Sunday, November 20, 2011

"The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" by Anne Bronte Review

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall fell into my lap shortly after I had read Wuthering Heights. By then, I was hungry for anything "Bronte", hoping that perhaps Charlotte's sisters might reach the heights she had when writing Jane Eyre. Wuthering Heights had only disappointed me and left me feeling barren. Jane Eyre had made such a profound mark on my way of reading, my thirst for literature, and my life in general that I felt it impossible to look at any other written piece the same way. So, throwing down Wuthering Heights in frustration, I took another trip to Barnes and Noble and tried the third Bronte sister.

Anne Bronte is often forgotten and pushed into the shadows of Charlotte and Emily. With Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights often vying for first place in the limelight of literature, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Anne's other piece, Agnes Grey are usually forced into the background. Being the youngest child myself, I felt a slight pang of sympathy for Anne when reading the introduction of the book. From that page on, I was somewhat convinced that The Tenant of Wildfell Hall would suit me and perhaps even fill the void I felt after having completed Jane Eyre. 

The first fifteen chapters of the novel are told through the first-person eyes of Gilbert Markham, a resident of the local village outside of which Wildfell Hall sits. Gilbert makes a comfortable living and leads a complacent existence, sharing a home with an unspectacular family and courting a charming and conventional village girl. When rumor intimates that Wildfell Hall has been let by a single lady, Ms. Helen Graham, Gilbert's family and several other locals pay their visits while Gilbert himself remains behind.

 Helen is an introverted and rather secretive single mother who leads a solitary life within the Elizabethan walls of Wildfell Hall. The details of who she is and where she came from are rooted in obscurity, and her insistence on concealing them eventually taints her with suspicion. Gilbert hears of his new neighbor only through the talk of others until he finally happens to see her at church. Put off by her glacial and seemingly condescending air, Gilbert makes up his mind not to like her. However, that (of course) does not last long. Gilbert abandons all affection for his former love interest and instead endeavors to pursue the mysterious and strange Ms. Graham, whose character is now under heavy scrutiny. After offering his heart to her, Gilbert is finally admitted to the secrets behind Helen's sudden appearance at Wildfell Hall and the circumstances that hinder him from attaining her. What he finds out might have the potential of ruining her. In a novel filled with feminist views and moral questions, it's hard for the reader not to fall under the spell of Anne Bronte's writing.

After finishing the novel, I was dazed, awed, and, above all, confounded. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is straightforwardly written and yet so heavily laden with emotion. Anne possessed a less romantic view of the world than her sisters (if that's even possible), but her literary skill equaled theirs in every aspect. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is heavy but a sincere joy to read. Though Charlotte's Jane Eyre is often touted as the epitome of the feminist novel, I actually believe that Anne did a much better job of portraying the true extent of suffering in the life of a nineteenth century female. In fact, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is much less a romance than it is a social commentary that plunges the reader into the world of dogmatic male chauvinism. Helen Graham is symbolic of the restrained wife in the 1800s, torn between her social duty and her moral conscience. In her case, neither can be reconciled.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a good follow up for those who wish to find the balance between Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, and might even be a source of interest to those previously interest in Jane Austen. However, it is also a great choice for those who have yet to become acquainted with the Brontes. The language combines the artistry of poetic prose with the poignant sting of realism and contains just enough conflict to keep the Wuthering Heights fan engaged without throwing the Jane Austen reader into depression. Anne Bronte's balance might have cost her the popularity given to her melodramatic sister's, but her work is much too strong to be completely ignored. 


  1. Tenant of Wildfell Hall is next on my reading list! I read Agnes Grey, and LOVED it. I loved how simple the story was, and how lovable, and yet imperfect, the characters were. I can't wait to get through Tenant of Widfell Hall too!

  2. I've yet to read Agnes Grey, but I keep telling myself that it'd be only natural to read it after seeing how much I loved Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I really need to fast forward it to the top of my list because it's been on there forever.

  3. Agnes Grey is really short too...I read about half of it during a few sleepless hours. So it shouldn't take you long at all to get through it.

  4. You're adding so delightfully to my reading list! Just added both of Anne Bronte's books to it :-)