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Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” and Shelly’s “Frankenstein”: A Comparison of Gothic Films

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The Gothic genre is a very fascinating one because it is one of mystery, suspense, and high emotion. With intriguing elements and its out of the ordinary style, the gothic genre has captivated readers for centuries. Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is a classic gothic novel which has been adapted into a film directed by Kenneth Branagh. This film can be perceived as a typical gothic piece because the archetypal elements such as dark setting, horror, and suspense are apparent. However, in the film adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, directed by Peter Kosminsky, it is harder to identify the gothic elements as they are more obscure, therefore making it difficult to recognize as a gothic work. Although there is a vast difference between the two films, one can see how they both classify as films of the gothic genre. They may contain different Gothic elements, especially because Shelley’s Frankenstein is more of a horror film, while Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” is more of a romance. Despite the fact that the gothic elements differ in the two films, there is no doubt that Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is a gothic film. The Byronic hero, melodrama, and the metonymy of gloom and horror are typical characteristics that categorize Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights as gothic compared to the archetype Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

The Byronic hero or “anti-hero” is a critical gothic element. It can be described as a character in which the viewer roots for and sympathizes with even though they may have traits that make them seem cold-hearted or even mad. This character type is reflected in both the protagonists in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”. Although the characters of the films may both be considered Byronic heroes, the two characters differ greatly. Victor Frankenstein’s monster is one of the Byronic heroes of Mary Shelley’s film. He is Byronic in the sense that he is revengeful and frightening. Frankenstein’s monster hurts people and plots his revenge, “I will have revenge!” (Frankenstein, 1994). Frankenstein’s monster goes on a rampage because he is a victim of a cruel experiment and cannot function in society as others do. However, Frankenstein’s monster seeks revenge by physically harming others, compared to Bronte’s film where main character Heathcliff seeks revenge on others in an emotional and psychological way.

The protagonist in Emily Bronte’s film is Heathcliff, an orphan from the streets of Liverpool who has been welcomed into Wuthering Heights, the house of a higher class family in which he goes through many obstacles in terms of love, degradation, and vengeance. Heathcliff is a Byronic hero who differs from the protagonist of Mary Shelly’s film. Heathcliff’s tragic flaw is ambition since he uses this to get back at those who have wronged him throughout his life. Heathcliff acts revengeful because of the way he has been treated, whereas Frankenstein’s monster is revengeful because of his physical characteristics and the way people perceive him. Heathcliff has people to blame for hurting him and meddling into his life, a good example being Hindley’s neglectfulness toward Heathcliff, “You have treated me infernally,” (Wuthering Heights, 1992). Also, Heathcliff uses strategic plots for vengeance, whereas Frankenstein’s monster commits atrocious acts on random people. Although Frankenstein’s monster and Heathcliff have different motivations and characteristics, they are both considered Byronic characters.

Although the viewer sees how they may commit gruesome and unpleasant acts, they sympathize with both of them and feel that their actions are justified because of the ill treatment that the characters have endured. Even though Frankenstein’s monster is committing violent acts to seek revenge, at the same time he shows his soft human emotions such as his need for belonging, “I am so very ugly…They are so very beautiful,” (Frankenstein, 1994). One can sympathize with Heathcliff’s character because he endures cruel and degrading treatment; this being reflected when he is beaten by Hindley at a party for throwing applesauce or when he is degraded to servant status. One can sympathize since they are both outcasts and somewhat self destructive, this being reflected as the monster does not want to live and how Heathcliff starves himself to death. Even though there are obvious dissimilarities between the two characters, they both possess the quality of being Byronic characters that get the audiences compassion.

Another gothic element within the two films is melodrama. This includes sentimentalism and high emotion as well as pronounced anger, surprise, and terror. In Shelley’s film, Frankenstein’s monster creates melodrama mostly in terms of terror. The audience is terrified by his cruel and appalling actions such as when he killed his creator’s little brother, “I slowly crushed his neck,” (Frankenstein, 1994). The use of melodrama is also demonstrated in the yelling throughout the film. When Frankenstein’s monster yells, it is a howl of pain and anguish, “Aaaaarrggghhaaa” (Frankenstein, 1994). He does this to show his emotion and the suffering he goes through since he is an odd creation. When Frankenstein’s monster is intruding in the woods, he scares a young child, “Noooooo!” (Frankenstein, 1994). This child yells in terror. Later in the same scene, as the monster tortures a child, the audience feels the horror as they hear the voices of the young child screaming and see the expressions of anxiety on the parents’ face.

Powerful music is applied to capture the intensity of such scenes. In Bronte’s film, the viewer may see different forms of melodrama such as hysterical women and romance. In the scene where Heathcliff has just left Wuthering Heights, as soon as Catherine realizes, she runs out the door into the pouring rain to scream “Heathcliff!” (Wuthering Heights, 1992). This is followed by thunder and lightning as Catherine faints. The thunder and lightning is used to emphasize the intensity of the situation. The fainting of Catherine is used to show the high emotion in response to Heathcliff’s departure. These elements are crucial to showing the importance of the feelings that Heathcliff and Catherine feel for one another. While Heathcliff is trying to manipulate and frighten Cathy into obeying him, he yells “I could really murder you sometime,” (Wuthering Heights, 1992). In this scene, he is handling her by the arm and creating an emotional scene that shows the struggle of a woman to the power of a man. A threatened heroine is a common element associated with gothic films.

