Review of Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Part of a series of book reviews I wrote for WV independent bookstore Taylor Books.
Taylor Books Review: Anne Brontë: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
By: V.C. McCabe
“If I am young in years, I am old in sorrow.”
“The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” is a beautifully written, poignant, dramatic, and romantic novel by the tragically overlooked other Brontë sister, Anne. The books begins from and eventually returns to the point of view of gentle Gilbert Markham as he endures what he thinks is an unrequited love of the mysterious and independent Helen Graham. But as the story progresses, a far more interesting tale emerges from the pages of Helen’s own journal.
In this novel within a novel, we learn of Helen’s painful past as the devoted, devout, and often tortured wife of the handsome, alcoholic scoundrel she unwisely chose to marry. A subtle but honest portrayal of the emotional havoc wreaked on a family by alcoholism and a denouncement of gender inequality within marriage (particularly in regard to property and custody rights), Anne’s unveiling of Victorian society was considered shocking and graphic when the book was originally published in the nineteenth century. It also seems that Anne’s ironic writing style and her depiction of Helen’s lush of a husband are an answer to her sisters’ romanticized depiction of violent, brooding men. The story shifts again as – after a suspenseful, thwarted first attempt at escape – Helen finally flees from her vicious husband to reside in secret at Wildfell Hall.
We’re ultimately brought back to Gilbert as his love of Helen is finally requited, only to be ripped away from him when she returns to her ailing husband’s deathbed. The overtly romantic finale seems to contradict the otherwise realistic tone of the novel, but does prevent the reader from being utterly depressed by the story’s completion and will most likely appeal to softer hearts than mine.