How scandalously shocking! From divorce and debauchery to alcoholism and adultery, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was not only startling, but it was well ahead of its times in terms of Brontë’s revelations of the mistreatment of women, education of children and the inability to women to fend for themselves and their children regardless of position or circumstance.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall counts for both The Classics Club (4/85) and Mount TBR Reading Challenge (14/24). And although I enjoyed this novel, it will be some time before I read Villette, The Professor, or Shirley – definitely need a break. It also doesn’t hurt that I somehow ended up with two books from the library which I’m very excited about—books about books are always awesome! (And by somehow I mean I put them on reserve and am very happy they arrived quickly.) However, let’s jump in to my musings on the novel.
I hope you enjoyed reading my three-part mini-series of postings about Anne Brontë. I know I enjoyed looking into her life and writings. You can read Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3 by clicking the links. Once you’ve read those take a moment to read this quite by May Sinclair, a biographer of the Brontës, from 1910 to fully understand get an idea of the impact of this novel.
“The slamming of Helen Huntingdon’s bedroom door against her husband reverberated through Victorian England…”
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is the story of a mysterious woman who occupies Wildfell Hall and the drama she created in the village was an instant success selling out within six weeks and even outselling Wuthering Heights. And although the reviews were somewhat mixed including many critiques of the characters and the debauchery of the story this novel I believe will stand the test of time as an early feminist novel.
Helen Huntingdon (Mrs. Graham) faced horrible conditions in her marriage and took matters into her own hands fleeing with her child. And this is what I believe many critics had issues with, going so far as to say that women and girls should not be allowed to read the novel. Not the alcoholism, not the abuse,or even the adultery, it was a woman standing up for herself and her child and challenging the social norm which ruffled everyone’s feathers. And thus, the quote by May Sinclair. So go Anne Brontë and go Helen Huntingdon!
To see further examples of how far ahead of her time Anne was when it came to women, education and religion skip down to the additional quotes. WOW, talk about sass.
If there was one issue I had with the novel, it was also what made it a good novel. Written in epistolary form this sometimes caused me to have to back track because a letter would be included in another letter and it could get confusing. However, this allowed for the voices of Helen Huntingdon and Gilbert Markham to tell the story (and history) showcasing the potential of Anne’s future.
Having finished the novel, I can see where Mary Ward’s critiques of the novel come from, but I still believe she was unjustified in spending the overwhelming portion of her preface comparing Anne to Emily and Charlotte. Yes, Anne wrote very literally and within a finite space and at times it was dry and descriptive like a report, but it served her purpose and the subject matter itself cannot be ignored. Overall, I’m glad I read it and definitely glad I spent a bit of time learning about the sisters.
Recommendation: READ IT! Read both of her novels. They are relatively easy reads considering they were written nearly 150 years ago. The language is easy and although the subject matter, especially in this novel, isn’t as shocking as it would have been back then, it’s still very scandalous!
Opening Line: “You must go back with me to the autumn of 1827.”
Closing Line: “We are just now looking forward to the advent of you and Rose, for the time of your annual visit draws nigh, when you must leave your dusty, smoky, noisy, toiling, striving city for a season of invigorating relaxation and social retirement with us. Till then, farewell, Gilbert Markham. Staningley: June 19th, 1847.” (Whited out.)
Additional Quotes from The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
“You would have us encourage our sons to prove all things by their own experience, while our daughters must not even profit by the experience of others. Now I would have both so to benefit by the experience of others, and the precepts of a higher authority, that they should know beforehand to refuse the evil and choose the good, and require no experimental proofs to teach them the evil of transgression.” (Loc.515)
“There is such a thing as looking through a person’s eyes into the heart, and learning more of the height, and breadth, and depth of another’s soul in one hour than it might take you a lifetime to discover, if he or she were not disposed to reveal it, or if you had not the sense to understand it.’” (Loc. 1327)
“I found, indeed, some passages [from the bible] that, taken by themselves, might seem to contradict that opinion; but they will all bear a different construction to that which is commonly given, and in most the only difficulty is in the word which we translate “everlasting” or “eternal.”” (Loc. 2400)
“Things that formerly shocked and disgusted me, now seem only natural. I know them to be wrong, because reason and God’s word declare them to be so; but I am gradually losing that instinctive horror and repulsion which were given me by nature, or instilled into me by the precepts and example of my aunt. Perhaps then I was too severe in my judgments, for I abhorred the sinner as well as the sin; now I flatter myself I am more charitable and considerate; but am I not becoming more indifferent and insensate too?” (Loc.3463)