlotte Brontë observed this accurately in the character.

Heathcliff betrays one solitary human feeling, and that is not his love for Catherine; which is a sentiment fierce and inhuman: a passion such as might boil and glow in the bad essence of some evil genius . . . (11).
Heathcliff never enjoys his love-object Catherine after adolescence begins for them, and instead contributes to the self-inflicted disease which kills her. Heathcliff is not a lover but a patient killer -- of Hindley, Edgar, Isabella, and his own son Linton, as well as Catherine. His status as an anti-erotic figure, an enemy of love, is made clearer by his death-dealing. Late in the novel, Nelly Dean wonders whether Heathcliff is "a vampire"(260), a figure whose eroticized and horrible deadliness he resembles.25

Coleridge's litany of the elements of the Satanic character can be recited with regard to Heathcliff as readily as in the case of Victor. His {12} will becomes Satanic pride, and he idolizes his motive for revenge, the "one absolute motive" of his actions. He satisfies this motive by foregoing all sensual impulses and enduring a lifetime of toil and pain. Coleridge's recognition that such a character can "fascinate" readers is also appropriate to Heathcliff. Despite the hypocrisy of Heathcliff's eroticism and the evil it scatters, some readers sympathize with "the heroic struggles of Heathcliff"26 and admire his "grand passion" for Catherine. But others reject Heathcliff as "a perversely idealized adolescent in a tantrum,"27 "a rough perfidious lout," and "a melodramatic dummy."28 Whatever one's opinion, it is necessary to acknowledge that both positions are held by readers, and further, that they are in tension. As Inga-Stina Ewbank puts it in her commendable reading, Emily "is fond of letting different voices express their opinion . . ." This same feature is apparent in Frankenstein, where Walton, Victor and the Monster speak for themselves. But the tension between fascination for Heathcliff and condemnation of him produces misinterpretation if not resolved, because as in Frankenstein too, these opinions cannot continue to co-exist. As Ewbank writes, Brontë is fond of permitting expression of several opinions by different voices, but also fond of "making the structure . . . as a whole reject or favor either voice."29 In Frankenstein, the novel's structure observes the ruin of Victor and the Monster, then observes Walton's decision to avoid his own ruin. Frankenstein is Walton's autobiography, and it charts his rejection of death-in-life, the Satanic will. Wuthering Heights is the autobiography of Lockwood, who structures his narrative to observe the ruins of Heathcliff and Catherine, then observes Hareton's and Cathy's decision to reject a similar course. Fascination with Heathcliff's and Catherine's "love" is sometimes so strong that the novel's concluding scenes of Hareton's and Cathy's healthy cooperation seem a travesty: "Does not the creation of the second generation serve chiefly to mar the structure by contradicting the novel's true subject?"30 This suggestion that readers ought to conclude Emily did not know what she had done betrays an unwillingness to accept the novel's structure, its rejection of the first generation, and its favoring of the second.

Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights share one characteristic derived from Paradise Lost that has not yet been mentioned. This characteristic -- a dimension of each work's autobiographical structure -- needs to be understood if readers are to protect themselves against dangerous temporizings about the novels' Satanists. In all three works, there is a reader over our shoulders, and we need to hear the voice embodied in each complete structure. In Paradise Lost, the {13} Poet asks us to witness Satan's awesome appearance and to experience his subtle rhetoric, but he also directs our attention away to Satan's actions and their result. The voice in the poem's structure guides us and governs our response, even as it forces us to risk repeating Adam and Eve's Fall. This element of risk, of running the danger that readers will be fascinated through hypocrisy by evil, is one of the poem's profoundly humanistic beauties. Both Frankenstein and Wuthering Heights contain a similar risk. And like the, poem, both introduce us to the temptations of error, while guiding our experience of it. It may be the challenge of taking this risk in her sister's novel that moved Charlotte to shudder, complain, lose sleep, and feel insane. The source of Charlotte's distress is not her sister's text but her troubled response to the truth it reveals about herself. As succeeding generations pore over the ink of these works, they will continue to respond to them as Rorschach tests, and learn what pitfalls hypocrisy breeds invisibly.


1. The Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David V. Erdman, comm. Harold Bloom (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1965), p. 35.

