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Hareton Earnshaw and the shadow of idiocy: disability and domestic disorder in Wuthering Heights.

After Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights was published in 1847, contemporary reviewers sounded a common note of disapproval. Critics were variously troubled, confused, disgusted, and pained; they portrayed reading Wuthering Heights as an experience both innately disturbing and inescapably gripping, like viewing something monstrous from which one cannot look away. Indeed, throughout this criticism we find language of deformity or aberrancy used to describe Brontes novel and its characters. H. F. Chorley averred in the Athenaeum of 25 December 1847 that Heathcliff "has doubtless had his prototype in those ungenial and remote districts where human beings, like the trees, grow gnarled and dwarfed and distorted by the inclement climate." (1) An unsigned review published in the Atlas in January 1848 cast the novel's "entire dramatis personae" as "a group of deformities such as we have rarely seen gathered together on the same canvas," (2) while another unsigned review published that same month in the Britannia maintained that Ellis Bell's creations "have all the angularity of misshapen growth, and form in this respect a striking contrast to those regular forms we are accustomed to meet with in English fiction." (3)

What causes this persistent sense of discomfort, and why should it be expressed in such pathologizing terms? To begin to answer these questions, I posit a link between the reviewers' discomfort and Ato Quayson's account of the disturbing effects that textual representation of disability can produce. Comparing these effects to an encounter between a disabled person and a nondisabled person, Quayson argues: "The reader's perspective is ... affected by the short-circuiting of the dominant protocols governing the text--a short circuit triggered by the representation of disability." (4) Quayson terms this short-circuiting of dominant protocols of representation "aesthetic nervousness." I suggest that we can characterize Brontes reviewers as aesthetically nervous, and thereby acknowledge the common strain in their language not as an accident but as a nervous reaction to the presence of disability in Brontes text. Indeed the language of mental distortion and deformity, of physical misshapenness and monstrosity, provides a singularly appropriate vocabulary for discussing Wuthering Heights, a narrative that I will argue offers an ideologically charged representation of disability.

Critics have frequently noted the importance of illness and debility to Wuthering Heights: the significance of Hindley's intemperance, Catherine's anorexia, Heathcliff's monomania, and many other implications of illness have all been investigated. (5) Beyond cursory remarks on his physical accidents, however, little attention has been paid to Hareton Earnshaw in this respect. Yet Hareton is in fact one of the most afflicted characters in Wuthering Heights, thanks to the implicit stigma of "idiocy" the narrative contrives to attach to his character. (6) Brontes novel repeatedly suggests the characteristics of a nineteenth-century conception of "idiocy" in its descriptions of Hareton. Both narrative and characters frequently animalize, infantilize, and insult Hareton in language consistent with that used to refer to idiots in contemporary popular and medico-legal discourse. Moreover, Hareton is physically described in ways that reflect a nineteenth-century conception of what idiocy "looked like." These suggestive linguistic themes, combined with the traumatizing accidents and abuse he endures as a child, work to endanger Hareton's intellect with the specter of cognitive disability. Despite the fact that it is explicitly discussed by the novel's characters, the possibility of Hareton's idiocy has never been remarked in scholarly criticism. One good reason for this is that the novel's ending takes pains to counteract every single suggestive characterization earlier deployed, thoroughly rehabilitating its own language so as to erase even the suggestion of disability.

This invocation and suppression of disability, I contend, is motivated by an intense anxiety over the breakdown of domestic relations, and operates in the service of an ideological impulse to rehabilitate the patriarchal family. Patrick McDonagh suggests that idiocy in nineteenth-century Britain comprises "a shadowy image, an expression of unreason that takes new shapes according to context--according, that is, to the needs to which a society must put it." (7) Similarly, Brontes narrative co-opts the nebulousness of idiocy for its own ends, putting disability to use as a signifier for the dysfunctional family relations that plague the novel, in such a way that Hareton comes physically to embody the disordered nature of the domestic environment at Wuthering Heights.

In mapping domestic disorder onto Hareton's body, the novel draws upon a function Rosemarie Garland Thomson attributes to disabled characters in narrative: "the characters' bodies ... become semiotic manifestations of social ills." (8) Yet once Hareton is freed from the influence of Heathcliff and united to Cathy near the end of the novel, the implications of disability gradually disappear until, after another significant accident, idiocy's textual manifestations have been entirely erased. In this way, the erasure of disability facilitates the restoration of patrilineal succession and heteronormative romance. The supple and indistinct nature of the representation of Hareton's disability thus allows the novel to complete its ideological work, rehabilitating shattered domestic and familial relations via the same trajectory through which it rehabilitates Hareton.

The subtle linguistic disabling and rehabilitation of Hareton thus has implications for our reading of Wuthering Heights insofar as it opens a new window onto its author's anxious attempts to first expose and then eradicate domestic disorder. Indeed, as the very thoroughness of Hareton's rehabilitation shows, Bronte devotes a surprising amount of energy and ingenuity to restoring the health of patriarchal family relations; her ruthless rehabilitation suggests a nervous awareness of the need to reify and uphold domestic ideals against a personal and ideological instability. Further, in tracing how this plays out in Brontes novel, I aim to show that a disability studies approach can be productively applied to decipher the ideological anxieties and motives of nineteenth-century narrative. For this reason, I will use the somewhat anachronous term "disability" to refer to the condition of "idiocy" throughout this article, with the understanding that the nineteenth-century concept of "idiocy" is a nebulous one that does not fully overlap with a modern conception of cognitive disability. (9) Finally, the remarkably flexible nature of Hareton's disability has implications for how modern critics study disability in nineteenth-century literature. Previous scholarship in this area has tended to focus heavily on the disabled body itself as a spectacle or as a figure of pathos. (10) These functions, however, are complicated by the intense focus on reform and rehabilitation promulgated by many social movements of the period. The mid-nineteenth century, especially, saw the rise of many social reform movements through which reformers sought to rehabilitate the poor, the intemperate, the fallen, and the disabled. This prevailing climate of reform situates Wuthering Heights's nebulous depiction of Hareton and informs the novel's ruthlessly thorough rehabilitation of his character. Moreover, it draws our attention to the importance of rehabilitation itself as a culturally significant trope that, along with disability, speaks strongly to a narrative's ideological motives. (11)


At the time Emily Bronte was writing her first and only novel, the condition of "idiocy"--a vaguely defined term indicating cognitive disability--was attracting increased attention in both medical and journalistic arenas. International advances in the care and treatment of "idiots" gave rise to an upsurge of medical and philanthropic discourse concerning the idiot question, which in turn filtered through to publications in popular journals, including those to which the Brontes had access. A brief historical overview will highlight the contemporary proliferation of discourse around idiocy in order to bring to light the cultural knowledge that surrounded and permeated Wuthering Heights's suggestive depiction of Hareton Earnshaw.

Inaugurated by new theories of "moral management," the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries had seen a "burst of therapeutic and social optimism" with respect to the development of institutions in England for treatment of the insane. (12) By the 1840s this optimism expanded to the treatment of idiocy. David Wright explains: "The early 1840s ... witnessed an informal campaign for 'idiocy reform' analogous to that occurring for lunatics." (13) The Asylums and Lunatics Act of 1845 was a definitive piece of legislation that attempted to update regulations regarding institutional confinement of "the insane." The Act defined the latter category as encompassing three distinct subgroups: "idiots," "lunatics," and "persons of unsound mind." As Wright and other scholars have pointed out, however, the letter of the law and its practice were inconsistent, such that idiots, as a generally harmless population, were often shunted into workhouses and de-prioritized for institutional confinement. (14) These were among the circumstances that gave rise to the formation of institutions specifically for idiots in the late 1840s and early 1850s.

