New Read: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Back in March, I took part in The Classics Club’s 17th Spin event, which chose The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë for me. I was thrilled with my result as I love Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë and I enjoyed Jane Eyre and Shirley by Charlotte Brontë, so I was looking forward to finally reading something by the third Brontë sister.

Through the eyes of local farmer, Gilbert Markham we see the excitement, gossip and rumour that is generated in his small, rural community when a mysterious tenant unexpectantly moves into the dilapidated Elizabethan mansion, Wildfell Hall. The tenant is revealed to be the young widow ‘Mrs Graham’, with her small son, Arthur and faithful servant, Rachel. However their secluded life soon sees them the victims of slander, but refusing to believe anything scandalous about the lovely widow, Gilbert befriends her and finally she reveals the painful past that forced her to seek refuge in this isolated place.

Most of the novel is framed as a series of letters written by Gilbert to his friend and brother-in-law about the arrival of ‘Mrs Graham’; their growing friendship and the subsequent scandal. While in the middle, we switch to Helen’s (Mrs Graham) diary, which she entrusts to Gilbert to reveal the heart-breaking marital strife she suffered and her desperate attempts to save her son – topics that must have reverberated through Victorian society when this was published. I thought this style was really effective, because it meant I was able to intimately get to know the main protagonists, Gilbert and Helen.

And as I came to slowly know Gilbert and Helen better, I became very fond of them both. Gilbert is a practical, hardworking and honest young man – who, at first, is prone to idle flirtation and terrible tantrums, however as the story progresses he does grow and mature. While Helen, at first, comes across as aloof and cold, but it is revealed later that she is a good-hearted, pious and sophisticated woman – whose bad treatment has taught her to hide her true feelings and to hold herself back from people. I was rooting for both of them!

Now you may be wondering – considering I started this back in March – why it took me so long to read?! Well it certainly wasn’t down to the quality of the writing or story. In fact, I found Anne’s writing talent to be equal to her extremely talented sisters. Instead it took me so long because I simply found this was a story that I wanted to take my time with – Savouring the beautiful descriptions, each subtle new nuance; and each new character and plot revelation; especially in the first half of the novel, where we are as in-the-dark as poor Gilbert. Once the major revelations have been revealed, I found myself ripping through the last half to discover how it would end!

Overall, I thought The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë was a beautifully written classic, with engaging characters, which cleverly explores the societal troubles, strifes and wrongs of the time. Sadly this is one of only two novels Anne wrote, so only Agnes Grey left to look forward to. Great read.

Have you read this? Or Anne’s other novel Agnes Grey?

This is book 2/50 for my Classics Club II reading challenge.

Advertisements

25 thoughts on “New Read: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

  1. I think this is my favourite of all the Bronte books I’ve read, which includes Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre (though JE is a close run thing). So glad you enjoyed it too 🙂

  2. I’m so glad you enjoyed this! I loved it too and I also think Anne’s writing is as good as her sisters’, although her style is a bit different. Agnes Grey is a shorter, simpler book, but I did like that one as well.

  3. Great review! you really made me want to re-read it again. I’m with you on the epistolary/journal nature of the book making it that much better and it showed of Anne’s ability to write from different perspectives.

  4. So glad you enjoyed The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Jessica! Anne Bronte is way too underrated. I agree that this is a novel that deserves to be savored, especially considering she only wrote two books. Hope you’ll enjoy Agnes Grey too!

  5. This one often gets overlooked when people think of the Brontes which is rather unfair on poor Anne. The Tenant is a lot quieter in tone than Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights but is just as powerful a piece of writing

  6. Great review – I think I’ve read all the Bronte books and yet I’ve forgotten this one completely – so will have to do myself the favour of picking it up again.
    Lynn 😀

  7. I haven’t read this or Agnes Grey, I think because they always seem so overshadowed by Jane Eyre that I’ve had the impression they’re not really up to the same standard. But you make it sound very enticing – I shall have to overcome my prejudice and try to fit poor Anne into my schedule somehow…

  8. This is one that has been sitting on my shelf for decades along with several others from that timeframe. I’m not sure why I seem to shy away from these 19th century writers. (I’ve never read any Jane Austen!!) I read Middlemarch by George Eliot a few years ago and was glad I finally got around to it. Maybe I should tackle this one…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.