◐ Book Name: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
◐ Author: Anne Brontë
◐ Genre: Literary Fiction
◐ Pages: 576
A woman with a mysterious past moves into a well-ordered neighbourhood with radical views on independence and personhood. Her presence causes ripples through the community. Meanwhile, a young man finds himself intrigued by her, and learns more of her story as they grow to know each other.
◐ Review: 5/5 ⭐
I have missed out on this treasure of a book my entire life, but now I am happily enlightened. What a beautiful, groundbreaking book, not only for present times, but even more so the time in which it was written.
One must note the difference in style between all three Brontë sisters, and Anne’s most of all. I mentioned previously of how it reminds me a little of Jane Austen, and so it does in a way. Anne introduces a wide cast of characters, all with struggles a modern audience can surely relate to.
The language Anne uses evokes a sense of the romantic, yet is rooted in realism. I am in love with the way she puts words together; she makes even the most mundane sentences sound indescribably beautiful.
The book begins in the present, when Helen Graham first moves into Wildfell Hall with her young son. She is reserved, giving no details of her past, yet outspoken with her opinions. This rankles her new, nosy neighbours, and gives rise to all sorts of wild speculations.
About a third of the way through, we have a flashback, when we finally learn what befell our poor Helen.
So what’s so scandalous about this book? Anne Brontë’s protagonist is a woman who leaves her abusive, alcoholic husband with her child, and manages to make her own living through selling her paintings. Imagine the uproar for the people of that time (both in the novel and it’s readers). How dare a woman attempt to live separate from her husband? And yet she does.
Helen is no saint, but she has risen to become one of my favourite protagonists of all time. In an era where a woman must marry or suffer, and then submit to her husband’s every whim, for Helen to slam the door in his face and refuse him his “conjugal rights” is a slap in the face to toxic patriarchy (I loved that scene). Another favourite is when she threatens another creep with a knife. Helen knows her worth, that’s for certain.
And her husband, the despicable Arthur Huntingdon, is no dark hero. Unlike Charlotte’s Mr. Rochester or Emily’s Heathcliff, Anne does not romanticise this man’s darkness in the least. He is portrayed as a horrible human, so callous to the ways he hurts his family and friends, and self-righteous to top it off, one can hardly mistake Anne’s meaning. Such men should never be romanticised. They are not redeemable.
Helen makes the mistake of believing herself pure and strong enough to be able to change him, and therein lies every woman’s tragedy who falls for the asshole she thinks she alone can save. Anne makes it abundantly clear that such an endeavour will only end in heartbreak and misery.
There is fairly little in the way of a plot. It is more introspective than plot-driven, which I sometimes prefer.
In short (or not, because when am I ever capable of conciseness?), read this book. Don’t wait as long as I did to enjoy such a literary masterpiece.
To represent a bad thing in its least offensive light is, doubtless, the most agreeable course for a writer of fiction to pursue; but is it the most honest, or the safest? Is it better to reveal the snares and pitfalls of life to the young and thoughtless traveller, or to cover them with branches and flowers? Oh, reader! if there were less of this delicate concealment of facts – this whispering, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace, there would be less of sin and misery to the young of both sexes who are left to wring their bitter knowledge from experience.
I was wearied to death with small talk—nothing wears me out like that. I cannot imagine how they can go on as they do.
Is it that they think it a duty to be continually talking,’ pursued she: ‘and so never pause to think, but fill up with aimless trifles and vain repetitions when subjects of real interest fail to present themselves, or do they really take a pleasure in such discourse?
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.
I hate talking where there is no exchange of ideas or sentiments, and no good given or received.
What are their thoughts to you or me, so long as we are satisfied with ourselves—and each other.
I would rather have your friendship than the love of any other woman in the world!
We shouldn’t always have what we want: it spoils the best of us, doesn’t it?
‘And if I,’ said she, ‘am young in years, I am old in sorrow;’
May not kindred spirits meet, and mingle in communion, whatever be the fate and circumstances of their earthly tenements?
If they can part our bodies, it is enough; in God’s name, let them not sunder our souls!
This rose is not so fragrant as a summer flower, but it has stood through hardships none of them could bear: the cold rain of winter has sufficed to nourish it, and its faint sun to warm it; the bleak winds have not blanched it, or broken its stem, and the keen frost has not blighted it. Look, it is still fresh and blooming as a flower can be, with the cold snow even now on its petals.—Will you have it?