In addition to the growth of institutions, medical and philanthropic publications regarding idiocy and other mental deficiencies also flourished: the 1840s saw the publication of William Twining's Some Account of Cretinism and the Institution for Its Cure on the Abendberg, near Interlachen, in Switzerland (1843), Johann Guggenbuhl's Extracts from the First Report of the Insitution on the Abendberg (translated by Twining in 1845), and Edouard Seguin's Theorie et Pratique de L'Education des Idiots (1841-42) and Traitment moral, hygiene, et education des idiots et des autres enfants arrieres (1846), among other works. Twining's account lauded the work of Guggenbuhl, a physician who had been attracting interest for his efforts to educate cretins (cretinism was considered a specific class of idiocy) in an experimental institution at the Abendberg, Switzerland, founded in 1842. Though Guggenbuhl was eventually discredited, reports of his initial success quickly won international acclaim. Soon Guggenbuhl was giving lectures across Europe, and noted physicians and reformers were visiting his facility and publishing their responses. Shortly thereafter, the endeavors of Edouard Seguin and his colleagues at the Bicetre Hospital in Paris, where education was also emphasized, drew additional international attention. Seguin's progressive emphasis is articulated in the English translation of his monograph Idiocy and Its Treatment by the Physiological Method (1866), wherein he claims, "most idiots, and children proximate to them, may be relieved in more or less complete measure of their disabilities by the physiological method of education." (15) The Bicetre was also frequently visited and publicized, most notably in a series of articles by Samuel Gaskell, which appeared in the popular Chambers's Edinburgh Journal in early 1847. Leo Kanner explains that reports of foreign successes in the field "created a stir" in England, which led to the formation of like-minded institutions. The Misses White founded a small private school for idiots at Bath in 1846. A well-publicized meeting, presided over by the Lord Mayor of London, convened in 1847 to establish a committee to work toward the creation of a public institution. This committee's efforts culminated in the establishment in 1848 of Britain's first Asylum for Idiots. (16)

The increased medical and philanthropic interest in "The Education of Idiots"--as the title of one Chambers's article phrased it--also percolated through to the general public. Hilary Dickinson characterizes as "1840s propaganda" the flourishing of popular publications detailing new developments in the treatment of idiocy; (17) this increased interest in idiocy found voice in both newspapers and periodicals to which the Brontes had access. Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, which the Brontes are known to have read, seems to have been at the forefront of the popular conversation concerning idiocy. (18) Between 1840 and 1847, Chambers's published nine articles on idiots and idiocy, including Samuel Gaskell's aforementioned series on the new methods of treatment being undertaken at the Bicetre. (19) Chambers's Edinburgh Journal was available "in parts, as published" at the library of the Keighley Mechanics' Institute, where Patrick Bronte had a subscription, (20) as was the Mirror of Literature, which also published articles on idiocy in the decade leading up to the publication of Wuthering Heights. (21) Though not treated extensively, the topic was also occasionally addressed in the Leeds Mercury, a newspaper that the Brontes also read. Throughout the 1840s, the Mercury sporadically published brief news items concerning idiocy, quoting statistics on idiot populations, for example, or mentioning new books and pamphlets on idiocy. The Mercury also published "Proposed Asylum for Idiots," a description of the 1847 committee meeting that led to the foundation of the Asylum for Idiots, directly followed by an article calling for additional philanthropic attention to "The Claims of the Idiot." (22)

A recent strain of biographical criticism has shown that despite their purported isolation, the Brontes were not unaware of contemporary trends and conversations, even within specialized scientific domains. On the contrary, in Charlotte Bronte and Victorian Psychology Sally Shuttleworth argues that Charlotte's "novels are permeated by the psychological language and theory of the time, the texture of her fiction belying the myths of her social and cultural isolation." (23) Shuttleworth cites several medical texts and periodicals familiar to the Bronte household--including Thomas John Graham's Modern Domestic Medicine, Blackwoods, the Leeds Mercury, and the Leeds Intelligencer--as potential sources for Charlotte's grasp of contemporary psychological theories. (24) Similarly, Barbara Goff has argued for Emily Bronte's awareness of certain aspects of contemporary natural theology and natural history, citing as justification Emily's familiarity with scientific and theological texts from her father's library and with "such animal lore as the 'Dogiana' columns of Chambers's Edinburgh Journal." (25)

Given this evidence and critical precedent, we can safely assume that the burgeoning medical and popular discourses concerning idiocy were sufficient to have reached the Brontes at Haworth. Thus, even as contemporary psychology permeates "the texture" of Charlotte Bronte's writing in Shuttleworth's formulation, an awareness of cultural discourse surrounding idiocy permeates Emily Bronte's suggestive depiction of Hareton.

While conflicting mid-Victorian theories about the "improvability" of idiots may have informed the malleable nature of Hareton's idiocy, we should remember that malleability, as recent work in disability studies points out, can also be a sign of ideological manipulation. In Crip Theory, Robert McRuer examines the contemporary cultural representation of "flexible bodies." For McRuer, flexibility is a double-edged concept: heterosexual, able-bodied subjectivities flexibly expand and contract, enabling them to weather moments of crisis, while other "invariably queer and disabled" bodies "must function flexibly and objectively as sites on which the [heteronormative] epiphanic moment can be staged." (26) In other words, disability is forced to contort itself--even to the point of erasure--according to the changing needs of hegemony. McRuer illustrates this theory by citing contemporary films in which characters' disabilities obediently submit to erasure and transference in order to shore up heterosexual norms. In McRuer's formulation, flexibility is a product of a particular late twentieth-century moment. And yet, as the following analysis will show, the exceptionally supple and shadowy nature of Hareton Earnshaw's idiocy speaks to a similar construction, one that requires if not flexible bodies, at least flexible minds. This flexibility of disability, then, is not a purely modern phenomenon, but rather one cleverly co-opted by Brontes narrative at a historical moment when flexibility was equally current, where idiocy in particular was a shifting category, and one that was newly presented to the public imagination as an especially malleable, even "curable" condition.


Hareton is never explicitly characterized as disabled, and on the surface his deficiencies in speech and understanding are attributed to lack of education and illiteracy. However, the ways in which Hareton is metaphorically depicted, explicitly described, and insultingly addressed by the novel's narrators and characters effectively attach to him the shadowy stigma of idiocy.

In his study of the mental disability of Dickens's Barnaby Rudge, McDonagh observes that one of the '"well understood' features" of idiocy in the nineteenth century was the "frequent infantilization of those whom 'idiocy' afflicted." Citing the rhetoric of John Haslam's 1823 "Letter to the Lord Chancellor on the Nature and Interpretation of Unsoundness of Mind and Imbecility of Intellect," and of the 1853 Household Words piece entitled "Idiots" by Charles Dickens and William Henry Wills, McDonagh locates a trend of Victorian "observers constructing [idiots] as eternal children, anomalies confounding notions of age and intellect." (27) Several of the various narrators of Bronte's novel participate in a similar infantilization of Hareton. (28) Nelly Dean narrates an encounter with Hareton in a visit to Wuthering Heights sometime after his accident, when, according to the chronology of the narrative, he should be about six years old: "then ensued, from the stammering lips of the little fellow, a string of curses which, whether he comprehended them or not, were delivered with practised emphasis, and distorted his baby features into a shocking expression of malignity." (29) Despite his actual age, Nelly can still speak of Hareton as a "stammering little fellow" with "distorted baby features" in language that invokes both disability and its attendant infantilization. This infantile characterization of Hareton continues as he grows older; several months later, the newly married Isabella Heathcliff (nee Linton) expresses her distaste for Hareton's table manners by describing him as an "infant ruffian" who "continued sucking, and ... slavered into the jug" (176). Even when Hareton has attained the age of eighteen, Heathcliff still refers to him as an "infernal calf" (255).

