While critics have scrutinized Emily Brontëë's use of the framed narrative in Wuthering Heights (1847), raising questions about the reliability of the central narrators, Lockwood and Nelly Dean, scant attention has been paid to Isabella Heathcliff as the third narrator. Though readers have overlooked the importance of Isabella's narrative, Brontëë highlights her narrative by including it as the only intact letter in the entire novel and devotes almost an entire chapter to her narrative. Isabella's narrative surfaces in a letter to Nelly Dean, offering a highly unorthodox portrait for the mid-Victorian period of the domestic abuse of a young bride from the gentry class. Isabella's letter, which comprises most of chapter 13, also becomes a critical tool to ferret out the reliability of Heathcliff's account in chapter 14 of their marriage. By analyzing the conflicting accounts of their marriage, this essay demonstrates that Heathcliff 's argument acts as a carefully crafted legal rationale, based upon the laws of coverture, to defend and sanction the domestic confinement of his wife. While the laws of coverture deprived women of a legal and economic voice, Brontëë endows Isabella with a complex and at times ironic voice. Brontëë paints a powerful portrait of the radical transformation of Isabella from the pampered and infantile Miss Linton to the hardened Mrs. Heathcliff, ending with her as the intrepid, fugitive wife, Isabella Heathcliff. Brontëë demonstrates through Isabella's story that as long as the laws of coverture are intact, companionate marriage is at risk of being exploited and compromised.
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