The story follows Helen Graham, a mysterious woman who arrives in a small Yorkshire town with her young son and moves into the crumbling mansion Wildfell Hall. Helen raises eyebrows in the community both for her solitary, independent ways and her questionable past. It doesn’t take long before the local men, particularly the handsome farmer Gilbert Markham, start vying for Helen’s attention and trying to uncover her secrets.
|Title||The Tenant of Wildfell|
|Publication Date||June 7, 2016|
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When Gilbert falls for Helen, he must compete with another suitor, Mr. Lawrence, a sophisticated man from London who clearly has a history with Helen. Gilbert becomes obsessed with figuring out who Helen really is and why she seems so melancholy and distant.
The truth about Helen’s past soon starts to unravel through her diary, which Gilbert manages to get his hands on. We learn that Helen was in an abusive marriage to Arthur Huntingdon, a cruel alcoholic who wasted away her youth, money and happiness. After finally gathering the courage to leave him while pregnant, she flees to Wildfell Hall under an assumed name to start a new, independent life.
My Thoughts: A Bold Story of Abuse and Female Empowerment
I found The Tenant of Wildfell Hall to be a bold, thought-provoking novel, especially considering it was published in 1848. Bronte tackles issues like alcoholism, domestic abuse, and women’s independence in a raw, unflinching manner. For the time, this must have been shocking to readers!
The portrait Bronte paints of Helen’s marriage to Huntingdon is devastating. The psychological and emotional abuse Helen endures at the hands of her narcissistic, manipulative husband made me shudder. When Huntingdon invites his friends over to get drunk and leer at his wife, mocking her values and morals, I felt nauseous. Bronte doesn’t shy away from showing the ugliness and cruelty of this toxic, dangerous relationship.
At the same time, I admired Bronte’s strong, resilient protagonist. Against all odds, Helen summons the inner resolve to escape her misery for the sake of her son. Her determination, courage and self-sufficiency were so inspiring, especially in the face of society’s expectations for women at the time. Helen single-handedly supporting herself through painting was pretty badass too.
The melodramatic love triangle between Helen, Gilbert and Lawrence felt a little tedious at times. But ultimately, I was rooting for the sincere, patient Gilbert who saw Helen’s true worth. His devotion provided a nice contrast to themanipulative Huntingdon.
Final Verdict: A Stirring Novel That Holds Up Today
While a bit lengthy and slow-moving in parts, overall I found The Tenant of Wildfell Hall to be a bold, thought-provoking novel that still feels relevant today. Bronte was far ahead of her time in her nuanced exploration of domestic abuse and women’s independence.
Helen Graham has joined my list of favorite “strong female characters” in classic literature. Her courage through adversity and determination to build a life on her own terms was so admirable and inspiring. I closed the book feeling grateful that someone as perceptive and progressive as Anne Bronte was giving voice to these issues back in the 1840s.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a must-read for fans of classic Victorian literature, the Brontes, and anyone interested in feminist fiction. Just prepare yourself for the occasionally overwrought romantic dramatics of the time period. But ultimately, this is a stirring story of a woman reclaiming her freedom that will stay with you long after the final page. Anne Bronte certainly deserves just as much recognition as her famous sisters.