David Wright documents the recurrence of similar language in nineteenth-century Certificates of Insanity. Beginning in 1811, Certificates of Insanity were required by law to be completed before "insane" patients (a distinction which encompassed both mental illness and mental disability) could be confined to asylums. (30) These locally administered certificates, Wright notes, incorporated both medical and lay testimony, and often reflected traditional popular understandings of idiocy rather than specialized medical conceptions. Focusing specifically on Certificates confirming the condition of idiocy, Wright cites "'inability' or 'disinclination' of the child to respond when spoken to" as a common theme in the testimony of medical practitioners for the Certificates, and quotes one surgeon's testimony to a subject's idiocy based upon "Inability to speak distinctly and childishness of manner." (31) This theme also finds expression outside the medical community; in a separate article examining testimony and letters of the patients' families, Wright locates a parallel trend in which "the disability of the individual evoked strong allusions to the permanency of the childlike dependence." (32)

The label of "infernal calf" adduced above picks up another of the themes that are used to imply Hareton's disability: animality. While animals and animal metaphors recur widely throughout the text--a phenomenon that has been well theorized by other critics--the animal comparisons to which Hareton is subjected are particularly significant insofar as they emphasize his coarseness, lack of perception, and brutish understanding. (33) When Hareton is first introduced in the novel, he is referred to by Lockwood as "that bear" (17). Similarly, Nelly soon after compares the adult Hareton to an "unfledged dunnock" (42), reiterating both themes of infancy and animality. Added to Hindley and Heathcliff's insults that name Hareton "cub" and "calf," young Cathy's teasing most clearly articulates the force of this animalistic characterization: "He's just like a dog, is he not Ellen? ... or a cart-horse? He does his work, eats his food, and sleeps eternally! What a blank, dreary mind he must have!" (375). Like the persistent infantilization, then, this metaphorical strain reinforces the blankness and the lack of development of Hareton's implicitly impaired mind; like infantilization, too, the narrative's emphasis on Hareton's animality speaks to both a historical and a contemporary cultural understanding of idiocy.

The equation of idiocy with animality is, as D. Christopher Gabbard points out, a long-standing theme in medical and philosophical discourse. Gabbard discusses the "Janus-like human animality" of idiots as a seventeenth-and eighteenth-century epistemological paradigm, citing among other sources mid-eighteenth-century physician Julien de La Mettrie's contention that "the imbecile and the idiot are animals in human form." (34) This association of idiocy and animality clearly continued to inform a nineteenth-century conception of idiocy, as evidenced in popular writings of the period. An article entitled "On the Goitre and Cretins of Switzerland," published in the Saturday Magazine in June 1839, stresses the "animal nature" of its subjects: "Some are able to walk about and attend to some easy labour, and make themselves understood by others; while the intelligence of others seems actually below that of brute creation ... All their instincts or feelings are purely of an animal nature, and of the lowest kind." (35) Similar comparisons were reiterated in several of the Chambers's articles on idiocy. "Voisin on Idiocy" (November 1843) cites a pamphlet in which Felix Voisin, physician at the Bicetre, refers to a class of "partial idiots" as "those whose brute propensities are completely and strongly developed, while their moral sentiments and intellects are weak," and observes of movements characteristic to the idiots under his care, "I have noticed the same sort of motion performed among the monkies shut up in our menageries." (36) Samuel Gaskells article "Education of Idiots at the Bicetre" (February 1847), the third in a series of articles on the Bicetre published in Chambers's, also describes a young male patient in comparable terms, noting the marked improvement of this young man from a time when he "had all the sensuality of a brute" and "manifested all the characteristics of an inferior animal." (37) Even as idiocy came to greater public attention, these animalistic comparisons persisted. In "Idiots Again," published in Household Words in April 1854, the author of the unsigned article argues that "To humour, in the sense of spoiling, an idiot, is to level him with the brutes at once," and warns against catering to the "animal part of a being who does not possess the faculties that counteract animality in other people." (38)

Finally, Hareton's animalistic blankness of mind finds a reflection in a blankness and roughness of physical countenance that would have been particularly suggestive to nineteenth-century readers in light of what David Wright terms a medical "visualization ... obsessed with the countenance of the idiot." (39) The novel's first physical description of Hareton introduces him via Lockwood's sneering observations: "His thick brown curls were rough and uncultivated, his whiskers encroached bearishly over his cheeks" (14). Heathcliff, similarly, observes "stupidity" in Hareton's look: on observing Hareton interact with his peers, Heathcliff asks Nelly, "Did I ever look so stupid, so gaumless,' as Joseph calls it?" (267). Yet again it is Cathy who delivers the most decisive condemnation in describing Hareton's expression after she has mocked his inability to read: "The fool stared, with a grin hovering about his lips, and a scowl gathering over his eyes, as if uncertain whether he might not join in my mirth" (303). Hareton's brutishly blank countenance, his stupid expression, his foolish grin become loaded physical descriptors in a culture whose popular medical theories (like physiognomy and phrenology) posit external forms as maps to interior qualities, especially in light of contemporary cultural discourse regarding idiocy. Wright notes the emergence of a particular physical stereotype within the language of Certificates of Insanity: "The 'wandering eye', 'imbecilic expression', [and] 'unmeaning grimace' ... are phrases representative of the new medical descriptions of what an idiot 'looked like.'" Moreover, Wright maintains, such phrases would have resonance outside the province of medico-legal discourse, since they represent a "shared cultural understanding with the undefined audience about how an idiot appeared." (40) In their descriptions of the physical features of idiocy, several of the Chambers's articles bear out Wright's contention. The author of "Cretinism" (July 1843) references the "dull hopeless look of almost perfect idiocy." (41) Gaskell's "Visit to the Bicetre" (January 1847) reinforces the "vacant expression of countenance" as one of the "characteristics of this class." (42) Similarly, the author of "Tuition of Idiots" (October 1847) asserts, "in most idiots a vacant wandering gaze is observable." (43)

Bronte's narrative does not content itself with subtle suggestions of impairment, however. The stigma of Hareton's idiocy is more explicitly articulated through the insults and derogatory language leveled at him by narrators and other characters. He is repeatedly described as a "fool" (303, 376) and a "dunce" (68, 303, 364). While these appellations gesture indistinctly toward some kind of mental impairment, it is again young Cathy who is deputed to make the explicit connection. Directed to socialize with a bashful Hareton at a moment when, as Nelly admits, he "certainly did not seem quite clear of comprehension," Cathy finally asks the question the narrative has been prodding readers to ask themselves about Hareton all along: "Is he all as he should be ... or is he simple ... not right? I've questioned him twice now, and each time he looked so stupid I think he does not understand me; I can hardly understand him, I'm sure!" (268-69). In case Hareton (or the reader) has not fully registered Cathy's meaning, the sniveling Linton Heathcliff chimes in with confirmation: "My cousin fancies you are an idiot" (269).

Based upon the foregoing evidence, it is tempting simply to diagnose Hareton with idiocy, yet this is an association the narrative deliberately disallows. The scene above is prefaced with Heathcliff's commentary on Hareton's ability: gloating over his revenge, he remarks to Nelly "If he were a born fool I should not enjoy it half so much--But he's no fool" (267). Similarly, Nelly later rebukes Cathy for her mockery of Hareton's slow perception, scolding, "He was as quick and as intelligent a child as ever you were" (304). These denials balance Cathy's charge of idiocy, ensuring that disability will remain confined to the realm of implication and conjecture, keeping Hareton's stigmatic portrayal "shadowy," like the notion of idiocy itself. In light of these disclaimers, and in light of the narratives otherwise unreserved rendering of madness and illness, we might wonder why Hareton's condition would be so delicately treated. Why, in a novel that is not shy of excessive and brutal representations, would Bronte refrain from overtly delineating Hareton as an idiot? The answer lies in the semiotic function of his disability for the text. In the nineteenth century, McDonagh observes, "The very notion [of intellectual disability] is linked to ideological battles of the day." (44) Born and raised at Wuthering Heights at the nadir of its descent to an "infernal house," fathered by an alcoholic brute, mentored and supplanted by the demonic Heathcliff, lacking any female nurturing influence or proper education, Hareton bears the brunt of the total breakdown of family structures that occurs throughout the novel. If Hareton is not exactly born a fool, as Heathcliff suggests, he is made a fool by domestic disorder. Hareton, then, quite literally embodies the ideological concern about the stability of the family that obsessed the Victorian era. (45)

In this way, Hareton's function in the narrative approaches what David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder have termed "materiality of metaphor," in which "physical and cognitive anomalies promise to lend a 'tangible' body to textual abstractions." Like Oedipus, whose disability, in Mitchell and Snyder's analysis, "serves as a metaphorical signifier for social and individual collapse," Hareton's dysfunctional mind comes to represent the dysfunctional nature of the family relations and domestic arrangements at Wuthering Heights. (46) Unlike the story of Oedipus, however, Bronte's depiction of disability is exceptional in the way it capitalizes upon the shadowy nature of disability itself. The narrative indistinctly fashions its representation of Hareton's disability so that the novel can achieve its full ideological work, restoring proper domestic relations via the same rehabilitative gestures through which it revokes and erases his idiocy.


