In writing The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte was way ahead of her time. It is a book about domestic violence and the struggle of a woman to escape abuse, to become independent, to even possibly support herself and her young son financially. It was written 175 years ago, in a time and culture in which women had no legal rights. And it was an honest attempt by Anne Bronte, sister to Charlotte and Emily, to illuminate the struggle that so many women faced because they were essentially the property of the men they married.
From the publisher:
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.
I found this story to be riveting at times and slow in spots. Helen’s husband was completely despicable and his manipulations and verbal abuse of Helen were bad enough, but it was his abuse toward his young son (encouraging the small boy to drink wine, use bad language, and verbally abuse his mother) that finally motivated Helen to take drastic steps to leave him and take her son to safety. There were no means available for women to do that in those days, so it entirely depended on the kindness of others, in this case, her brother.
The character of Helen Graham was very believable, but I didn’t have the same feeling about the character of Gilbert Markham, who was the co-narrator of the story. He seemed shallow and undeveloped as a real character, and especially in the ending of the story. Anne gave her full effort to developing the character of Helen, and I liked what she did with her. There is a very lengthy conversation between Helen and Gilbert about raising a son versus raising a daughter, and, although it’s too long to include here, it is the essence of this story. Click here to read the quote on Goodreads.
This was the first book by Anne Bronte that I’ve read, although I’ve read books by both her sisters. I was very impressed with her, and with the book, although it wasn’t an easy read.
This was the book chosen for my Classics Club spin #32.