Even though the use of melodramatic elements differ in the two movies, they are both considered gothic elements that fit into the gothic genre. Both of the scenes contain highly emotional performances as well effects such as specific camera angles and intense music to emphasize the shot. A juxtaposition shot would be demonstrated in a film where the two characters are positioned contiguously in sequence. This is shown in a scene in Bronte’s film where a juxtaposition shot is used to establish a relationship between the two characters Hareton and Cathy. The juxtaposition shot is also used in Shelley’s film in the scene where Frankenstein’s monster is speaking to an elderly man that he had saved from an intruder. Intense music, specifically containing violin or organ sounds are used in both films in order to let the reader know when a crucial melodramatic scene is to occur. Although the films differ in terms of melodramatic elements, they both classify as films of the gothic genre because of the different techniques used to emphasize critical parts, which are of great importance to create the suspense that audiences get from gothic works.

The metonymy of gloom and horror plays a crucial role in gothic films. Horror is usually the most common element affiliated with the gothic genre. In Mary Shelley’s film, Dr. Victor Frankenstein’s laboratory is gloomy and this is where his actions against nature occur. As doctor Frankenstein attempts to bring people back to life through his odd technology, the viewers see the unusual process and the horrific and unsightly creatures he has constructed as a result. This is one of the most horrific parts of the movie, seeing the distorted people come back to life and act unnatural and mentally frustrated. It is scenes such like this that put fear into the audience. With stitches and scars all over their body, the images created by Frankenstein are quite hideous. A horrifying scene demonstrating this is when Frankenstein’s monster comes to life and the doctor and his monster are struggling against one another soaked in fluid in his laboratory. Another horrific scene is when Frankenstein’s dead wife is brought back to life and in frustration she sets herself on fire. The horror in Shelley’s film is definitely one that is unreal and unnatural, as well as violent.

The metonymy of gloom and horror in Bronte’s film is dissimilar from Shelley’s as it is more supernatural. Right before a terrifying scene, the atmosphere at the Heights will foreshadow that something odd will take place. This includes fog on the moors, flickering candles, high winds blowing, trees hitting the window, and frequent lightning and thunder. One of the key scenes in the film is in Lockwood’s dream where he has a hand grab at him from the window and a woman (Catherine’s ghost) begs to be let in. “Let me in,” (Wuthering Heights, 1992). This is definitely a horrific scene in the film, as it startles the reader, yet it keeps them questioning what exactly is occurring at this point in the film and what may happen next. This builds suspense.

When Heathcliff embraces the dead body of Catherine at her funeral, this is a significant part of the film that is supernatural, as it demonstrates how Heathcliff wants to be haunted by Catherine because his love for her exceeds this world. Although the metonymy of gloom and horror differ vastly between the films of Bronte and Shelley, there are similar characteristics of gloom and horror which make the two films gothic. The films both contain scenes of stormy weather, mainly used to foreshadow later happenings within the film, known as pathetic fallacy. A storm is shown as Frankenstein works away in his laboratory about to create a horrific creature. Also, stormy weather occurs when Heathcliff leaves Wuthering Heights not to return for three years. The use of horror and unnatural elements definitely classifies both films as gothic, as they both share the ability to install fear into the minds of the viewers.

At times it is hard to distinguish certain works and to classify one as gothic. This is because some gothic elements are hard to identify as they may differ from the archetypal gothic works. This is undeniably shown in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. In comparison to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, one can see how obvious gothic elements differ from the more vague elements. It is not only the elements that demonstrate that certain films are of the gothic genre; it is the way in which the elements have been emphasized through techniques involving camera angles, music, lighting, and highly effective acting. Through the use of this, both films are successful in portraying the gothic elements. One can see that there is more affiliated with gothic than just architecture, setting, and mood. Two films that may seem completely different from each other can both be gothic. Even though the gothic elements vary, the impact of each film can still be that of the gothic, one that captivates readers with its suspense, high emotion, and out of the ordinary atmosphere. Every gothic element is crucial to the plot of the story and its impact on the audience.

Whether it is murder or screaming frantic women, melodramatic elements create suspense for the audience, which is a definite goal of gothic works. The character type of being Byronic is crucial to many gothic films’s plot. Though Byronic characteristics differ as Frankenstein’s monster carried out revenge physically, Heathcliff took his revenge out emotionally and psychologically. The sympathy from the audience is an important goal of the Byronic hero, and both characters from the films show this. The metonymy of gloom and horror may differ, whether it is that of horror and violence, or one of questionable supernatural aspects.

Either way, this element is critical to keeping the viewer’s interest and hinting at later events in a film, as it does in the Shelley’s film and Bronte’s as well. Furthermore, one can see how the Byronic hero, melodrama, and the metonymy of gloom and horror play a role as discrete and yet apparent characteristics of the gothic genre in the two classics. In conclusion, there is a lot more to the gothic genre than horror and dark characteristics, and it is the contrast between Shelly’s film and Bronte’s film which reinforces that the gothic genre is more detailed and difficult to recognize in many works when contrasted to the archetype.

Works Cited:

Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Peter Kosminsky.USA. Digital Video disc.

Paramount, 1992.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Kenneth Branagh.USA. Digital Video Disc. Tristar, 1994.

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