That the household at Wuthering Heights experiences a crucial breakdown of family structures is a phenomenon that has been thoroughly observed by critics. From the outset it is evident, as Diane Long Hoeveler suggests, "that the family unit is a fragile and shifting entity that requires continual vigilance lest it be destroyed or mutated." (47) Indeed, the novels obsession with fractured families has provided a starting point for multiple strands of Marxist, feminist, and psychoanalytic criticism. (48) Like Hoeveler, Naomi Jacobs, Lyn Pykett, and others, I consider the chaotic world that is the Heights household to be a world with particular relevance to normative domestic ideology. Jacobs argues that Brontes novel "depicts an unpleasant and often violent domestic reality completely at odds with the Victorian ideal of the home." (49) The Heights is indeed a site of collapse of a domestic ideal, but a site that also engenders illness and debility, such that the narratives impulse to embody domestic disorder finds its ultimate expression in (and on) Hareton's fragile mind. From the moment Lockwood crosses the crumbling threshold of Wuthering Heights, symptoms of the warped and disordered nature of the novel's domestic environment begin to present themselves. Indeed, this domestic disorder is of such central concern to the narrative that many of the novel's most disturbing tropes--including incest, domestic abuse, necrophilia, cruel and unnatural parenting, and the failure of patrilineal succession--result from and serve to reinforce Wuthering Heights's status as an "infernal house" (81). (50)

Of greater significance for Hareton's subtly implied disability is the fact that the narrative repeatedly positions the site of this domestic collapse as a site of illness and impairment, such that the dysfunctional domestic environment at Wuthering Heights serves to develop or exacerbate the debilities of many characters who come into contact with it. (51) Hindley Earnshaw's intemperance (which condition in parents was considered a cause of idiocy in children) both symptomizes and propagates the disorder at the Heights. (52) During one of Hindley's bouts of drunkenness, Nelly reproaches him for the way he has alienated his son and his sister: "He hates you--they all hate you--that's the truth! A happy family you have; and a pretty state you're come to!" (93). After precipitously marrying Heathcliff and coming to live at the Heights, Isabella makes a similar ironic observation: "You've a nice house, Joseph ... and pleasant inmates; and I think the concentrated essence of all the madness in the world took up its abode in my brain the day I linked my fate with theirs" (174). Isabella's comment further explicates the link between the domestic disturbance at the Heights and her own developing insanity; her assertion affirms at least a coincidental relationship, and suggests a causal one. Linton Heathcliff confirms this causation in his plaintive letter to Edgar Linton. Complaining of the atmosphere of the Heights, he asks pitifully, "while I remain cut off from all hope, and doomed to solitude, or the society of those who never did and never will like me, how can 1 be cheerful and well?" (315). Here, Linton plainly implies that it is the perverse and destructive "society" at Wuthering Heights that prevents health and engenders impairment. These implications are borne out by the Bronte family's "secular Bible"--a household medical text, against Patrick Brontes heavily annotated copy of which, Shuttleworth explains, every symptom of the family was closely scrutinized--Thomas John Grahams Modern Domestic Medicine. (53) Though Graham does not explicitly discuss idiocy, he does include an entry "On Insanity," which condition he divides into three types: moral, intellectual, and incoherent. His discussion of the causes of insanity clearly implies that a troubled domestic situation could produce mental illness: "The passions and emotions productive of this complaint are love, fear, fright, rage, ambition, reverses of fortune, and the greatest of all, domestic chagrin, or family dissension." (54)

If this is so, then Hareton surely bears the brunt of the "domestic chagrin" at the Heights. His contact with the warped domestic sphere has been the most prolonged of all the characters; he has been born and raised in an atmosphere that debilitates even those who briefly encounter it. That his home is an environment utterly inconducive to Haretons healthy development is never more apparent than at the moment when a drunken Hindley nearly drops an infant Hareton down a flight of steps. Bronte's description of the accident encourages readers to experience a "thrill of horror" along with Nelly by envisioning, as Heathcliff does, the "smashing [of] Hareton's skull on the steps" (93). More importantly, Nelly's frantic exclamation, "Injured! ... If he's not killed, he'll be an idiot!" (93), underscores the way in which the dysfunction at the Heights translates into trauma for Hareton. This narrative maneuver speaks to its cultural moment by mingling the notion of idiocy as an inherited curse with the understanding of idiocy as an environmental phenomenon. Both positions held sway in nineteenth-century medical and popular thinking. The "1840s propaganda" touting the educability of idiots challenged an earlier mindset that interpreted any disability as a physical manifestation of personal or familial moral failure. (55) The mid-century's intense focus on eliminating the social and environmental causes of cognitive disability eventually gave way to a bleaker outlook that saw idiots as the dangerous inheritors of racial and social degeneracy. Bronte's novel intervenes in this conversation by foregrounding the fractured family as the nexus of both inherited and environmental origins of idiocy, reinforcing anxieties about the failure of domesticity. While Wuthering Heights visits its anxieties widely upon its characters in the form of various afflictions, the threat of disability that endangers Hareton must surely represent the culmination of this process, enabling us to read his implicit idiocy as the most acute symptom of the novel's domestic disorder.

David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder argue that narratives aim "to resolve or correct--to 'prostheticize' in David Wills's sense of the term--a deviance marked as improper to a social context." According to their schematic of narrative structure, a narrative's final stage "rehabilitates or fixes the deviance in some manner"; this "repair of deviance may involve an obliteration of the difference through a 'cure,' the rescue of the despised object from social censure, the extermination of the deviant ... or the revaluation of an alternative mode of being." (56) When Wuthering Heights seeks to resolve its central anxiety about the failure of domesticity, the novel does make the familiar move to rehabilitate Hareton; however, it does not enact any of the explicit "cures" outlined by Mitchell and Snyder, but instead takes advantage of the implicit and shadowy nature of Hareton's disability to erase the threat of idiocy that has subtly overshadowed his character via the same gestures through which domesticity is restored.

Whether the end of the novel does work to restore a traditional version of domesticity has been the subject of some critical debate. Here I align my reading with feminist critics like Lyn Pykett, who see traditional domestic formulations at work in the novel's conventional ending: Pykett argues that "the second generation story ... appears to move from Gothic beginnings... to the conventional closure of a dominant form of the Victorian Domestic novel, in which the hero (Hareton) and heroine (Catherine) overcome the obstacles of an obstructive society and withdraw into a private realm of domesticity." (57) Once the intruding Heathcliff has died and a heteronormative love has blossomed between Hareton and Cathy, their impending marriage promises to restore ownership of the Heights to the Earnshaw line. As the family is revised and repaired at the end of the novel, disability is no longer required as symbol; its shadowy nature allows Hareton's stigma to be linguistically revoked and erased as actual idiocy never could be.

