“The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was conceived in the same atmosphere as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.”
There is a new tenant at the Wildfell Hall, Helen Huntingdon. The neighbors are curious to get to know her. She is a single woman living with a five year old son Arthur Huntingdon and her maid Rachel.
Gilbert Markham is a farmer and one of the neighbors of Wildfell Hall. Helen is hesitant to meet and greet the society and try to remain private. She had been constantly pulled into society by her persistent neighbors. Helen would not tell about her past to her new friends, people start to gossip about how Arthur resembles the landlord of Wildfell Hall, Fredrick, not knowing Fredrick is Arthur’s uncle.
Gilbert although has a rough start with Helen over a period of time he becomes friends with Helen and then goes on to fall in love with Helen. Helen cares enough for Gilbert that she gives him, her diary so he knows about her past.
Helen’s husband Arthur Huntingdon is abusive, alcoholic and atrocious. Once Helen realizes his behavior is affecting their son, Jr. Huntingdon she schemes a plan along with her maid Rachel to runaway from their home at Grassdale. Helen’s Brother Fredrick helps her to runaway and prepares their home at Wildfell Hall for her refuge.
Once Helen finds out that Sr. Huntingdon has fallen of from his horse and hurt himself gravely she goes back to Grassdale to take care of him. Unwilling to stop drinking alcohol Sr.Huntingdon deteriorates in health and eventually dies.
Gilbert is constantly in touch with Fredrick when Helen is away.
Helen’s wealthy uncle, Mr Maxwell in whose house she grew up dies at the end leaving Staningley to Helen.
Gilbert hears from their pastor’s daughter Eliza Millward, a gossipmonger that Helen is getting married to Mr Hargrave, her Grassdale neighbor that Helen loathes. Gilbert goes on a overnight journey to Grassdale to find that it was Fredrick’s wedding to Ms Hargrave and not as he was told by Eliza. He find there that Helen is still in Staningley and goes on another day journey to Staningley. There he meets Helen, her son and her aunt. He asks Helen’s hand in marriage. The couple unites at the end.
This book is my first introduction to Anne Bronte. She is Emily and Charlotte Bronte’s younger sister.
Anne was a great writer who was not recognized as much as her sisters during her time.
Anne introduces two different kids of alcoholics in this novel, one Helen’s husband Authur Huntingdon, with no redeeming quality at all, he drinks, he is infidel, he connives his friend, Lord Lowborough who wants to get out drinking and gambling of persistently making him drink. He is abusive to his wife; he treats her like a door mat. He takes a paramour, his friend’s (Lord Lowborough) wife Annabella right under the same roof of his wife and his friend while they are visiting their Grassdal manor.
The second alcoholic is Lord Lowborough, the friend of Huntingdon’s and Anabella’s husband, is apathetic but devoted melancholic and gloomy, he is in complete contrast to Huntingdon. He used to gamble and drink too much alcohol, but, after his financial ruin gradually reforms himself. Lowborough truly loves Annabella, and her infidelity brings him such suffering that later he divorces Annabella. After some time marries a plain middle-aged woman, who makes a good wife to him and a stepmother to his children with Annabella.
This story was written in 1840s; during that time in England the men in the family are the decision making authority of the women and their children . The women did not have a choice to leave their husbands even if the men were abusive. Helen speaking her mind out to her husband without worrying about the consequences, having an independent mind and initially hoping that she could steer her husband to a righteous path was very feminist for the time. Later scheming to run away from an abusive husband and making a living by putting her painting skills to work along with a young son, was revolutionary for the time.
The female lead in the novel does not fit the women of the time. That is what makes this novel stand out.
The things I couldn’t understand in the novel are, Brother Fredrick does not attend Helen’s wedding with Arthur Huntingdon and was never in touch with Helen in the first half of her life but then he comes out of the blue in the second half to help her escape, I found that very strange. Helen not being there for her brother’s wedding at Grassdale also equally odd. Were the families not important enough to be present for the weddings? Were the families that never existed at all in the beginning can they get so involved later during a life changing events.
My favorite part of the book is the layered writing, author clearly lays the case of how Helen fell in love with Huntingdon, how she falls out of love. How alcoholics can totally ruin their life, how an alcoholic can redeem himself, how an alcoholic can also not be an infidel. I am amazed at the amount of character study Anne had done to come up with all these different definite set of characters.
I found Gilbert Markham was not quiet a match to Helen Huntingdon. There was no character building for Mr Markham, he was flirtatious with Eliza Millward and there is not good reason why he suddenly takes a liking for Helen other than for her good looks, I thought he was just another normal guy, only that he was not an alcoholic. He did not do anything outstanding to deserve Helen. Only redeeming quality was he was loving and caring of Jr Huntingon, maybe that was a quality enough for Helen to fall in love with him.
I would recommend this book to any of you who have read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and Wuthering heights by Emily Bronte and then you must read this gem of a novel by Anne Bronte. Then visit Bronte Parsonage Museum at Haworth, United Kingdom.
Kam V J
Added 22nd June 2016