2. The Complete Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley (Julian Edition), ed. Roger Ingpen and Walter E. Peck, 10 vols. (1927-30; rpt. New York: Gordian, 1965), VII, 129; Shelley's Prometheus Unbound: A Variorum Edition, ed. Lawrence John Zillman (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1959), p. 120. This second quote is taken from the "Preface" to Prometheus Unbound.

3. The Romantics on Milton, ed. Joseph Anthony Wittreich, Jr. (Cleveland and London: Case Western Reserve Press, 1970), pp. 5-6, 26-27 (n. 15). See also Wittreich, "The 'Satanism' of Blake and Shelley Reconsidered," SP, 65 (October, 1968), 816-833, and Stuart Curran, "The Siege of Hateful Contraries: Shelley, Mary Shelley, Byron, and Paradise Lost," in Wittreich, ed., Milton and the Line of Vision (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1975), pp. 209-230. But see also Edna Newmeyer, "Wordsworth on Milton and the Devil's Party," MiltonS, 11 (1978), 83-98.

4. Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, ed. Charles Frederick Harrold (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1937), p. 169; pp. 167-8.

5. Robert F. Gleckner and Gerald E. Enscoe, eds., Romanticism: Points of View, rev. ed. (1967; rpt. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1975), preserves this controversy.

6. The Statesman's Manual, in The Complete Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. W. G. T. Shedd, 7 vols. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1853), I, 458-59.

7. Mario Praz, The Romantic Agony (New York: Oxford University Press, 1933), pp. 67-76, discusses this subject.

8. Sandra M. Gilbert, "Patriarchal Poetry, and Women Readers: Reflections on Milton's Bogey," PMLA, 93:3 (1978), 368-82, argues that Satan has fooled his female readers as much if not more than the men and angels.

9. The Statesman's Manual, ed. Shedd, in The Complete Works, I, 460.

10 Stanley E. Fish, Surprised by Sin (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971).

11. Mary Shelley, Frankestein, or The Modern Prometheus, ed. James Rieger (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1974), pp. 22-29.

12. Charlotte Brontë, "Preface," Wuthering Heights, ed. William M. Sale, Jr. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1972), p. 10.

13. Frankenstein, ed. Rieger, p. 6. Subsequent references will appear in the text.

14. I argue this view in "Frankenstein and the Godlike Science of Letters," forthcoming from Genre (1980).

15. H. G. Haile, The History of Doctor Johann Faustus (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965), p. 4.

16. Harold Bloom, "Afterword," in Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (New York: New American Library, 1965), pp. 217-18.

17. Richard Cavendish, The Powers of Evil (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1975), p. 26.

18. George Levine, "The Ambiguous Heritage of Frankenstein," in The Endurance of Frankenstein, eds. George Levine and U. C. Knoepflmacher (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), p. 10.

19. Several collections exist. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Wuthering Heights, ed. Thomas A. Vogler (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1968); Wuthering Heights, ed. William M. Sale; The Art of Emily Brontë ed. Anne Smith (New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1976).

20 Wuthering Heights, ed. William M. Sale. Other references are to this edition.

21. Winifred Gerin, Emily Brontë (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), pp. 47, 44-5.

22. See for example Robert Kiely, The Romantic Novel in England (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972), pp. 233-51.

23. Thomas Moser, "What is the Matter with Emily Jane? Conflicting Impulses in Wuthering Heights," NCF, 17 (June,1962), 3.

24. Shelley's Prose ed. David Lee Clark (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1954), p. 170.

25. Cf. Richard Cavendish, The Powers of Evil, pp. 55-9.

26. Tom Winnifrith, The Brontës and Their Background (New York: Barnes and Noble Books, 1973), p. 70.

27. Muriel Spark and Derek Stanford, Emily Brontë: Her Life and Work (New York: Coward-McCann. Inc., 1966). p. 251.

28. Spark and Stanford. pp. 255-6. On these pages my library's copy is littered with punctuation marks -- "! ?!," or simply, "?" -- perhaps an undergraduate's expression of disbelief that a reader could censure Heathcliff.

29.Inga-Stina Ewbank, Their Proper Sphere (London: Edward Arnold, 1966), p. 105.

30. Thomas Moser, "What is the Matter with Emily Jane?", Nineteenth Century Fiction, p. 2.