New Student Scholarship: Victoria Baena on Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights

April 22, 2019

By Nancy Kuhl

Graduate Student Research Fellow Victoria Baena recently delivered a talk in the Comparative Literature Open Forum based on research couducted during her 2018 summer fellowship: “Strangers, Errancy, and Estrangement in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights.”

Of her presentation, Baena writes: “This talk is drawn from a dissertation chapter examining a set of mid-century British novels that, I argue, deflect an otherwise dominant literary mode of Bildung (and a concomitant spatial trajectory from the provinces to the modern city). Drawing on Henry Mayhew’s and Friedrich Engels’ arguments about the place of the “vagrant” under changing economic conditions, and pairing George Borrow’s Lavengro (1851) and Romany Rye (1857), both about the Romani peoples in Britain, with Charlotte Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847), I argue that endless, non-teleological circulation provides an alternate model for the realist novel, one indebted to the picaresque, and one that makes space for the provinces as sites of what in the urban context would become known as flânerie. Entering the provinces, the wanderer—like the narrator joining the gypsies in Lavengro and Romany Rye— becomes a stranger, and I identify the role of the stranger in these novels as one significant aspect of provincial modernity. Finally, while Wuthering Heights is often read as canonical instances of “domestic fiction,” I read them instead as resisting the domestic by engaging in plots of wandering, by figuring strangers that refuse to be fully incorporated into the domestic framework.”

Victoria Baena is a 4th-year PhD candidate in Comparative Literature, where she studies the novel between realism and modernism throughout Europe and its empires. Her dissertation argues for the persistence of the “provincial” on various scales - regional, national, and imperial - as a historical and narrative problem for nineteenth-century British and French realism.