The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is Anne Bronte’s most well know work, but as Anne is often referred to as the least known of the Bronte Sisters, it is often overlooked, seemingly obscured by the fame and brilliance of Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and Emily’s Wuthering Heights. Despite this The Tenant of Wildfell Hall remains one of my favourites and I’ve just read it (again), so here’s what I thought.
Warning: if you haven’t read it, this is a spoiler alert!
Anne writes her story from the perspective of a ‘gentleman farmer’ who is telling the story to his brother-in-law. Hummm – It’s an interesting storytelling device, also used by Emily Wuthering Heights and as they were published together it makes me wonder if they did this on purpose and if so, then was it a bit of a competition amongst the sisters, to each create a story using this device?
Anyway, I digress….
The story is set in a small rural community and starts with the arrival of the widowed; Mrs Graham and her little boy, as the tenants of the isolated and dilapidated Wildfell Hall. I love the name of the house, it is so gothic and evocative. Anne’s depiction of the hall and it’s surroundings is everything you could wish for in a forbidding and unwelcoming environment and she’s drawn heavily on the bleak Yorkshire landscape of her home.
The unwelcoming environment mirrors Mrs Graham’s outward demeanour as she repels all attempts to welcome her into the local community. She works hard to maintain distance and her privacy, as she raises her son and paints pictures for a living. Despite all her attempts to maintain her seclusion, she & Mr Markham become friends. Anne clearly couldn’t resist her love of the sea; one most light-hearted parts of the story is a happy visit to the coast for Mrs Graham and her new friends.
As the story reaches crisis, Mr Markham & Mrs Graham become aware that they’re in love and Mrs Graham reveals her past and why their love is doomed. Anne uses Mrs Graham’s diary, which she gives to Mr Markham by way of explanation, to give us this earlier part of her story.
The end of the tale gives an ending favoured by all the Bronte sisters and rightly so! Anne gives us a well-paced and interesting story of deception, lost innocence and ultimately love. The cast of characters are all well drawn and realistic and their internal struggles and contradictions she depicts are timeless. The plot has some very neat little twists and turns and the story is one that we recognise just as much today as Anne did when she wrote it.
Girl meets boy, she falls for his ‘bad boy’ charms and believes she can change him, they marry. A few years and a child later, his continued ‘bad boy’ bad habits causes the relationship to turn toxic & she finds herself as a single mum, trying to raise her child and keep body and soul together.
The way Anne handles the relationship between Mrs Graham and her husband really reveals the strength of Mrs Graham’s character – she’s really strong! She recognises her errors, decides what is right for her and her child and then despite many challenges, she enacts her plans.
Mr Markham’s character is also well written, in counter-point to that of Mrs Grahams husband, they are both flawed, but, Mr Markham choses to change and improve himself and his behaviours, whereas Mrs Graham’s husband does not. The moral of the story – we cannot change others, but we can change ourselves!
Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a fantastic read, not too long or wordy, but with plenty of substance and there is a wealth of subtlety in the way she draws her relationships, which is as strong as that displayed by her sisters in their more famous novels!
If you enoyed The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, you could also try Anne’s other novel Agnes Grey and there’s also a blog post on Anne herself, she was an amazing woman!
Ane’s other stories are equally great reads and not to be missed, I really recommend them!
Thanks & Enjoy!
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