In The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte created a strong, modern heroine who challenged the prevailing morals and politics of the Victorian era.
When Helen Graham shut her bedroom door on her abusive, drunken husband, it was a door-slam heard around the world. Escaping to Wildfell Hall after a loveless marriage, Helen, our mysterious tenant, lives in quiet seclusion, while her reclusive nature quickly becomes the subject of local gossip.
Gilbert Markham, a young farmer, becomes intrigued with Ms. Graham and soon discovers the shocking secrets of her dark past.
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Young Helen Lawrence had just come out into society, and unfortunately two of her beaus, older men who, although settled, of good character and wealthy, didn't meet her romantic standards. I can't say that I blame the talented, attractive young woman. I was not particularly turned-on by either of the men, myself. Middle-aged, stodgy and tiresome, they were not the answer to an eighteen year-old's dreams - even a practical eighteen year-old. A third suitor, Arthur Huntington, handsome, charismatic, and known by some to be "destitute of principle and prone to vice," was obviously smitten by Helen, and she was drawn to him also. Her aunt emphasized that the young woman should, above all, look for character in a potential mate. She advised her niece to seek a man of principle, good sense, respectability and moderate wealth. She warned Helen away from Huntington, calling him a reprobate. Helen agreed that she should marry such a one whose character her aunt would approve of, but also...
Although Anne Bronte seems to be the least-known of the Bronte trio and only published two novels, this book has a more fascinating history to me than its more famous 'cousins', Wuthering Heights (Emily) and Jane Eyre (Charlotte). Not only was Wildfell the one to blow the lid on the male "Bell" pseudonyms the sisters had been writing under, but it's considered to be one of the world's first feminist novels, before that term existed. It was so controversial at the time of publication it was banned in many areas of Europe.
Written as one long letter - and a diary within a letter, like Kostova's The Historian - from protagonist Gilbert Markham to his brother-in-law on how he met his wife, Helen, most of the actual story is presented in diary form by Helen herself. Initially presented to the reader as a mysterious widow who arrives in a small English village (where she first meets Gilbert), she becomes, very much against her will, a source first of endless curiosity, and...
Anne is the Bronte we never read in school and most of us don't read afterwards, which is a big loss for those who don't, because she's at least as talented as her two older sisters. "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" can hold its own against "Jane Eyre" or "Wuthering Heights" any day in the week, but it was panned in its own time, in large part because of its "unladylike" topic of alcoholism.
Anne Bronte knew alcoholism first hand through her brother Bramwell who drank himself to death, and her revulsion of the alcoholic personality is central to this book. The heroine of "Tenant", Helen Graham, is a headstrong and independent young woman, who marries Arthur Huntington against the advice of her family. She is one of those who loves not wisely but too well, because Arthur, a selfish and irresponsible womanizer, cares about nothing but satisfying his own wishes and desires.
Helen wants to help Arthur turn his life...
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