This process is inaugurated by the second of the two significant accidents that mark Hareton's character. Nelly narrates: "His gun burst while out on the hills by himself; a splinter cut his arm, and he lost a good deal of blood before he could reach home. The consequence was that, perforce, he was condemned to the fire-side and tranquility" (377-78). Hareton's presence at the tranquil fireside brings him into more frequent contact with his cousin, the younger Cathy, which in turn sparks their romance, his attainment to literacy, and other subsequent improvements to his situation. While Beth Torgerson recognizes the import of this event, maintaining that "Hareton's bloodletting symbolizes his becoming an acculturated man," Hareton's second accident attains greater significance as it initiates a process of rehabilitation that simultaneously treats both idiocy and domestic relations. (58) When Hareton is later described as "perfectly recovered from his accident" (397), though the explicit reference is to his arm injury, the statement resonates on a deeper level. Hareton's "recovery" at the fireside initiates a series of events that work to restore his able-bodied status even as they revive traditional domestic relations at Wuthering Heights: Hareton acquires romantic love, literacy, the land and household of his ancestors, and the capacity for intellectual and emotional maturation. (59) These attainments work to revoke several definitive features of idiocy as it was understood in the nineteenth century, including the inability to comprehend one's own story, the inability to manage money, and ineligibility for romantic relationships.

The relationship that develops between Hareton and young Cathy provides resolution on multiple levels to many of the novel's central conflicts. As Nelly fondly exclaims, "The crown of all my wishes will be the union of those two" (384). Their affection is the novel's first depiction of romantic love that is not marred in some way: it is neither obsessive nor self-obliterating, neither necrophilic nor incestuous. (60) Their attachment thus serves to resuscitate the concept of romantic love and return it to its accepted place in the home. Further, even as it reinstates heterosexual love, this union works simultaneously to erase the threat of idiocy that has overshadowed Hareton's character. In this way the narrative exploits the ideological conjunction between normative sexuality and the "normal" mind and body that Robert McRuer has observed, bearing out his argument that "heteronormative epiphanies are repeatedly, and often necessarily, able-bodied ones." (61) The process of rehabilitation through which Hareton's idiocy is obscured mirrors that which McRuer notes at work in contemporary film: "Able-bodied status is achieved in direct proportion to ... increasing awareness of, and need for, (heterosexual) romance." (62) In Wuthering Heights, this progression translates into an overall brightening that counteracts Hareton's previous mental and physical dullness. During his first friendly encounter with Cathy after her husband Linton has died, Nelly describes Hareton's "radiant countenance," and claims "all his rudeness and all his surly harshness had deserted him" (382). Lockwood, too, before hearing the story of their romance, enviously observes Hareton with Cathy and notes the way "his handsome features glowed with pleasure" (372). In these descriptions of Hareton as lover, he is "glowing," explicitly with pleasure, implicitly with physical health. The focus is on his wholly and handsomely able body and his increasing capacity for romance, while previous suggestions of mental impairment are made to recede into the shadowy past.

Another consequence of Hareton's union with Cathy is the restoration of patrilineal succession: now that the usurping Heathcliff is gone, Hareton's marriage can finally confer upon him rightful ownership of the house with his name carved above the door. Here my reading conflicts with those of some feminist critics, who emphasize the fact that it is Cathy who actually ends the novel in possession of both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, since the marriage has not yet occurred. Beth Torgerson has argued that Cathy's pending marriage culminates a theme of dis/possession that points up the flaws inherent in the land-based patriarchal system, while Beth Newman maintains that the novel's ending "revises domestic relations to suggest mutuality, not the unequal power relations of male dominance." (63) These interpretations are attractive, but difficult to sustain in light of the novel's insistence on the injustice of Haretons degradation, and its clear condemnation of Hindley's loss of the family land. Given Nelly's casting Heathcliff as "cuckoo" and Hareton as ousted nestling, as well as her insistent reminders to Lockwood that Hareton "has been cheated" and that "Hareton should now be the first gentleman in the neighbourhood" (42, 231), given even Joseph's recognition of Heathcliff as interloper, the novel seems clearly to endorse the fact that Hareton will soon claim his proper place and his proper inheritance.

This accession to wealth represents another significant step toward erasure of the implied threat of cognitive disability. In his discussion of the nineteenth-century notion of intellectual disability, McDonagh notes a "strong link between intellectual disability among men and an inability to manage money." (64) In fact, many of the early medico-legal qualifications for idiocy themselves grew from a need to determine who was fit to inherit money and property. (65) Thus, a step toward wealth and social status represents for Hareton a step away from the degraded, marginalized state that fostered his disability. Hareton has become a character to whom the novel can entrust property; such a step, inconsistent with the earlier suggestion of idiocy, presents another way in which the novel works to erase the subtle stigma of cognitive disability.

Writing of disabled boys in the fiction of Charles Dickens, Martha Stoddard Holmes notes that while disabled characters may promote growth in others, "there is no 'bildung' for boys like Smike." (66) Hareton Earnshaws own lack of maturity has already been noted; indeed, his infantilization is one of the allusive modes the narrative employs to suggest idiocy. However, once his recovery is initiated, Hareton attains an intellectual and emotional maturity that directly counteracts the previous infantilization. When Lockwood returns to the Heights after Heathcliff's death, he observes Cathy and Hareton together. He describes Hareton as a "young man, respectably dressed, and seated at table, having a book before him" (372). This observation is part of a longer paragraph, in which the extended portrait of a thoroughly "civilized" Hareton is clearly meant to contrast with his earlier depictions. The adult Hareton has suddenly grown from an "infernal calf" to a "young man," a trajectory that revokes not only his infantilization but his animalization as well. Nelly's narration confirms this growth: as she explains, Haretons "honest, warm, and intelligent nature shook off rapidly the clouds of ignorance and degradation in which it had been bred" (391). Nelly's words emphasize the emotional and intellectual maturity Hareton has attained; he now possesses intelligence, honesty, and warmth, where before he was "dumb, and deaf to every attempt at moving his sense of justice or compassion" (336). Moreover, in recasting qualities Cathy had previously labeled "idiocy" as simple "ignorance," Nelly's statement participates in the erasure of Haretons disability.

Perhaps the most significant acquisition Hareton receives as part of his narrative rehabilitation is the ability to read and write, starting with deciphering his own name and family history. Learning literacy from Cathy counteracts Haretons previously noted inability to understand his own story. As Michael Berubeu observes with respect to disability and narrative, "The mindless, after all, can give no account of themselves ... They do not have the capacity to understand what has happened to Lear, just as they do not have the capacity to proclaim that nothing will come of nothing, or to understand the multiple ironies that ripple outward from that utterance." Thus, Berube argues, mindlessness "speaks to the conditions of possibility of narrative itself." (67) This meta-narrative aspect of Haretons disability seems especially appropriate to Bronte's novel, whose disordered tale is mediated by multiple levels of narration (for example, Lockwood narrating Nelly narrating Cathy) and large chronological gaps. (68) Unlike that of most "mindless" characters, however--who, as Berube notes, "will never come back to themselves"--Haretons inability to grasp his own story is "cured" by his acquisition of literacy at the end of the novel. (69) One significant lesson Cathy imparts to Hareton includes the "revelation of her father-in-law's conduct to his father" (390), thus acquainting him with the history of his own dispossession by Heathcliff. His attainment to self-awareness is also indicated by the fact that the first feat of literacy to which Cathy inspires him involves reading his own name in the carving above the threshold. Nelly's commentary foregrounds this achievement of literacy as another rehabilitative attainment that can "brighten" Haretons mind, serving to counteract and obscure earlier depictions that had positioned him as mindless. She narrates, "His brightening mind brightened his features, and added spirit and nobility to their aspect" (391). Interestingly, this physical brightening mimics that which Samuel Gaskell notes at work for improved idiots at the Bicetre: observing one particular patient, Gaskell describes the "improved expression which was observed to spread over the countenance at the time the feeble mental faculties were called into action," and approvingly remarks the way in which "the features had in a great measure lost their wonted vacuity, and assumed an appearance of intelligence and comprehension." (70)

