Thursday, 14 January 2010

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Oxford World's Classics)

What is the book about:

The book is in three parts. The first and third are from the POV of Gilbert Markham, a yeoman farmer writing a letter to his friend. He, and the town, notice a quiet widow named Helen and her son, Arthur move into Wildfell Hall. Everyone is intrigued by her and curious about her past. Gossip soon spreads that she is having an affair with her landlord, Mr. Lawence. This makes Gilbert jealous because he is in love with her.

 The second part is from the POV of Helen, and the life she led before moving to Wildfell Hall. A married life filled with turmoil and adultery.

It's considered to be one of the world's first feminist novels and it was so controversial at the time of publication it was banned in many areas of Europe.

It then lays bare all of the shameful undercurrents of marriage in the Victorian age, particularly for a woman who was unwise or just unlucky enough to seriously misjudge the man she married. If you think it's a tough mistake to make now, only imagine its consequences in an age where divorce was rarely an option and you were almost always stuck with what you got, no matter how repugnant, immoral or tyrannical. Everything is here: adultery, alcoholism, abuse, alienation and humiliation.

Helen's character, a religiously devout woman but also a fighter who refused to accept the worst of the abuses or allow her son to be corrupted, was lambasted as an evil influence on women and girls.
But by such means,' said I, 'you will never render him virtuous. - What is it that constitutes virtue, Mrs. Graham?  Is it the circumstance of being able and willing to resist temptation; or that of having no temptations to resist? - Is he a strong man that overcomes great obstacles and performs surprising achievements, though by dint of great muscular exertion, and at the risk of some subsequent fatigue, or he that sits in his chair all day, with nothing to do more laborious than stirring the fire, and carrying his food to his mouth?  If you would have your son to walk honourably through the world, you must not attempt to clear the stones from his path, but teach him to walk firmly over them - not insist upon leading him by the hand, but let him learn to go alone.

My greatest source of uneasiness, in this time of trial, was my son, whom his father and his father's friends delighted to encourage in all the embryo vices a little child can show, and to instruct in all the evil habits he could acquire - in a word, to 'make a man of him' was one of their staple amusements; and I need say no more to justify my alarm on his account, and my determination to deliver him at any hazard from the hands of such instructors.  I first attempted to keep him always with me, or in the nursery, and gave Rachel particular injunctions never to let him come down to dessert as long as these 'gentlemen' stayed; but it was no use:  these orders were immediately countermanded and overruled by his father; he was not going to have the little fellow moped to death between an old nurse and a cursed fool of a mother. So the little fellow came down every evening in spite of his cross mamma, and learned to tipple wine like papa, to swear like Mr. Hattersley, and to have his own way like a man, and sent mamma to the devil when she tried to prevent him.  To see such things done with the roguish naivete of that pretty little child, and hear such things spoken by that small infantile voice, was as peculiarly piquant and irresistibly droll to them as it was inexpressibly distressing and painful to me; and when he had set the table in a roar he would look round delightedly upon them all, and add his shrill laugh to theirs.
First thoughts: What hit me were long paragraphs and a need for editing. (Grrrr... what has editing done to my enjoyment of reading?) However, when I finally got into the book I fell in love. After the long flowerly descriptions, the characters came alive through dialog.

Things that bothered me: Anne used this book to preach some of her ideas. It becomes clear that she's a daughter of a clergyman from all the scripture she quoted.
Favorite Description: Firstly, he is at least forty years old - considerably more, I should think - and I am but eighteen; secondly, he is narrow-minded and bigoted in the extreme; thirdly, his tastes and feelings are wholly dissimilar to mine; fourthly, his looks, voice, and manner are particularly displeasing to me; and, finally, I have an aversion to his whole person that I never can surmount.

Passages I loved:
She did not manifest her chagrin by keen reproaches, bitter sarcasms, or pouting sullen silence - any or all of these I could easily have endured, or lightly laughed away; but she showed it by a kind of gentle melancholy, a mild, reproachful sadness that cut me to the heart. (Gilbert's noticing his actions caused another woman's sadness)
Arthur is not what is commonly called a bad man:  he has many good qualities; but he is a man without self-restraint or lofty aspirations, a lover of pleasure, given up to animal enjoyments: he is not a bad husband, but his notions of matrimonial duties and comforts are not my notions.  Judging from appearances, his idea of a wife is a thing to love one devotedly, and to stay at home to wait upon her husband, and amuse him and minister to his comfort in every possible way, while he chooses to stay with her; and, when he is absent, to attend to his interests, domestic or otherwise, and patiently wait his return, no matter how he may be occupied in the meantime. (Helen's take on her lot in life.)
Quote I loved: (Helen's view of woman's conversation) 'Is it that they think it a duty to be continually talking,' pursued she:  'and so never pause to think, but fill up with aimless trifles and vain repetitions when subjects of real interest fail to present themselves, or do they really take a pleasure in such discourse?'

Word I loved: buffooneries

I decide to read this novel through because I had no access to it any other way.

Would I have rather just watched the movie? Yes. You can watch the movie on youtube.


Laura's Reviews said...

Great review!! I love this book and the Masterpiece Theatre movie. I love how it was a feminist novel before it's time!

T. Powell Coltrin said...

I really enjoyed your review and your choice of best parts of the book and and the coffee cup rating. Love it.

Anonymous said...

Ah, a feminist novel!! Great review. I look forward to reading this for sure. (Thanks for the movie link!! I'll probably read it first. ;)

~ Corra

from the desk of a writer

Ann Elle Altman said...

Laura, I love the fact that it's feminist. She ran away from an abusing husband and managed to do well. Good on her.

Journalling woman, glad you liked my review. I wanted to add more good parts but my post was getting too long.

Corra, thanks for stopping by. You will like the book I'm sure. It takes a few pages to get into and you have to waddle through long paragraphs but the story is good.


L. Shepherd said...

I have the movie saved on the Roku and keep trying to remember to watch it. Glad to hear that the movie is the right choice with this one.

Ann Elle Altman said...

Yeah, it takes the filler from the book and cuts it out. I mean, there is a lot missing because they did a two hour movie out of a novel but it's entertaining nonetheless.


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