Monday, January 21, 2013

Book Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

My first read of 2013 was a re-read: Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I read this years ago in a women's lit class during graduate school, and, in fact, wrote what I remember as being a darned good paper on it. Of course that was 25 computers ago and the paper is long since lost.

I'm a big fan of the Brontë sisters, and unfortunately I think Anne gets terribly neglected. Everyone reads (or says they've read) Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, but outside of English types and diehard classic lit lovers, I don't think many people know of Anne's amazing novel.

Anne exposes the ugly side of Victorian chauvinism in this novel, exposing the physical and emotional abuse that women endured by their hedonistic, spoiled husbands. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall created quite a ruckus when it was published in 1848 for its boldness and honesty.

The story centers on Helen, a young woman who has married the handsome Arthur, much against the wishes of her guardians. Even before they are married she senses that something is not right, but she goes through with it anyway. Within a month Arthur shows his true colors: he is selfish, excessive, shallow, and he is an alcoholic. (Anne's brother, Branwell, was an alcoholic.) He leaves his young wife for months at a time to party with his friends, returning diminished, ill, and crotchety.

Helen is resigned to a life of a terrible marriage until Arthur starts turning their little boy into "one of the guys," giving him wine and teaching him to curse and demean his mother.

And I'll stop here before giving anything else away. This is a fantastic novel, just as relevant today as it was 150 years ago. I can't help but be amazed at the strength of Anne's writing and her determination and courage in writing such a strong criticism of the double-standards that existed in Victorian society—and still exist today.


Paula said...

This is going on my reading list. I really did read Jane Eyre (and loved it), but could not get into Wuthering Heights.

Marbel said...

I've never read any Anne Bronte. I have read Jane Eyre (twice!) and Wuthering Heights. Loved the first, never understood the appeal of the second.

Are you familiar with the children's book Return of the Twelves? Your boy might be a little old for it now, but maybe not. Fun novel with a Bronte connection.

Marbel said...

I forgot to say.. I will add this book to my reading list!

Heidi’sbooks said...

Well, you are right about one thing--I've never even heard of this book. This sounds like a must-read classic. Thank you for introducing it. I love Jane Eyre and have read it 3 times.