Modern vs. contemporary attitudes

Wuthering Heights received some pretty harsh reviews at the time of its publication. Here are a few examples:

“We rise from the perusal of Wuthering Heights as if we had come fresh from a pest-house. Read Jane Eyre is our advice, but burn Wuthering Heights…”
— Paterson’s Magazine (USA), March 1848 (via The Reader’s Guide to Wuthering Heights)

“How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery. ”
— Graham’s Lady’s Magazine (USA), July 1848 (via The Reader’s Guide to Wuthering Heights)

“”Wuthering Heights is a strange, inartistic story. There are evidences in every chapter of a sort of rugged power–an unconscious strength–which the possessor seems never to think of turning to the best advantage. The general effect is inexpressibly painful.”
— Atlas, 1848 (via Lilia Melani’s “The 19th Century English Novel“)

Now compare that with selection from Alice Hoffman’s introduction to the 2004 Signet Classics edition of Wuthering Heights:

Wuthering Heights is one of the greatest novels of all time, and arguably the greatest psychological novel ever written… The ultimate rebel’s treatise written by a woman who rarely ventured farther than her own village and whose own life was tragically short, Wuthering Heights is a domestic drama, a ghost story, a romance, a spiritual journey, a diary of dreams and visions, and above all else, an examination of the nature of humanity.”

What changes in attitude between mid-19th century and now may have revised public and critical opinion of the book? Was the book’s contemporary criticism justified in any way?


One response to “Modern vs. contemporary attitudes

  1. Interesting blog. I wonder which books today that have been panned by critics will find favor with future generations?

    Herman Melville was also someone who was trashed by critics when he shifted from writing about the South Pacific and started writing about a white whale and a monomaniac trying to kill it. Melville’s biographer said that at the time of his death Melville “sank without a ripple of renown.” Amazingly, he was rediscovered by sympathetic critics in the 1920s, and today his is the Great American novel. Who would have thought it?

    I will be following your blog in the future.

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