We have seen that once Hareton's disability is no longer required as material metaphor, Brontes novel revokes the stigma it had earlier attached to him in drawing upon contemporary cultural understandings of idiocy. The erasure of the threat of disability is achieved via a process of ideological rehabilitation that addresses Hareton's implied disability as symptomatic of the Heights's domestic disorder, simultaneously restoring domestic relations along with his able-bodied status. While the narrative impulse to efface disability is not uncommon, as Mitchell and Snyder have shown, Brontes representation of idiocy is remarkable both for the extreme indistinctness of its outlines and for its radical flexibility. Moreover, it complicates any attempt definitively to diagnose Haretons condition. Is he disabled? Is he fully able-bodied? At best we can limn only the shadow of disability behind his characterization. That Hareton's disability is essentially a corner-of-the-eye (or mind) phenomenon speaks ultimately to the capacity of disability to trouble representation, to "short-circuit" literary protocols as Quayson suggests. (71)

Quayson argues, "like the sublime, disability elicits language and narrativity even while resisting or frustrating complete comprehension and representation." The sheer slipperiness of Hareton's idiocy highlights this fundamental incomprehensibility of disability to narrative. (72) By enacting a ruthlessly thorough rehabilitation, however, the novel attempts ingeniously to capitalize on the challenge that disability presents to representation. Bronte's novel essentially exploits the slippage between disability and representation in order to constrain Hareton's disability to the shadowy realm of conjecture and implication.

The shadow of Hareton's idiocy thus throws into relief the narrative's ideological motives. Its faintness allows Wuthering Heights to perform a more comprehensive erasure of disability than any explicit portrayal could. Unlike novels in which disabled characters are killed or even cured as a means of removing the threat that their disability signifies, Wuthering Heights leaves us uncertain as to whether disability ever existed in the first place. In so doing, it must be noted, the novel certainly merits Mitchell and Snyder's criticism of literature that seeks to "prostheticize" disability: such works "leave the disabled body as a troubled and troubling position within culture." (73) Yet such a move is clearly imperative for the novel, insofar as it allows for the resolution of the ideological conflict that Hareton embodies. Moreover, the impulse toward resolution via rehabilitation is not a move unique to Wuthering Heights: it is one that Charlotte Bronte would take up in Jane Eyre. Though Rochester's impairments--blind eyes and a maimed hand--are essentially physical, Elizabeth Donaldson has interpreted them as symptomatic of mental disorder, namely melancholy madness. Yet Rochester, too, eventually recovers in time to gaze upon his newborn son. This recovery, Donaldson suggests, signifies "a legitimate patrilineal succession correcting] the female-based legacy of disability." (74) This process is closely analogous to Hareton's rehabilitation, which restores patriarchal family relations in order to alleviate domestic disorder. Yet while Jane Eyre performs its rehabilitation openly and explicitly, Wuthering Heights is both subtler and far more thorough. The novels ending takes pains to counteract every single suggestive characterization earlier deployed. We might view this, finally, as symptomatic of an anxiety over the collapse of domesticity so great that it could not content itself with simply "curing" idiocy. Instead, the novel's ending must ruthlessly rehabilitate its own language so as to erase even the suggestion of disability.

The intense anxiety about domesticity betrayed by the novel's treatment of disability reflects both personal and cultural insecurity surrounding the idea of the family. When considering the breakdown of family relations depicted in Bronte's novel, we must at least acknowledge the "family dissension"--to use Dr. Graham's phrase--that the Brontes experienced at the time Emily was writing her novel. Much of this "dissension," of course, stemmed from Branwell Bronte's downward spiral. Dismissed from his tutoring position, Branwell returned home only to descend into alcoholism and addiction, a process that caused sorrow and strife in the Bronte family. This situation was compounded by Patrick Bronte's treatment of his daughters, which Virginia Woolf would later depict as controlling and borderline emotionally abusive. (75) These circumstances would have made urgent and personal for Emily some of the larger cultural anxieties that attended the consolidation of gender roles and family structures in the mid-nineteenth century. The 1830s and 1840s witnessed the ascendancy of "separate spheres" ideology, which propounded an essentialist and polarized notion of gender, creating a distinct moral and spatial gulf between men and women. This also entailed both an elevation and a devaluation of the domestic sphere, such that home was seen as the site of moral instruction and growth, but also trivialized by its association with women. These and other tenets of domestic ideology were thus inherently contradictory, containing "the seeds of [their] own subversion," as Joseph Bristow observes. (76) They were also challenged by the demands of industrialization and urbanization, which created new ways of relating, especially among the working class. Placing Brontes novel in the context of these personal and cultural problems, then, allows us to situate its intense anxiety about domesticity as it informs Brontes treatment of disability. The instability of the family itself as a shifting social construct and of Brontes own family explains her narrative's obsessive need to rehabilitate Hareton in order to "cure" the fractured family he represents.

But what about the unruliness of the disabled body? What about the capacity of disability to resist or trouble representation? Despite its ruthlessness, the success of Brontes "cure" is ultimately challenged by the capacity of disability to "haunt narrative." (77) Even the rehabilitative ending cannot fully excise disability from the body of the novel because the shade of idiocy, once conjured, cannot be fully banished. The ineffable aspect of disability that escapes representation is also that which escapes rehabilitation. Just as the novel's domestic bliss has been achieved, as Jacobs notes, via a troubling "under-world or other-world," Hareton's normality has been achieved via a brush with the unspeakable and inconceivable nature of disability. If Jacobs can see this hidden underworld as "still latent in the structures of comfortable reality," (78) we might see the threat of idiocy as yet latent in Hareton's rehabilitated mind, and conclude finally that, like the ghostly walkers on the moor, disability lurks in the shadows to trouble the novel's resolution just as it has troubled the novel's strategies of representation.

Pennsylvania State University


(1) [Henry Fothergill Chorley], "Our Library Table," Review of Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, and Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte, Athenaeum (25 December 1847): 1324.

(2) Unsigned review of Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Atlas (January 1848), rpr. The Brontes: The Critical Heritage, ed. Miriam Allott (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1974), 231-32.

(3) Unsigned review of Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Britannia (January 1848), rpr. The Brontes: The Critical Heritage, 224. Echoes of this language would carry across the Atlantic, where E. P. Whipple, "Novels of the Season," North American Review (October 1848): 358, succinctly characterized "Heathcote" as a "deformed monster." Even Sydney Dobell, whom Charlotte Bronte praised in her 1850 Biographical Notice to Wuthering Heights as one of the few critics to recognize the merits of her sisters novel, applauded the authors "'uncanny' capacity for mental aberration" ("Currer Bell," Palladium [September 1850]: 165).

(4) Ato Quayson, Aesthetic Nervousness: Disability and the Crisis of Representation (Columbia U. Press, 2007), 15.

(5) For a discussion of intemperance, see Beth Torgerson, Reading the Bronte Body (New York: Palgrave, 2005), 90, 93-94, who considers Hindley's intemperance another illness in Emily Brontes work that proceeds from "civilization" and thus becomes a dominant metaphor for the flaws within a land-based patriarchy. For a discussion of anorexia, see Giuliana Giobbi, '"No Bread Will Feed My Hungry Soul': Anorexic Heroines in Female Fiction, from the Example of Emily Bronte as Mirrored by Anita Brookner, Gianna Schelotto, and Alessandra Arachi," Journal of European Studies 27 (1997): 78, who interprets starvation in the novel as anorexia, and sees female characters' anorexia as indicative of both fear of growing up and desire to escape the imprisoning system of bourgeois patriarchy. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (Yale U. Press, 1979), 285, note Catherine's starving herself during her pregnancy, and compare the distorted body images of anorexia to the distorted body a pregnant woman must confront. For a discussion of monomania, see Graeme Tytler, "HeathclifFs Monomania: An Anachronism in Wuthering Heights',' Bronte Society Transactions 20 (1962): 334-35, which argues that Bronte depicts Heathcliff as mentally ill, suffering from an obsessive disorder known in the nineteenth century as monomania. Charles Lemon, "Sickness and Health in Wuthering Heights," Bronte Society Transactions 14 (1963): 23-25, also offers an influential examination of illness in the novel.

