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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

Title: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall  
Author: Anne Bronte
ISBN:   0-14-043474-7
Publisher: Penguin
Genre: Classics
Release Date:  1848 (originally), 1996 (this edition)
Pages:  535
Format: Paperback
How I Read It: From my personal library 
Rating:  4 Crowns  

Synopsis (from Amazon): Gilbert Markham is deeply intrigued by Helen Graham, a beautiful and secretive young woman who has moved into nearby Wildfell Hall with her young son. He is quick to offer Helen his friendship, but when her reclusive behaviour becomes the subject of local gossip and speculation, Gilbert begins to wonder whether his trust in her has been misplaced.

It is only when she allows Gilbert to read her diary that the truth is revealed and the shocking details of the disastrous marriage she has left behind emerge...

My Thoughts: When you live in a neighborhood that doesn't get very many new people, of course the strange woman who arrives in town and takes up residence in a mansion that hasn't been inhabited in several years will draw her fair share of curiosity.  Helen Graham does when she moves into Wildfell Hall with her young son Arthur and despite numerous attempts by the locals to get to know this stranger in their midst, it seems like Ms. Graham does everything she can to avoid furthering her acquaintance with them.  Gilbert Markham manages to break through her hard exterior and forms a strong attachment to the lady but certain events occur that cause Gilbert to question whether Helen Graham is who she says she is and whether her affection for him is genuine or not.  In a last ditch effort to save the relationship with Gilbert, a man she has come to rely on, Helen gives him her diary to read and her mysterious past and the circumstances that brought her to Wildfell Hall are revealed.

Helen's account of her marriage to the truly heinous Arthur Huntingdon makes for one good story.  You cannot help but feel sorry for this woman and what she goes through at the hands of this man in the novel.  I thought the format with Gilbert Markham narrating the story of how his acquaintance with Helen unfolds to his friend Halford via a series of letters and Helen narrating her own story through the pages of her diary worked really well here.  This novel is well served with a variety of interesting supporting characters from Arthur's odious friends Grimsby, Hargrave, and Hattersly to Helen's maid Rachel and friends Millicent and Esther who are among the few she can trust.

There were a few hiccups for me while reading.  One was that for some reason I had a very difficult time remembering who Halford was and why Gilbert would care enough about this person to write this whole long history to him.  I'm sure it must have been explained at the very beginning but not in a memorable enough way to keep me from forgetting repeatedly (hopefully this is just me and won't happen to others who read it).  Second, was that even though Arthur Huntingdon was the obvious evil villain in this story, Gilbert Markham also displays some pretty reprehensible behavior which I felt was completely glossed over. I couldn't figure out why one character would display bad behavior and be taken to task for it while another would do something completely wrong and have it treated like "My mistake old chap."  Other than those few things I really enjoyed this novel.

The most remarkable thing about this book is Anne Bronte centers the whole story around Helen's struggle to become independent from her cruel, calculating, intolerable husband.  This is not such a foreign concept to women nowadays.  A husband cheats?  Takes all your money?  Treats his dog better than you?  You can leave him.  At the time this novel was written however, leaving your spouse was truly scandalous and to write a book where a woman does so was quite controversial.  Bronte creates such a fierce spirit in the character of Helen and such an eloquent portrait of her circumstances that it really does transcend the societal conventions.  After reading this book I really have no idea why it didn't garner as much attention as Jane Eyre-the plain governess makes good story written by her sister Charlotte and Wuthering Heights the slightly stalkerish tale of obsessive love written by her sister Emily.  I truly think Anne is the better writer of the three and the next Bronte read for me will most likely be another by her.

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Anonymous said...

I also loved this ,and would also recommend The wheel of fortune by Charlotte St GEorge about a Victorian heiress

Sam (Tiny Library) said...

You know, Anne is the only Bronte I've not read anything by. I didn't actually know what this book was about before reading your review, it does sound very good.

Melissa @ Confessions of an Avid Reader said...

Great review. I enjoy the works of the Bronte sisters and have this one sitting on my shelf waiting to be read. I'll have to move it up my to read pile.

Bookworm1858 said...

I've seen a very enjoyable miniseries of this book and acquired a copy based on that but I still haven't read it. I definitely want to give this a read as I am sure I will enjoy it more than WH. Ugh, I hate that book and it's creepy depiction of "love."