Saturday, February 13, 2010

Nelly Dean as a Narrator in Emily Bronte's 'Wuthering Heights'

Nelly Dean serves as the chief narrator in Wuthering Heights. A sensible, intelligent, and compassionate woman, she grew up essentially alongside Hindley and Catherine Earnshaw and is deeply involved in the story she tells. She has strong feelings for the characters in her story, and these feelings complicate her narration.

Nelly is an eyewitness-first person participant-main narrator of Wuthering Heights. Nelly Dean’s narrative has an extraordinary sometimes breathless energy as if she were describing events that she had witnessed an hour ago, every moment of which is vividly present to her. Nelly’s narrative is an art of stark immediacy - of making the past live for us in the present.

As much of Nelly’s narrative is unfolded in the words of the actual characters, we the readers, feel that the narrative is moulded by the pressure of events, not that the shape and interpretation of events is being fashioned by the narrator. The sense of actuality is conveyed by a series of concrete details that fall artlessly into place. Nelly’s sureness in relating her narrative seems to arise out of an astonishing clear memory, the impression of rapid excitement is achieved by concentrating our attention on movement and gesture, action and reaction, intermixed with vehement dialogue which convinces by its emphatic speech rhythms and plain language. The dialogue has no trace of a conscious stylist, it is noticeable for the brief rapidity of the sentence, an example of this is Nelly’s recollection of the time leading up to Catherine’s death, when Catherine emplored her to open the window of her room - "Oh, if I were but in my own bed in the old house!" she went on bitterly, wringing her hands, "And that wind sounding in the firs by the lattice. "Do let me feel it! - it comes straight down the moor - do let me have one breath!"

Nelly’s value as a narrator is clear from this example. She brings us very close to the action and is in one way deeply engaged in it. The intimate affairs of the Grange and the Heights have taken up her whole life, however, her position as a professional housekeeper means that her interests in events is largely practical. She provides the inner frame of the narrative and we see this world of the successive generations of Earnshaw’s and Linton’s through her eye’s, although much of the dialogue, in the interests of objectivity, is that of the characters themselves. As a narrator reporting the past from the present, she has the benefit of hindsight and can therefore depart from the straight chronological narrative to hint at the future.

Nelly is a character within her own narrative, which causes her several problems. At times she is involved in the action, she is now describing and therefore she treads a difficult path between romantic indulgence and moral rectitude, she both encourages and discourages relationships. Her attitude to theme sways between approval and disapproval, depending on her mood. This is primarily evident in the role she plays in the love triangle between Heathcliff, Catherine and Edgar; at times taking Edgar’s side while yet arranging the last meeting between Heathcliff and Catherine by leaving the window open for him. She adopted a similar position between the relationship between Cathy and Linton, at time colluding with Cathy and at other times judging and betraying her for writing against her father’s wishes. 
There is an ambivalence in Nelly’s attitude and this combined with her meddling nature renders her moral stance inconsistent and even hypocritical. Despite these shortcomings, she is vigorous, lively narrator with a formidable memory whose energy and unflagging interests allow the reader an insight into the lives of characters.

As a narrator, her language is lively, colloquial and imaginative, this has the effect of bringing characters to life and providing the reader with many vivid and precise images, an example of this is her reference to Heathcliff’s life "It’s a cuckoo’s, sir - I know all about it, except where he was born, and who were his parents, and how he got his money at first. And that Hareton, has been cast out like a unfledged dunnock." In this example the tagging on of the phrase "at first" suggests that Nelly knows how he got his money later and therefore arouses our interest in Heathcliff. Nelly is limited because of her conventional, religious and moral sentiments, which often prevent her from a greater understanding of the emotions or motives of the characters.

From the above discussion we can say that Nelly is actually a narrator, rather than a character.