Anticipating Nietzsche: Culture and Chaos in “The House of Usher” and "Wuthering Heights"

By Fred Mensch.

Published by The International Journal of the Humanities: Annual Review

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Published online: November 23, 2015 Free Download

This paper explores Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher” and Emily Brontë’s "Wuthering Heights" from a Nietzschean cultural perspective. The strikingly similar social and cultural themes of both stories appear to anticipate Nietzsche’s diagnosis of a cultural binary as developed in "The Birth of Tragedy" and his essay on “The Use and Abuse of History.” The overtly rational individuals, Poe’s narrator and Brontë’s Mr. Lockwood and Edgar Linton, demonstrate Nietzsche’s focus on the nausea of consciousness, while the opposing characters--Heathcliff, Catherine, and Roderick Usher--are driven by their undifferentiated, chaotic, and ultimately anarchic natures. The ending of Brontë’s novel with the marriage of Hareton and the second Catherine is satisfying in its cultural optimism, but thematically contradicts the radical and nonconformist social perspective developed by the author in the main part of the novel. The gothic, otherworldly aspects dominating the conclusion of each work, however, symbolically develop an alternative to the apparent social hegemony of each ending.

Keywords: Edgar Allan Poe, Emily Brontë, House of Usher, Wuthering Heights, Cultural Paralysis, Chaos, Heathcliff, Catherine Earnshaw, Roderick Usher

The International Journal of the Humanities: Annual Review, Volume 13, pp.1-15. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published online: November 23, 2015 (Article: Electronic (PDF File; 786.247KB)).

Dr. Fred Mensch

Instructor, JR Shaw School of Business, Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada