“Anticipating Nietzsche: Culture and Chaos in ‘The House of Usher’ and Wuthering Heights” approaches the fiction of two of the most outstanding authors of the grotesque, the aberrant, and the irrational within the mid-nineteenth century. Moreover, these works by Poe and Brontë gain in significance through their anticipation of a philosophical perspective on nineteenth-century society that would not be clearly articulated until Nietzsche’s publication of The Birth of Tragedy and “The Use and Abuse of History.” Wuthering Heights and “The House of Usher” point both forward and backward in time as they explore not only social, cultural, sexual, and philosophical boundaries, but also interrogate the abrupt cultural transition from a world dominated by mythic concepts to one aligned to an industrial or clockwork relationship to space and time
Nietzsche’s evocative image in Zarathustra, of humanity as a rope stretched over an abyss, is prefigured some forty years earlier in the jagged fissure that Edgar Allan Poe’s narrator sees traced from top to bottom of the doomed House of Usher, above its own abyss of the tarn into which it will dissolve; the same image is also foreshadowed in the rope-like tension between the Heights and the Grange in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Both works reflect a critical imbalance between reason and passion within the culture of their time, and both imply, as Nietzsche later would, that the result of this imbalance could be catastrophic.
Roderick Usher and Heathcliff relate to history and to personal identity through the physical body of their respective sibling partners after death, an obsession that has roots in specific funerary rituals of Ancient Egypt: the practice of mummifying the dead and performing the Opening of the Mouth ceremony to re-animate corporeal bodies. Wuthering Heights and “The House of Usher” thus invite readers to regard the present as a recycling of past moments, suggesting “eternal recurrence” and the blurring of distinctions between the living and the dead. They reference the mythic and recurrent rather than a rational and linear perspective on time. This difference between folklore—or mythic—time and clock-time points to Nietzsche’s distinctions between Victorian time and culture based on rationalism, and that of the Greeks, rooted in mythic truth and a blending of physical life with the otherworldly.
Li Qingben, The International Journal of the Humanities: Annual Review, Volume 11, pp. 113-122
Tama Weisman, The International Journal of the Humanities: Annual Review, Volume 10, pp. 1-13
Peter Lutze, James Armstrong, and Laura Woodworth-Ney, International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 9, Issue 5, pp. 107-122
Suzanne S. Choo, International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp. 109-118