After living and breathing this for a week, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is definitely in the running for favourite ever Brontë novel. Honestly, this hasn’t turned into a Brontë blog, but I’m just a little bit obsessed at the moment! Anne Brontë is a brilliant writer on her own merit – she isn’t as sentimental as Charlotte in Jane Eyre or as wild as Emily in Wuthering Heights. Instead, she wrote a powerful and moving book on a unique subject.
Rather excitingly, this book contains one of the greatest literary bastards of all time – Arthur Huntingdon. I can’t believe how awful he was and was genuinely angry about the way he treats his wife, Helen. His decline into alcoholism must have been a subject close to Anne’s heart and no doubt inspired by Branwell’s own demise. She writes very movingly about being a person in love with someone’s intent to destroy themselves:
‘If she gives you her heart’, said I, ‘you must take it thankfully, and use it well, and not pull it to pieces, and laugh in her face, because she cannot snatch it away.’
I though Arthur and Helen’s characters and marriage were portrayed in quite a modern light, for a Victorian novel. Whilst most of the men in the book held an expected opinion that they could do whatever they liked, and their wives should love them all the same, there were unexpected examples of a changing attitude that women deserved to be treated like individuals.
I really enjoyed the form of the book. The narrator is Gilbert Markham, writing letters to his friend about his younger days, but the main part of the book is Helen’s diary. I like books that change narrators – this book was particularly clever introducing the reader to Helen through the eyes of a suspicious close-knit northern community. It highlighted how forward and – dare I suggest feminist – Anne made her leading lady: she was so independent and courageous for the time she lived in. Initially I was a fan of Gilbert, but the more I learnt about Helen, the less I thought he was good enough for her. The jury is still out on that one…
Why is Anne Brontë seen as less talented? Her characters are well-rounded and vivid, her story is passionate and intelligent, and her writing is unique. I was completely captivated by this story, with an immediacy I haven’t experienced reading the Brontës before.
I’ve already started on Agnes Grey!