Startlingly, ahead of the time, this is a story dealing with the themes of drunkenness and debauchery and the strong will of a Victorian woman, determined to change her fate.
Anne Brontë’s writing deviates from both her sisters, in having an air of realism in it’s narrative The style is wonderfully lucid and the storytelling very proficient.
The Plot of the Tenant of Wildfell Hall
The ‘Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ tells of the story of a young mother, Helen Graham and her small son, who quite mysteriously come to live one day at the quite dilapidated Wildfell Hall. The neighborhood is thrown into quite a tumult and everyone is quite curious to know more about Helen Graham’s personal history and how she came to be alone.
Helen’s reclusive air and dislike for company, added to the resemblance of her son Arthur to the local Mr Lawrence, further fuels nasty rumors. The gossip reaches the ears of landowner and farmer Gilbert Markham.
Gilbert forms a close friendship with Helen Graham. The friendship threatens to assume a more romantic turn and Helen tries to discourage Gilbert’s amorous efforts. However, one day she is compelled to reveal the mystery of her past by letting him read her lengthy diary entries.
Upon reading the diary, Gilbert comes to know of her tragic married history. Married to an alcoholic and abusive husband named Arthur Huntingdon, Helen is forced to flee from the persecution of her husband in order to protect her son.
It is quite a modern story and I imagine, must have shocked Victorian audiences when it was published in 1848. To have a woman, openly resisting her husband’s torture, trying to live separately and capable of acquiring an independent means of income, was certainly ground-breaking for the time.
I enjoyed the story overall but had a minor quibble with the weak narrative device- that of a letter written by Markham to a friend describing all events and including the lengthy diary.
One can’t help wondering, with the literary genius that Anne Brontë and her sisters had, what kind of works they would have produced in later life, if they had been permitted to live longer.
- Title: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
- Author: Anne Brontë
- Date published: 1848
- Setting: Yorkshire, England, 1827.
- Characters: Helen Graham, Gilbert Markham, Arthur Huntingdon.