(6) David Wright, Mental Disability in Victorian England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001), 9-10, explains that in nineteenth-century Britain the term "idiot" most often "referred to persons who were considered as suffering from mental disability from birth or at an early age," and was a term that "reflected permanence of mental disability." As I have discovered in my research, however, even this idea of permanence was not a stable characteristic of idiocy, as several mid-century reformers claimed that idiocy was a treatable and even curable condition.

(7) Patrick McDonagh, "Barnaby Rudge, 'Idiocy' and Paternalism: Assisting the 'Poor Idiot,"' Disability and Society 21 (2006): 413.

(8) Rosemarie Garland Thomson, Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature (Columbia U. Press, 1997), 84. Thomson is speaking only of physically disabled characters here, but I would argue her statement is applicable to characters with cognitive disabilities as well. As Quayson notes in Aesthetic Nervousness, the line between physical and cognitive disability in literature is often blurred: "it would be very difficult to sustain a sharp distinction in representations of physical and cognitive disabilities ... in literary writing physical impairments are often correlated to cognitive and mental conditions" (35).

(9) "Cognitive disability" itself is an unstable category, a label that, as noted by Patrick McDonagh, "Literature and the Notion of Intellectual Disability," Disability Studies Quarterly 17 (1997): 269, has been applied to individuals without regard as to whether or not the condition so named does in fact exist.

(10) See, e.g., Rosemarie Garland Thomsons Freakery (New York U. Press, 1996), and Martha Stoddard Holmes's Fictions of Affliction (U. of Michigan Press, 2004).

(11) My emphasis on narrative rehabilitation owes much to the ideas about the importance of "narrative prosthesis" in David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder's Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse (U. of Michigan Press, 2000). In defining the latter, however, Mitchell and Snyder focus on the ways that narratives either explicitly cure or kill off disabled characters, whereas I am more interested in the way Brontes narrative subtly erases even the suggestion of disability. Moreover, my choice of the term "rehabilitation" is meant to speak to the importance of that concept to many nineteenth-century social reformers and medical practitioners.

(12) Anne Digby, "Contexts and Perspectives," From Idiocy to Mental Deficiency: Historical Perspectives on People with Learning Disabilities, ed. David Wright and Anne Digby (London: Routledge, 1996), 5.

(13) David Wright, Mental Disability in Victorian England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001), 27.

(14) Wright, Mental Disability, 16-17.

(15) Edouard Seguin, Idiocy and Its Treatment by the Physiological Method (New York: Columbia University Teachers College, 1907), 57.

(16) Leo Kanner, A History of the Care and Study of the Mentally Retarded (Springfield: Thomas, 1964), 55-57. For more on nineteenth-century attitudes toward and institutional treatment of idiocy, see Wright, Mental Disability; Digby, "Contexts"; R. C. Sheerenherger, A History of Mental Retardation (Baltimore: Brookes, 1983), 51-87; and Hilary Dickinson, "Idiocy in Nineteenth-Century Fiction Compared with Medical Perspectives of the Time," History of Psychiatry 11 (2000): 291-309.

(17) Dickinson, "Idiocy in Nineteenth-Century Fiction," 305.

(18) As she explains in her "Biographical Notice" to the 1850 edition of Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey, Charlotte Bronte had applied to the Chambers brothers for advice while seeking a publisher for the Bronte sisters' first volume of poetry. Chambers's Edinburgh Journal is also mentioned explicitly in Shirley, and in her Life of Charlotte Bronte Elizabeth Gaskell suggests that Anne Bronte had actually published poetry in Chambers's.

(19) These articles include "Cretinism" (1 July 1843), "Voisin on Idiocy" (11 November 1843), "The Cure of Idiots by Intellectual Means" (19 October 1844), "Idiocy" (25 July 1846), "Visit to the Bicetre" (9 January 1847), "Education of Idiots at the Bicetre: Second Article" (30 January 1847), "Education of Idiots at the Bicetre: Third Article" (13 February 1847), "Education of Idiots" (11 September 1847), and "Tuition of Idiots" (23 October 1847).

(20) Clifford Whone, "Where the Brontes Borrowed Books" Bronte Society Transactions 11 (1950): 354.

(21) Articles in The Mirror included "Anecdotes of the Insane" (September 1839) and "Idiot Worshippers" (June 1844). The former discusses the distinction between idiots and madmen, while the latter relates an account of sacred idiots in West Barbary.

(22) See Leeds Mercury of 19 August 1843, 15 November 1845, 5 September 1846, 19 June 1847, 14 August 1847, and 6 November 1847.

(23) Sally Shuttleworth, Charlotte Bronte and Victorian Psychology (Cambridge U. Press, 1996), 11.

(24) Though Shuttleworth chooses to focus solely on Charlotte Brontes awareness of contemporary psychology, her analysis often cites works to which the entire household had access; thus, I would argue, her arguments have relevance for an understanding of Emily's knowledge as well.

(25) Barbara Munson Goff, "Between Natural Theology and Natural Selection: Breeding the Human Animal in Wuthering Heights',' Victorian Studies 27 (1984): 480.

(26) Robert McRuer, Crip Theory: Cultural Signs of Queerness and Disability (New York U. Press, 2006), 16.

(27) McDonagh, "Barnaby Rudge," 417.

(28) In this analysis, no single narrator will be privileged as an infallibly good or reliable interpreter of situations, for to do so would run contrary to the ends of the text itself, which encourages us to question Nelly's reliability as a teller of tales, and to doubt Lockwoods sometimes foolish and misguided perceptions. Rather, allusions to idiocy will be treated as significant insofar as they unite across various levels of narration. Hareton's animality, e.g., is articulated in young Cathy's story, in Nelly's narration, and in Lockwood's frame.

(29) Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights, ed. Hilda Marsden and Ian Jack (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976), 134. Hereafter cited parenthetically by page number.

(30) Wright, Mental Disability, 47.

(31) Wright, Mental Disability, 64-65.

(32) David Wright, '"Childlike in his innocence': Lay Attitudes to 'Idiots' and 'Imbeciles' in Victorian England," in From Idiocy to Mental Deficiency: Historical Perspectives on People with Learning Disabilities, ed. David Wright and Anne Digby (London: Routledge, 1996), 124.

(33) Goff, for instance, cites the novel's "rhetoric of animality," as partial justification for her portrayal of Emily Bronte as an idiosyncratic natural historian and natural theologian ("Between Natural Theology," 479), while J. Hillis Miller, The Disappearance of God: Five Nineteenth-Century Writers (U. of Illinois Press, 2000), 168, suggests that the proliferation of animal imagery figures life at Wuthering Heights as a return to an animal state.

(34) D. Christopher Gabbard, "From Idiot Beast to Idiot Sublime: Mental Disability in John Cleland's Fanny Hill" PMLA 123 (2008): 376.

(35) "On the Goitre and Cretins of Switzerland," Saturday Magazine (15 June 1839): 230-31.

(36) "Voisin on Idiocy," Chambers's Edinburgh Journal (11 November 1843): 338.

(37) [Samuel Gaskell], "Education of Idiots at the Bicetre: Third Article," Chambers's Edinburgh Journal (13 February 1847): 105-6.

(38) "Idiots Again," Household Words (15 April 1854): 199. Even in the later nineteenth century, writers like Henry Maudsley would echo this theme in post-Darwinian language. Thus, in Body and Mind: An Inquiry into Their Connection and Mutual Influence, Specially in Reference to Mental Disorders (1870), Maudsley could speak of idiocy as an "imperfect evolution" of the brain, and assert that "with the appearance of this animal type of brain in idiocy, there do sometimes appear or reappear remarkable animal traits and instincts. There is a class of idiots which may justly be designated theroid [beast-like], so like brutes are the members of it" (Embodied Selves: An Anthology of Psychological Texts, 1830-1890, ed. Jenny Bourne Taylor and Sally Shuttleworth [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998], 328).

