The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
Page #: 394
Published in: 2013
Publisher: Wordsworth Editions
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a powerful and sometimes violent novel of expectation, love, oppression, sin, religion and betrayal. It portrays the disintegration of the marriage of Helen Huntingdon, the mysterious ‘tenant’ of the title, and her dissolute, alcoholic husband. Defying convention, Helen leaves her husband to protect their young son from his father’s influence, and earns her own living as an artist. Whilst in hiding at Wildfell Hall, she encounters Gilbert Markham, who falls in love with her.
On its first publication in 1848, Anne Brontë’s second novel was criticised for being ‘coarse’ and ‘brutal’. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall challenges the social conventions of the early nineteenth century in a strong defence of women’s rights in the face of psychological abuse from their husbands. Anne
Brontë’s style is bold, naturalistic and passionate, and this novel, which her sister Charlotte considered ‘an entire mistake’, has earned Anne a position in English literature in her own right, not just as the youngest member of the Brontë family.
This newly reset text is taken from a copy of the 1848 second edition in the Library of the Brontë Parsonage Museum and has been edited to correct known errors in that edition.
I normally don’t like books that are in letter format, but this one actually managed to pull it off by being the longest letter ever written. By the time I was a couple chapters in, I actually forgot it was a letter. Even though a lot of the Bronte novels are retrospective or framed in some way, this book is different from the other Bronte sisters’ books. It’s not Gothic in the slightest, but it’s still rife with mystery.
Gilbert Markham is intrigued by the new widow who moved in next door with her young son. Despite efforts to get to know her, she remains fairly antisocial in the tight-knit community. While they slowly kindle a relationship together, Gilbert discovers the many secrets she’s hiding which complicate their romance.
This book is the epitome of Victorian scandal. There’s so much gossip and drama and general craziness that makes the story very enjoyable to read. I was totally on board until it reached the diary portion of the story. Then it just got kind of sad. But it ended happily, so it was worth the slow patch.
Helen, the widow, is an incredibly strong female character and this novel has a strong feminist message. She takes charge of her life and her own situation, and even is able to support herself as a single mother on the moors in Victorian England.
I would definitely recommend this book to people who are interested in Victorian fiction or strong female characters. There’s also a delicious slow-burn romance if you’re in to that kind of thing, which I am.