Synopsis: This is the story of a woman’s struggle for independence. Helen “Graham” has returned to Wildfell Hall in flight from a disastrous marriage. Exiled to the desolate moorland mansion, she adopts an assumed name and earns her living as a painter.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was gifted to me by my best friend, Laura, with the inscription that we would probably be best friends with Anne out of all the Bronte sisters. And I think that the reason for this is pretty clear – she’s definitely the most down to earth and reasonable of the sisters. Charlotte was a little idealistic in her writing (in fact, Anne’s novel Agnes Grey is considered a bit of a response to Jane Eyre, as it offers a more realistic image of what governesses endured from their employers) and Emily’s works were more sullen dark. But Anne’s writing was based largely on experience, as Agnes Grey was a reflection of her first governess position, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is said to reflect the alcoholism and ‘debauchery’ that she witnessed in her brother, Branwell. Apparently the book’s depiction of drinking and gambling and the like was very shocking to the ’19th century sensibilities’ at the time.
Tenant is the first classic and Bronte book that I’ve read in a while, but from what I remember from Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, I really believe that this book was my favourite. First off, my edition of the book starts with an introduction from Anne herself (writing under the pseudonym Acton Bell) which argues against her critics. A lot of people (Charlotte included!!) thought that her depictions of alcoholism and Huntingdon’s character was too graphic, to which Anne was like “Listen, if you don’t depict the reality of alcoholism and abusive marriages properly, then they will never be properly addressed or fixed”. She also addressed the rumors going around about her gender at the time, and the quote is so badass that I have to include the entire thing:
I am satisfied that if a book is a good one, it is so whatever the sex of the author may be. All novels are or should be written for both men and women to read, and I am at a loss to conceive how a man should permit himself to write anything that would be really disgraceful to a woman, or why a woman should be censured for writing anything that would be proper and becoming for a man”Anne Bronte!!
Like… just straight up incredible. You GO Anne! (And just like that, she became one of my favourite historical figures, no contest).
And going on from the introduction to the main story, Anne also didn’t disappoint there. The development of the story and the characters is really beautiful to see. Gilbert, who is the narrator of the story for most of the book, starts out by being judgmental and shallow. But his growth as a person throughout the story is really nice to observe. Also you really get to see Helen go from a shut in to a brave, independent and forgiving woman, willing to do anything for her son and not afraid of society’s opinion.
The subject of the book itself, as I mentioned before, was pretty shocking to a lot of people. A woman, running away from her alcoholic and abusive husband, making a living for herself, was illegal (!) at the time. Helen’s rejection of the local priest’s help was scandalous, her rejection of multiple men was scandalous, and her living on her own was basically unheard of. And honestly, a lot of the story still rings true today. For example, the harassment that Helen faces from one of the men in the book really hit home. Isn’t it sad that so many of these issues are still so prevalent today?
Aside from the main characters of the book, it’s really nice to watch other more minor characters develop and get their own happy endings. Lowborough, Hattersly, Lawrence, Esther and Mary all have their stories tied up nicely in the end, and in a way that both illustrates Anne’s belief in redemption and that it’s never too late to fix a bad situation, and that holding out with your beliefs will ultimately lead to you happiness.
Overall, I think this book is a great classic for anyone to read. It’s not that slowly paced, and I was able to get into it pretty quickly. It’s a beautiful example of early feminist literature, and Anne deserves so much more credit than she gets. If it wasn’t obvious, a 5/5 for me! ^_^
If you would like to read more about her, check out her Wikipedia page here!
That’s all for now ducks, I’ll see you again soon with another review!