Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Saturday, March 13, 2010

"The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" by Anne Bronte

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall  by Anne Bronte (1848-409 pages)
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is the second and last  novel written by Anne Bronte in her twenty nine years (1820 to 1849).    Last month I read and posted on her first work, Agnes Grey.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is told in a very interesting way.    It is a novel very rooted in its time and place.    The book is divided into three sections and each is told from a different point of view and narrated in a different fashion.   Part One is from the point of view of Gilbert, a well off farmer.   A mysterious woman, a widow and her son, have moved into Wildfell Hall, a once grand mansion.    Gilbert begins to court the widow, Helen Graham and loses interest in the woman his mother wanted him to marry.   In a search for revenge, this woman begins to spread gossip about Helen.     One needs to keep in mind that in the time and place of the novel a woman was not thought complete without a man and any single woman, widow or otherwise, above the age of twenty five or so was seen as a potential threat to the stability of the community and its morals.    A friend of Gilbert's is also seemingly courting Helen.   When Gilbert behaves in a jealous fashion, Helen gives Gilbert her diaries to read. The diary reveals her abusive marriage to Arthur Huntington.    Helen begins the marriage completely in love.   Over time Arthur seems to become bored with her company and prefers to spend his time with friends from his days prior to marriage.   These friends lead him back into a life of heavy drinking and partying with women of dubious repute in the company of male friends.   He becomes abusive to her and he tries to turn her son to his ways, teaching him to disrespect his mother and use improper language.   In a move of extreme boldness for her day, Helen left Arthur.    There some interesting twists and turns of the plot and throughout it all Helen behaves in a near saintly fashion, returning to her abusive husband to nurse him  through a fatal disease.   

Part 3 begins when Helen leaves Wildfell Hall.   We see Anne has kept some secrets from us.     The ending is much like the ending of Agnes Grey.    

I liked several things about this book.   I liked Anne Bronte's use of differing narrative modes for different sections of the book.    I enjoyed the conversations in the book a lot.    Wildfell Hall shows Anne was rapidly developing as an artist, compared with her first work.    Wildfell Hall is one of the first novels showing a woman leaving an abusive husband.     The abusive husband is a bit of a stereotype of the times (hence the name Huntington meaning he prefers the pleasure of the hunt to the company of his wife).    You can see how deeply Anne felt alcohol was at the root of the problems in her marriage.   She was very unhappy when her husband began to teach their son to drink.    The novel is rooted in the time as there is no longer any great mysterious stigma that attached to a single woman with a child as there was in England in the 1840s.  (Or perhaps one should say a single woman not of the poorer and majority class of people.)     The world of women is a small one in the novels of Anne Bronte.   She explores its limits very well.

I read Wildfell Hall in part because I have decided to read all of the novels of the Bronte Sisters.   There are only seven of them and I like feeling closure on a reading project.    As I was reading I could not help but wonder if almost everyone reads her works mainly because of who her ates were .   ("Ate" is a tagalog word for "big sister" that conveys for me the familial relationship between Anne and her sisters.    A young sister or brother will call  their older  sibling "Ate Jane" and it is meant to convey respect for an elder sister.)     Wildfell Hall is worth reading on its own.    Her work does not have the power, depth and beauty of  the work of her ates but not much does.    I really think anyone into the Brontes, the Victorian novel or 19th century women writers should read all of  the Bronte novels.    

Mel u


Carrie at In the Hammock Blog said...

Ooh, this one looks interesting!! I've been intrigued by the Bronte challenge at Laura's site and even won "Becoming Jane Eyre" from her!! I found your site through the blog hop :)

Suko said...

Mel, this sounds like a compelling novel to me, one which deals with personal and social problems. Thanks for your insightful review. I have yet to read anything for the Brontes challenge--thanks for the reminder!

Whitney said...

Great review! I plan on reading this later this year for the Bronte Challenge as well.
Also, I found you through the blog hop, what a lovely site.

Lisa said...

Hi Mel! I found you via Blog Hop when you found me! I am now a brand spankin' new follower!

tweezle said...

Awesome review!! I'm so glad that I found you. I came here through the Blog Hop and am now a follower.

Have a great evening!
Tweezle from Just One More Paragraph

Astrid (Mrs.B) said...

So glad you loved this. I loved that most of the book was from the point of view of a man, Gilbert, and how he expressed his passionate feelings of unrequited love for Helen. It was also good to see her point of view from the diaries and read about the life she had lived with her alcoholic husband. Quite a unique novel for its time. Excellent review!

Emily H. said...

Great review! I read this one a couple summers ago, and this was a good reminder of the book's premise. You should read "The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte" after you finish all the novels. It is based on some really solid research, and you learn so much about the personalities of the three sisters, their dynamic together, and their inspirations for their books.

Aarti said...

I read this book some years ago, and strangely- it's that review that still randomly generates comments from strangers on my blog. I did not like this book. I thought Bronte hit readers too much over the head with the alcoholism thing- I ended up feeling Helen was too sanctimonious than anything else. And I didn't think that she had really progressed from the start of the book to the end of it at all.

Maria Grazia said...

I read both Agnes Grey and The Tenant last summer and discovered that the youngest of the Brontes had unjustly been considered a minor figure in English literatures. I found her such a good story-teller and so honest, even brave, at writing as she did about her experience as a governess and Helen's story. My favourite between her two novels is The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I also saw the BBC adaptation with Toby Stephens and liked it. Did you?

Bibliolatrist said...

Nice to meet you - I've just added you to my Google Reader!

I don't think I've ever found a blogger who reviewed this book - so kudos to you! It's on my list to read; hopefully I'll get to it at some point, esp. because Wuthering Heights is one of my all-time favorite books (with Jane Eyre not too far behind).

ds said...

Mel,this is a wonderful review. I have yet to read anything by Anne Bronte, and this sounds like a good place to start. Surprisingly contemporary, given that she is held in less esteem than her "ates" (great word!) Thank you.

Helen said...

Thanks for linking to my review, Mel. It's good to see that you enjoyed this book too.

Mel u said...

My thanks to everyone who came in via the Book Blog Hop-

Carrie-thanks so much for coming buy-I am also interested in reading the book Booking Jane Eyre

Suko-thanks as always-

Whitney-Glad you came to my web page and I look forward to reading your Bronte review

Liza-thanks for becoming a follower-I follow your blog now also

Tweezie-thanks for becoming a follower and I also now follow your blog

Mel u said...

Mrs B-yes it was surprising to see part of the novel was from point of view of a man-I am now starting Villette

Emily-thanks for he reading suggestion and I will add that book to my TBR list

Aarti-I can see your point of view-

Maria Garcia-thanks for your comments-sadly we do not get the BBC network here in Manila and we are also blocked from seeing the program on line-I will look for it in the video store-my reaction to Anne was like yours-at first I read her because I wanted to read all the Bronte novels then I came to respect her in her own right

Bibliolartist-nice to meet you also-I hope to read Wuthering Heights pretty soon-

Ds-thanks as always

Helen-you are welcome

Miss Moppet said...

Wildfell Hall is a superb novel. I feel it and Anne Bronte are underrated simply because she was a sibling of the more famous Charlotte and Emily.

Thanks for stopping by my blog! I'm adding you to my reader.

Mel u said...

Miss Moppet-I agree with your remarks-I will be reading all your posts from now on-

chocowafer said...

Hmm, I might try reading one of her books since I did enjoy some of her "ate's" works. :)

Anonymous said...

Oooh, I totally plan to read this. How are you getting on with Hermione Lee? That's one of my favourite biographies ever.

Mel u said...

teedevotte-I am 120 pages into the Biography of Woolf-it is a great book and I am really enjoying and hopefully learning from it