(39) Wright, Mental Disability, 65.

(40) Wright, Mental Disability, 65.

(41) "Cretinism," Chambers's Edinburgh Journal (1 July 1843): 189.

(42) [Samuel Gaskell], "A Visit to the Bicetre," Chambers's Edinburgh Journal (9 January 1847): 21.

(43) "Tuition of Idiots," Chambers's Edinburgh Journal (23 October 1847): 262.

(44) McDonagh, "Literature," 271-72.

(45) Henri-Jacques Stiker gives the following account of the ideological significance of the family in its relation to disability: " ... in the nineteenth century the family was transformed, as we all know since the vogue of family studies. The family became restricted, and nuclear, based on the married couple and on emotions of love, emotions of which a great deal would be demanded in the private sphere. But the family, which in our century has become incapable of functioning as a supporting locus for disability, began by being highly valued ... Familialism is one of the distinguishing features of the nineteenth century. For a certain time the family ... assumed missions, in particular with regard to the child, whose importance would greatly increase. During this period the disabled person occasionally finds a place and a haven within the family. But this is not the general case, for the disabled person is often indigent and a burden" (A History of Disability, trans. William Sayers [U. ofMichigan Press, 1999], 110).

(46) Mitchell and Snyder, Narrative Prosthesis, 47-48.

(47) Diane Long Hoeveler, Gothic Feminism: The Professionalization of Gender from Charlotte Smith to the Brontes (Pennsylvania State U. Press, 1998), 196.

(48) For an influential Marxist reading, see the discussion of the family's mediation between nature and artifice in Terry Eagleton's Myths of Power: A Marxist Study of the Brontes, 2nd ed. (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988), 105-6. James Kavanagh, Emily Bronte (Oxford: Blackwell, 1985), 88, 95-96, also views the family in Wuthering Heights as an economic unit and ideological apparatus. For feminist readings that discuss family, see, e.g., Hoeveler, Gothic Feminism, Lyn Pykett, Emily Bronte (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1989), and Naomi Jacobs, "Gender and Layered Narrative in Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall',' Journal of Narrative Technique 16 (1986): 213-17. Several psychoanalytic readings have also portrayed the family as a sphere for the formation of individual identity. See Juliet Mitchell, Women, the Longest Revolution: Essays on Feminism, Literature, and Psychoanalysis (New York: Pantheon, 1984), 127-44; Leo Bersani, A Future for Astyanax: Character and Desire in Literature (Boston: Little, Brown, 1976), 198-217, 221-23; and Mary Burgan, '"Some Fit Parentage': Identity and the Cycle of Generations in Wuthering Heights," PQ 61 (1982): 395-413.

(49) Jacobs, "Gender and Layered Narrative," 205.

(50) A thorough explication of such themes as domestic abuse, incest, and necrophilia does not fall within the scope of this article; rather, these issues are important to this analysis insofar as they can be seen to function as expressions of the novel's central anxiety over the collapse of the domestic sphere.

(51) We might see this phenomenon as analogous to that which Gilbert and Gubar, Madwoman in the Attic, 280, locate at Thrushcross Grange, where, they maintain, Catherine's "imprisonment" in female gender roles and in houses leads to madness since "desire without power ... inevitably engenders disease."

(52) Erasmus Darwin most notably propounds this theory in Zoonomia (London: 1794-96).

(53) Shuttleworth, Charlotte Bronte and Psychology, 27.

(54) Thomas John Graham, Modern Domestic Medicine, 6th ed. (London: Simpkin and Marshall, 1835), 522 (emphasis added).

(55) Holmes, Fictions of Affliction, 115.

(56) Mitchell and Snyder, Narrative Prosthesis, 53-54.

(57) Lyn Pykett, Emily Bronte (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1989), 76. Jacobs, "Gender and Layered Narrative," 217, makes a similar claim, arguing that at the novel's end "we return to the world of normality, as Hareton and Cathy will return to Thrushcross Grange and some version of the domestic bliss that was the Victorian ideal." Likewise, Hoeveler, Gothic Feminism, 203, asserts that "the final world that Emily Bronte depicts for us at the conclusion of Wuthering Heights is a world of readers or would-be readers sitting calmly before the hearth as domestic altar." Notably, though they recognize the endings capitulation to a traditional domestic ideal, Pykett, Jacobs, and Hoeveler all maintain that the earlier transgressive romance between Catherine and Heathcliff works to subvert that ideal.

(58) Torgerson, Reading the Bronte Body, 119.

(59) These acquisitions are not achieved singly or linearly. Rather, they are all interwoven and interrelated within the larger process of Hareton's rehabilitation.

(60) Although Cathy and Hareton are first cousins, their relationship in no way partakes of the dangerous brother/sister dynamic that characterized Catherine and Heathcliff's attachment.

(61) McRuer, Crip Theory, 13. Some critics have recognized the resolution of the second-generation plot as an inherently normative move. In "The Rejection of Heathcliff?" in Emily Bronte: Wuthering Heights, ed. Miriam Allott (London: Macmillan, 1970), 185, Miriam Allott argues that "Emily Bronte replaces the wildness of the first-generation story by a quality of energy in the second generation which is more normal and human."

(62) McRuer, Crip Theory, 24.

(63) Beth Newman, '"The Situation of the Looker-On': Gender, Narration, and Gaze in Wuthering Heights" PMLA 105 (1990): 1036.

(64) McDonagh, "Literature," 269.

(65) John Forbes, Alexander Tweedie, and John Conolly, eds., Cyclopaedia of Practical Medicine, 4 vols. (London: 1835), 4:39, includes an entry by J. C. Prichard on "Soundness and Unsoundness of Mind" that attempts to address the question "by what distinguishing characteristics are we led to pronounce as to the presence or absence of such a state of the mental faculties as renders a man incompetent to the management of his affairs?"

(66) Holmes, Fictions of Affliction, 99.

(67) Michael Berube, "Disability and Narrative," PMLA 120 (2005): 571-72.

(68) The relationship between Hareton's cognitive disability and Wuthering Heights's disordered narration is only tangentially relevant to this analysis, but could serve as fruitful ground for future investigation.

(69) Berube, "Disability and Narrative," 571.

(70) [Gaskell], "Education ... Third Article," 107.

(71) Quayson, Aesthetic Nervousness, 15.

(72) Quayson, Aesthetic Nervousness, 22. One could argue here that Brontes representation of disability is actually mimetic, in the sense that cognitive disability itself is nebulous and difficult fully to understand or represent; however, mimesis is not the narrative's goal in depicting Hareton (and for this point I am indebted to Michael Berube). Rather, the novel uses this nebulousness for its own ideological ends, manipulating it to the point where disability is so faint that it can be entirely erased. In first subtly invoking and then erasing idiocy, Wuthering Heights capitalizes on the challenge presented by the notion of disability to literary representation.

(73) Mitchell and Snyder, Narrative Prosthesis, 8.

(74) Elizabeth Donaldson, "The Corpus of the Madwoman: Toward a Feminist Disability Studies Theory of Embodiment and Mental Illness," NWSA Journal 14 (2002): 109.

(75) Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1938), 131, 135.

(76) Joseph Bristow, '"Love, Let Us Be True to One Another': Matthew Arnold, Arthur Hugh Clough, and 'Our Aqueous Ages,"' Literature and History 4 (1995): 30.

(77) Berube, "Disability and Narrative," 571.

(78) Jacobs, "Gender and Layered Narrative," 217.
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Author:Baldys, Emily M.
Publication:Philological Quarterly
Article Type:Critical essay
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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