Wednesday, 30 December 2009

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

December 25th. - Last Christmas I was a bride, with a heart overflowing with present bliss, and full of ardent hopes for the future - though not unmingled with foreboding fears.
Thus writes Helen Huntingdon in her diary entry of 1822. Helen's foreboding fears are justified as her handsome husband emerges as a debt-ridden alcoholic who chased every woman 'aged between fifteen and forty-five.' Helen's strong Christian faith sees her through his humiliating affair with Lady Lowborough and his long drunken sojourns in London, but when he tries to install another of his women in their home as governess to their young son, Helen decides to take her child and run. Discovering her plan by reading her diary her husband destroys all of her art materials - her only means of earning a living - and cuts off all of her access to money and keys. Eventually Helen does escape with her son to a village many miles away and excites local gossip as the mysterious tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Many of the conventions of the Victorian novel can be observed in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The story is relayed through letters and diary entries. The good are rewarded and the wicked are punished, but Anne Bronte pulls no punches and the dissipation of Arthur Huntingdon is almost certainly a fictional portrayal of the troubled Branwell Bronte. Charlotte Bronte thought it a step too far, but Anne's interest in social justice and the lowly position of women in Victorian society is evident in both her published novels.

There is humour, too. Anne Bronte displays a taste for satirical comedy which seems to owe more to Austen than typical Bronte which raises an interesting question. Is it possible that Anne could have read and been influenced by Austen?

Happy new year!

12 comments:

Connie said...

I really, really didn't like Agnes Grey, but in your review you make this sound so good that I think I might have to life my Anne Bronte fatwa and give it a go. Thanks!

StuckInABook said...

I, on the other hand, love Agnes Grey! I'll tell you a secret... well, not a secret actually, but... Anne is my favourite Bronte! I think she's much better than Charlotte, and while she doesn't have Emily's genius, she is also less disturbing. I think Agnes Grey is, in terms of its structure, the perfect novel. Tenant of W Hall I found a little more difficult to get on with, but still enjoyed.

Darlene said...

Rachel from Book Snob sent me her dissertation on the Bronte sisters, she wrote how Anne's work is under-rated in some critics viewpoint. Are they basing that opinion on comparison to her sisters writing, do they allow her to stand alone? It made for some interesting reading! Rachel would be very happy that you're reading Anne's work.

hopeinbrazil said...

Lovely review of a book I haven't read for many years. It may be time to revisit it...

Mad Housewife said...

It's been so long since I read Anne Bronte that I need to read her again. Usually it's Emily, Emily, and Emily at my house. This excellent post makes me want to read Anne.

Steph said...

I read and really enjoyed Jane Eyre this year, but I've never given Anne Bronte a whirl. This sounds like the kind of Bronte book I can get behind (JE is my kind of thing, but Wuthering Heights, not so much...), and your review has made me think I should take it out for a test drive in 2010! Have a happy new year!

zetor said...

A very Happy New Year to you.

Eva said...

You know, Anne's my favourite Bronte by a rather large margin, and since I also love Jane Austen, I found your comparison fascinating. Perhaps I need to reread Tenant this year...I'm already planning on a reread of Wuthering Heights, since I haven't read that one in years.

Rachel (Book Snob) said...

Thanks for the mention, Darlene!

I love Anne Bronte; Jane Eyre will always be my favourite of the Bronte sisters' novels but Tenant comes a close second. I think it's beautifully written with a raw honesty that flies in the face of the accepted conventions of the time. Why she isn't more widely read I just don't know.

Vintage Reading said...

Connie, look forward to your review!

StuckInABook, Anne is my favourite bronte, too. Agreed that Agnes Grey is her best book with a perfect narrative structure.

Darlene, the Anne Bronte revival starts here!

hopeinbrazil, well worth a re-read, I'd like to know how you get on.

madhousewife, I'd like to read more of Emily's poetry, I see her more as a poet than a novelist.

Steph, yes WH seems to divide people. I like it but there's no denying that Cathy and Heathcliff are weirdo's!

Eva, yes, I've since read the intro to The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and discovered that Charlotte had read Austen but didn't particularly like her work. Don't know about Anne though.

Rachel, I'd love to read your dissertation, too.

Kat said...

Tenant is my favourite Bronte book ever. The character of Helen, in particular, I thought was ahead of her time.

And of course there was a lovely BBC adaptation :)

Thanks for adding us to your blogroll by the way!

Kat (from the Book It List)

Mrs. B. said...

I also read this really and I really enjoyed it. I was surprised that Anne is usually the forgotten sister. She writes wonderfully and I actually enjoyed this more than Wuthering Heights.