THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL
GENRES/ SUBJECTS: Classic, Mystery, Romance
Gilbert Markham is deeply intrigued by Helen Graham, a beautiful and secretive young woman who has moved into nearby Wildfell Hall with her young son. He is quick to offer Helen his friendship, but when her reclusive behaviour becomes the subject of local gossip and speculation, Gilbert begins to wonder whether his trust in her has been misplaced. It is only when she allows Gilbert to read her diary that the truth is revealed and the shocking details of the disastrous marriage she has left behind emerge. Told with great immediacy, combined with wit and irony, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a powerful depiction of a woman’s fight for domestic independence and creative freedom.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is really interesting because it gives you two different perspectives of the experiences of gender in relation to romance and marriage in Victorian society.
I like that the two POV characters Gilbert and Helen are so different. Gilbert is very younger (not necessarily in years), he is eager and slightly naive. Helen is a lot more world-weary in the present-day. She’s had more life experience, and she has had to build more emotional walls. It’s interesting though that, in Helen’s younger days she’s actually quite similar to Gilbert and it’s her experiences that have changed her.
I really liked Helen. I thought she was a complex and well-written character (if a tad overly pious). I liked that she was quite practical. She knew what the limitations of her place in society were, and knew what recourses were or weren’t available to her. Instead of making a production of things, she did what she could with what she had. I really liked that Brontë didn’t have her throw common-sense the wind and he immediately fall into some great affair with Gilbert. She was reserved and quite sensible about things, mindful of her responsibilities and reputation.
I think this book is even more interesting in comparison to the other Brontë sisters’ writing. Whereas Heathcliff and Rochester are broody, emotionally distance and abusive, and it’s kind of excused by the authors, Anne doesn’t pull any punches. She’s stinging and opinionated when it comes to descriptions of Helen’s suitors and their flaws. Once Helen’s marriage takes a turn for the worse, and we see the truth of her situation, Brontë uses Helen to make some snide and powerful remarks about marriage in general, the position young girls are put in by society and the ineffectiveness and inadequacies of the husbands in the story. Aside from taking an unusual view of marriage, I also found it quite interesting that Helen is a very different protagonist than many of the women in Victorian literature. Not necessarily that she’s older — though she is slightly — it’s more the fact that she is more experience and more cynicism. She’s not as naive or as idealistic as other popular heroines like Jane Eyre or, even earlier, Elizabeth Bennet.
Gilbert was a little bit harder for me to connect with: he’s a little ridiculous at the start. He’s a little bit of overgrown puppy and his affections shift pretty easily. However, in his second POV section — his parts sort of bookend Helen’s — he had really grown on me. He changes over the course of hearing her story and seems to learn from the points she’s making. I really like that he seemed to want to put her happiness above his own.
I really enjoyed The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I found it refreshing that the marriage was really the starting point of the story of other than the end. I loved that it was more about second chances and redemption than about first love.