The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
By Anne Bronte
(Oxford University Press, USA, Paperback, 9780199207558, May 2008, 441pp.)
The Short of It:
A scandalous novel for its time.
The Rest of It:
Published in 1848, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall tells the story of Helen Graham, a woman whose unfortunate marriage forces her to make some difficult decisions for herself and her son.
This book has a little bit of everything to make a reader happy. There’s the scandalous story of Helen and her husband Author Huntingdon. Probably one of the most self-indulgent men you could ever meet. His love of drink and fine things leads them to financial ruin and Helen has no choice but to leave him, which of course is frowned upon greatly by society at large. She ends up at Wildfell Hall and introduces herself as a widow. She quickly becomes the infatuation of Gilbert, who lives across the way. A new, interesting woman that he can talk to. So unlike the frivolous girls he comes across daily. But when another man enters the picture, Gilbert questions her and in return, is handed her diary which tells her sordid tale.
Most of the story is told through diary entries. At first, I didn’t mind this but it went on for quite a long time and I began to lose interest in the story itself, but the real discussion is the history of the book itself. My book club picked this book for June and there was plenty to say about it. For one, Anne Bronte based many of the characters on people she knew, she wrote it under a pen name and it was originally published in three volumes, and when she passed away, her sister Charlotte refused its republication. It wasn’t until Charlotte’s death that it was published in one volume. Charlotte felt the book was “course” and not fit for publication.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is an important book for many reasons. It deals with some very heavy themes for the time, gender relations, motherhood, alcoholism and abuse in marriage. Even though it was written in 1848, it has a very contemporary feel to it, probably because many of the issues Bronte includes are issues that we still deal with today.
The one criticism we all shared, was that the ending seemed rushed. Perhaps Bronte’s illness forced her to finish the book quickly or perhaps the book in its republication was cut down when made into one volume? What fascinated me the most was the Bronte family. Such talent and yet, so much tragedy. The three sisters all died from consumption and the brother became an alcoholic.
Overall, I am beginning to believe that I am more of a Bronte gal, than an Austen gal. Last year, I began Jane Eyre and have been reading it slowly (and loving it) and I must say The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was a refreshing surprise.
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23 thoughts on “Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall”
As much as I love Jane, I’ve been on more of a Bronte streak the last few years. Loved Tenant – it’s probably my favorite to date – and have Villette ready to go. Just not sure when I’ll get to it!
I had to look up Villette as I was not familiar with it. I think I would read anything written by a Bronte.
Everyone always praises Emily for breaking conventions of female writing, but it was Anne, with Tenant in particular, that really pushed boundaries. It took guts to write a book like this.
I agree. And to think her own sister tried to stop its republication. That just tells you how scandalous it was at the time.
I have to be in the right mood to read a book like this because it always takes me a little while to adjust to the language.
Me too, Kathy. I didn’t have a problem with this one though but I expected to.
It’s so nice to read a review of something that isn’t a new release!
(NOTE TO SELF – READ MORE OLD BOOKS:)
No kidding! So many books on my back list to get to. I try to work some classics in a few times a year and this time book club helped with that.
I have the Bronte sisters’ works, but have only read Wuthering Heights and Villette – both were fantastic! As for Austen, I’ve read Jane Eyre and just didn’t like it (lets just say that Jane is too quick to repeat actions she abhorred). I’m with you – more of a Brontes gal than an Austen gal 🙂 I’m glad you wrote about this book, because its now making its way to my TBR pile.
Jane Eyre is also written by a Bronte… there are just too many of them to keep track of! LOL.
I’m still not done with Jane Eyre and I started it last year. It’s slower. Not as gritty as Anne’s work. Visit my blog: Book Chatter
I definitely agree with you on the Austen vs. Bronte front–I love the Bronte sisters’ works so much more than Austen’s. To me, there’s more thematic substance to the Brontes’ novels; they seem more “real” to me, less focused on cliched turn-of-the-century romance/class structure novels that Austen’s were. I’ve always disliked that Austen’s work was formulaic and followed the same plot and structure in each. The Brontes’ novels are also darker, which I like also.
Yes!! Darker! That is why I prefer a Bronte over Austen. The Bronte family is so interesting on its own too.
Fo-sho: Bronte over Austen.
You make me laugh! I am surprised over how many people have read this book. I had never even heard of it prior to my book club friend suggesting it.
I absolutely loved The tenant of Wildfell hall. I thought Helen a wonderful heroine.
This sounds fantastic – I am going to follow up on this one.
This book has been a favourite since forever. The BBC film with Toby Stephens is pretty fabulous, too.
I love the Bronte sisters. Wuthering Heights is my all-time favorite book and Jane Eyre is a close second. I do like Jane Austen, but I love the darkness and gothic elements of the Bronte girls’ books.
I have this book in my Classics Club list (a reading challenge to read 50 classics within 5 years), I need to get to it fast, it sounds very interesting.
I love both the Brontes and Austen. I know that makes no sense because usually people are in one camp or the other. My first love was Austen’s P&P, but then I met the dark side with Wuthering Heights. I just can’t pick. So glad you liked this one. I plan to pick this up
I read Wuthering Heights with a group and although I know most say it is dark, I thought it was rather humorous. It seemed overly-dramatic, almost theatrical to me which made it comical given the subject matter. Must be my twisted sense of humor.
I have yet to read this Bronte – sounds like I need to make time for it.