Children's Writings in Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey

Stream: The Brontës
Date: Friday, 20 May 2022
Time: 10.30 am – 12.30 pm


ABSTRACT: Children’s writings In Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey. in early Victorian England were the first to experience childhood in an industrialised global power which envisaged children, not as incomplete adults but as in a state of innocence and sanctity requiring family guidancChildren e and instruction before entering adulthood. In Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey written by Emily and Anne Bronte, published in 1847; children are educated in the family home by parents, servants, curates and governesses for moral development, social advancement and employment. In this presentation I will examine what children write about in lessons and by themselves in these two novels. In Wuthering Heights, Cathy writes the story, in her Testament, of her first rebellion with Heathcliff, against the tyrannical rule of her brother, Hindley. Her father has recently died and Hindley has become the master of Wuthering Heights after a three year absence at College. Hindley had allowed Joseph to lead a service with Cathy, Heathcliff and “the unhappy” ploughboy as the congregation for three hours in the garret because it is too wet to attend church. Cathy records the coldness in the garret and the misery of Joseph’s service which included a lengthy homily. When she enters the warm parlour where her brother and new wife are sitting in front of the fire ostensibly reading their Bibles; she records the contrast of room temperatures and compares the intense service the children have experienced with the superficial biblical reading of her brother and Frances. Unlike her father, who would allow the children to play on Sunday evenings if they did not make much noise; HIndley sends the children into corners and insists on perfect ‘sobriety and silence’ from the children instead, whilst he and Frances talk together in front of the fire. He has Heathcliff’s hair pulled by Frances for making a noise. Then Cathy’s ears are boxed by Joseph for making a pinafore curtain in the arch of the dresser for her and Heathcliff, instead of reading religious works after the service. The children are “unfriended” (White, 2006, p809) by Hindley, Frances and Joseph, they are not cared for or loved by them, rather they are persecuted and not treated as children. Cathy’s writing and caricature sketch of Joseph reveal her unhappy family situation, religious education and the children’s ill treatment by adults. Her written words are expressive, direct and interesting. Unlike children’s writing in Agnes Grey which is perfunctorily completed, used to resist the teachings of the governess and written without proper letter formation, humour or to record family events with drama and emotion. In Agnes Grey children are made to write when they don’t want to. Tom Bloomfield, one of the first of Agne’s charges as governess does not care for his writing lessons, “Sometimes he was determined to do his writing badly; and I had to hold his hand to prevent him from purposefully blotting or disfiguring the paper... I…. had finally to resort to the expedient of holding his fingers upon the pen, and forcibly drawing his hand up and down, till, in spite of his resistance, the line was in some sort completed”(2006, p18) Tom resists writing legibly, his line of writing is not completed fully, indicating his lack of due diligence and limited experience in writing. Tom’s forced writing reveals his resistance to being a student with a female governess, his power as a “consequential little gentleman”(Ibid, p15) is maintained through his gender, position in the family, dominating speech and violence towards his sisters and governess. Tom’s writing is limited to incomplete lines which he does not value, wish to complete, understand or use to record events in his life. Cathy Earnshaw, in contrast, writes to record her experiences in her family. Catherine Earnshaw writes notes to her cousin,Linton Heathcliff when she discovers he is living at Wuthering Heights, three miles from Thrushcross Grange. The notes are delivered by the milk boy between the properties. Cathy secretly places her note into his pocket and takes out Lintons’. At first her notes are short and direct, but then when she receives love letters from Linton (written by Heathcliff) hers became more communicative and in the same vein. Heathcliff, threatens to tell her father of her “heartless writing” if she will not visit her cousin. Her “treasure trove” of folded bits of paper are “discovered” by Nelly in a locked drawer and reported to her father who does not wish the cousins to meet again. Not because they are cousins but because Linton’s father is Heathcliff and Edgar knows that Heathcliff hates him. Catherine’s writings to Linton are filled with excitement, romance,fun and planning. Linton’s to Catherine’s were written under duress from his father, filled with complaints and a desire to meet his cousin again. His letters were written when Linton was very ill and in pain, then written by his father when he didn’t find them eloquent enough to maintain Catherine’s attention. When Catherine does meet her cousin again she realizes that Linton is different to the youth she has been writing too. She realizes that he is pretending to be well when he is not. The family bond between them results in her pitying him and he is aware of his own limited disposition compared with her more generous and loving disposition. I will also discuss the Murray family and Agnes and make conclusions about children’s writings in the two novels.


Annette Harman (Presenter), HARMAN
My name is Annette Harman, I have been a member of The Australian Bronte Association since 1994 I have been a Committe member for many years and am currently the Membership Secretary. I have given presentations to the Bronte Association on a variety of topics, the most recent being “Moors, Shores and Indoors - Landscape and the Brontes” 2019 and I have contributed articles to The Thunderer and the Newsletter. I have a Master of Arts (English) and Master of Education (UNSW). I am interested in pedagogy, children and religion in the writings of the Brontes.