I had never read a book by Anne Brontë before and considering how much the Brontë sisters novels I have read (Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë) I definitely thought I should read one by Anne as well. I had been looking to buy my first book in the beautiful clothbound Penguin Hardcover Classics versions, and I decided to pick The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall as that title.
Before reading the novel, I was aware that The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall is viewed as one of the first feminist novels and that back when it was published, it was considered extremely scandalous for its times. I’m a staunch feminist myself and I was intrigued by the idea that the novel had a female protagonist who made life choices that would have been seen as unseemly to read about in her era. Ultimately, I was not disappointed by the novel, though I didn’t like it as much as the other two I’ve read by Emily and Charlotte Brontë.
Read my review of The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall below and don’t forget to let me know what you thought of it if you’ve read it yourself.
The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
Young farmer Gilbert Markham writes to his friend and brother in law, telling him of how a mysterious widow has appeared at Wildfell Hall, a mansion situated near his farm. The widow, Mrs. Helen Graham, is accompanied by her young son, and appears to have a retiring and somewhat despondent character. She visits her neighbors only as much as necessary to appear civil, and rebuffs Gilbert’s friendly and then romantic advances. As the novel progresses, Gilber and the reader find out the truth of Helen’s past and of the harowing circumstancs that have led her to flee to Wildfell Hall.
What I Liked
I appreciated how progressive the novel was for its time – it must have been a courageous choice, even for a female writer using a male pen name, to publish a work that was so far ahead of its audience in the themes it chose to address. In some ways, Helen is an admirable character who always chooses right over wrong and who has made the difficult decision to go against the social conventions of the time to save herself and her child from a heartbreaking destiny. I’m always up for a book with a strong female lead, and in that The Tenant OF Wildfell Hall definitely delivers.
The language of the novel was passionate and beautiful, with many quotable moments on destiny, love, faith and more. I kept highlighting passages and adding quotes from the book to Litsy, including the ones I’ve shared below:
“I saw distinctly the pure moon shining on, and the light clouds skimming the clear, dark sky; and then, I saw the eternal stars twinkling down upon me; I knew their God was mine, and He was strong to save and swift to hear.”
“His heart was like a sensitive plant, that opens for a moment in the sunshine, but curls up and shrinks into itself at the slightest touch of the finger, or the lightest breath of wind.”
I also liked the way in which the novel explored different types of friendships – hamrful and helpful friendships, genuine friendships and self-interest ones. The two main characters – Helen and Gilbert – experience friendships with characters who are caring and true, ones who are selfish and cannot be relied on, and ones who turn out to be enemies in disguise. In particular, Helen deals with a man who poses as her friend in order to secure her affections, but she rejects his advances and friendship because she realizes he believes that he knows best when it comes to how she should live her life.
What I Didn’t Like
I thought I was going to love the book – as I typically love classics from that time – but I only liked it. The plot was a bit one-dimensional compared to the novels I’ve read by the other Brontë sisters. It’s essentially the story of one woman and one marriage, without other significantly developed secondary plots.
The characters were all relatively one-note, including Gilbert and Helen. Though she’s exceptional among female characterizations of the era for the independent life choices she has made, Helen ultimately comes off as overly rigid in her morals and her actions in a way that is at times unrealistic. Gilbert – the narrator of the novel – was also a pretty flawed character to me. He demonstrates a disturbing naivete and an egocentric nature in the thoughts he shares with the reader throughout his retelling of Helen’s story, and I wasn’t rooting for him to win her affections. In addition, without giving any spoilers, the evil characters in the novel are mostly without redeeming qualities – simply constructed foils for Helen’s near perfect moral integrity.
If you’re the type of person who likes to read her way through all the classics, I wouldn’t miss this one. However, if you only dabble in classics every now and then, there are many other better choices out there on which to spend your reading time.
Check out my previous 1000 Novels Series reviews:
Have you read The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.
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