2012 Challenges, Books, The Classics Club

Book 109: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë

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)


32 thoughts on “Book 109: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë”

  1. When I was a kid I watched the BBC drama series with Tara Fitzgerald. It wasn’t my favourite back then but I think as a slightly older person now I will probably enjoy this book more. I grew up watching all the BBC period dramas, so I really need to catch up by reading the books now too.


    1. I’ve seen quite a few of them and in general I’ve liked the adaptations. I definitely agree with you about being slightly older – I will probably spend a good portion of next year re-reading a lot of the books I read in school because I’ve truly grown to understand and appreciate the classics I just thought were stuffy and boring when I was younger.


  2. What you’re doing with Anne Brontë is one of the things I think book blogging is for– digging past the most ostentatious classics like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights to the underappreciated “deep cuts.” Thanks for sharing this.


    1. Thanks for the comment. I’m glad I looked into it more – it really made me appreciate her work that much more than the better known works. It’s great to just follow a tangent sometimes.


  3. Hello Geoff I found your blog through the classics club update. I too have The Tenant of Wildfel Hall on my list. I love how you describe it as scandalous, can’t wait to read it now 😛


    1. Thanks for stopping by and for the comment! I really enjoyed this novel, as can be seen by my delving briefly into the life of Anne! I’ve added you to my RSS feed and on a random note – I went to Leeds Uni. I spent two years (2007-2009) over there getting my Masters! When were you there?


        1. Oh that’s so weird! Did you do Musical Theatre? I had a couple of friends who were in productions. This is awesome! And shows how small the world of book blogging really is.


          1. No I did Theatre and Performance, not one for singing lol. But yes what a small world it is I suppose that’s the beauty of blogging and the internet, never would have met otherwise.


  4. Hi there! (Found you through Classics Club, btw) I’m glad to see you enjoyed Wildfell. I haven’t read it yet, but enjoyed Agnes Grey. I’m also very glad to hear that it outsold Wuthering Heights. That’s probably the only Bronte book I didn’t like!


    1. Thanks for stopping by! I enjoyed Agnes Grey but I thought that The Tenant of Wildfell Hall showed off her wit and her ability to shock much better. It took me a few times before I truly appreciated Wuthering Heights, but living in Yorkshire really helped out 😀


  5. This sounds so interesting–I’ve only read Wuthering Heights (of the Brontes’ books), and Jane Eyre is on my Classics Club list. But now I’m tempted to add this one–the Brontes are looking more and more interesting. Wuthering Heights was rather off-putting, but definitely original, and Wildfell Hall sounds possibly even more interesting than Jane Eyre. I also usually enjoy the epistolary format.


    1. Thanks for the comment!

      If you’ve ever read Jane Austen, you’ll see a similarity in the wit and ‘simplicity’ (I’m thinking stark or plain – but none of these are the words I want) in Anne’s writing. She writes what she sees and embellishes only occasionally. But this view of the world is brilliant (or I thought it was)!

      Having not read too many epistolary novels, I found this one a bit difficult but it may have been because of the way it was set up with one really long letter and a few shorter letters and a letter/correspondence within a letter. I hope you do get to read it – I’m dying to know what other people think about the novel!


  6. I see you’ve read an incomplete edition of the novel (see Wikipedia article about The Tenant for more info). Complete edition starts with: Dear Halford, When we were together last, you gave me a very particular and interesting account of the most …


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