Reviews of Tenant of Wildfell Hall, the (1848)
Review by marflord (2010-12-19)
The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.
Summary: A (supposed) widow named Helen moves into the previously uninhabited Wildfell Hall with her five-year-old son, and the neighborhood is intrigued. They begin to spread gossip about her after she refrains from discussing her past with them. Gilbert Markham falls in love with her and becomes increasingly frustrated that she won't tell him more about herself or express similar feelings for him. Eventually, she gives him her diary to read so he will understand what she has been through. It turns out that she has run away from her husband Arthur, after years of dealing with him and his awful friends, who drink and carouse, and his infidelity.
Review: In the various sources of Brontė information I've read, this novel is the least mentioned of all the sisters' novels. Charlotte didn't seem to like it very much and left it out of the republication of Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey. It seems that some are of the opinion that Anne was inspired to write this story after witnessing her brother Branwell's decline into alcohol and opium abuse. I've also read that the second family for whom she was a governess inspired the story, as she witnessed incorrigible acts while there. There may be some truth to Branwell being an influence, but only so far as drinking is depicted as an evil that brings out the worst in men. The other aspect of the story is the complete lack of fidelity of Arthur, which can't be inspired by the bachelor Branwell. Both Arthur and his mistress (who was supposed to be a friend of Helen's) were at fault, the latter saying horrid things to Helen while cheating on her own husband with Helen's husband.
I thought the depiction of women was rather interesting. Helen was a relatively strong character in that she left her husband, but it was only after putting up with atrocities that would make modern feminists cringe. She didn't even leave for her own sake - it was to save her son. She insisted on maintaining her marriage and serving her husband in every way possible, even when he hurled insults at her and cheated on her in their own house. She repulsed Gilbert's advances to the extent of telling him they could never be together in their earthly life, even if Arthur died, despite the fact that she had fallen in love with him. The thing that annoyed me the most was that she was put out with Gilbert for not hunting her down the second Arthur did die, after refusing to communicate with him and giving him no encouragement whatsoever. Of course, it ended happily anyway.
As for the other women, most were mean-spirited gossip-mongers, trying to land the best husband. The exception was Helen's dear friend Milicent, who ended up marrying one of Arthur's misbehaved cronies. That marriage worked out better than Helen and Arthur's after much suffering on Milicent's part, however. Milicent's younger sister was also a good person, but she wasn't focused on very much.
Worse than most of the women were the amoral and cruel men. Arthur and his buddies were simply grotesque. I'm not one to say alcohol is the root of all evil, but it certainly seemed to contribute in this novel. Most of the men Helen saw before she married Arthur were boring and/or completely self-centered. Milicent's brother Walter, while not the saint Milicent made him out to be, was not as awful as Arthur and the rest of the bunch, though he did choose to associate with them. His advances toward Helen while she was still married, however, were inappropriate since she indicated they greatly distressed her. He was clearly only thinking about what he wanted, with no regard for her feelings. Gilbert alone seems to be a decent man, though he made a few mistakes himself. One has to wonder what Anne saw while working for the Robinson family.
Overall I did like this book, and I would recommend reading it, though it's no Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights.