[The Tenant of Wildfell Hall]: A Review

Hi y’all!

I’m focusing my efforts on writing and publishing my last reviews for The Classics Club. I have officially finished all the works on my list! So now it’s time to publish reviews of the last several works before my September 1st deadline.

I am really excited to share my review of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte. I read this book on my Kindle app while nursing, often in the middle of the night. But the story was so engaging that I sometimes read a bit more after finishing nursing to see what happened. I unexpectedly really enjoyed this novel without much knowledge of the plot or themes beforehand.

Initial Thoughts:

  • This novel was surprisingly easy to get into the story and quicker read for me. shorter chapters help me feel like I’m making progress quickly.
  • This was my first Anne Bronte novel and I think she may be my favorite Bronte authoress. I really enjoyed her writing style, the exciting plot, and the ways the characters change in the story.

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According to Goodreads, “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.”

The plot is fascinating and seems quite ahead of it’s time. I have not read a novel from this time period that discusses issues of gender equality, abusive marriages, or the rights of women. That’s not to say such novels don’t exist. It simply means I haven’t read them. I was impressed by the issues that Bronte addresses in this novel. Helen escapes a bad marriage and holds her past secrets tightly when she moves to Wildfell Hall. I was impressed by her strength and conviction. But also felt bad for her trials and the truly horrible ways her husband treats her. I enjoyed how Gilbert pieced her story together and the intense emotional journey he goes on. Over and over, I was pulled into the story and felt myself fully invested in the lives of these characters. I really enjoyed the themes of right vs wrong, relationships between spouses, how to raise children, personal strength and freedom vs loyalty to spouse, how to build a strong marriage, and more. Anne Bronte does not back down from difficult issues and manages to incorporate so much in this novel.

I enjoyed the epistolary format of the chapters and the change to Helen’s journal about half way through. It was a unique way to tell a story and I think it made it more engaging. The letters are from Gilbert’s point of view to his friend (we don’t learn exactly who that friend is until the end of the novel). Epistolary novels are a favorite of mine. I especially love The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society so this form predisposed me to enjoy the novel as a whole. I liked the change of narrator that we get with the shift to Helen’s journal and felt it added depth to her character as we come to understand her history. The journal chapters were a bit slower for me and I felt they could have been cut down a bit as they got a bit long and repetitive for me. Yes, her husband is a horrible person and yes he treats her wrong–without respect, love, or kindness. Yes, he has some big problems in his conduct from alcoholism to adultery. But it just got on and on. The stories felt a bit repetitive and Helen continually tried to see the good in him but eventually couldn’t. That just could have been shortened.

The characters are complex and well developed with the most compelling ones changing in some way through the novel. I think my favorite character is Gilbert because I enjoy how he changes his opinion of Helen from the start of their acquaintance to the end. He is determined to see the good in her despite rumors and loves her despite all she has endured. His happy ending is my favorite piece of the plot. I also enjoyed little Arthur and found his backstory fascinating (especially as to why his mother treats him / spoils him a bit and how he manages to be a good boy despite all his father does to the contrary). Helen is a fascinating character who continually surprised me during the novel. I was glad to get inside her head for a while in the middle of the story to understand why she is so intense and pious, she impressed me a lot. The supporting characters were also intriguing to learn about. Frederick Lawrence who owns Wildfell Hall and guards secrets of his own. Arthur Hungtingdon–Helen’s husband who is worldly and disrespectful yet is central to the plot of the novel. And even Jack Halford to whom Gilbert addresses his letters that tell this story. There are many others worth mentioning which shows the depth and breadth of Bronte’s characterization skill.

The ending is surprising and satisfying. A few SPOILERS here. I wasn’t sure what would happen as this is a Bronte novel so I knew there would be dark elements and perhaps not even a happy ending. This novel fits well into the Bronte cannon while also giving readers satisfying conclusions to the plots of the story. I was shocked when Helen returns to Grassdale and by what happens there. And I was also surprised when Gilbert finally goes after her and how they manage to find each other again. Perhaps a bit far fetched but also lovely after a long, trial filled novel.

Overall, a fascinating classic I’m glad to have read. I found the plot fascinating, the character development impressive, and finished the novel a satisfied Anne Bronte fan. In fact, I want to read Agnes Gray sooner as I really enjoyed Anne Bronte’s writing here. A recent favorite classic!

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What is your favorite novel by a Bronte sister?
Who is your favorite Bronte author–Charlotte, Emily, or Anne?

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This is my 48th classic finished on my list for The Classics Club!
Check out my full list here. For more info on the club, click here.

17 thoughts on “[The Tenant of Wildfell Hall]: A Review

  1. Pingback: 10 Interesting Posts You May Have Missed in August 2020 – Pages Unbound | Book Reviews & Discussions

  2. Hurray! Another fan of Anne! She is my favorite among the Brontë sisters. I like that she doesn’t make bad men seem romantic, but rather points out how their behavior hurts women. I also find her religious views fascinating. She holds out the hope of redemption even for Helen’s terrible husband, and seems to find comfort in the idea that everyone can be saved. I think that’s a pretty bold statement, especially for her time. I don’t think it would have aligned well with the prevailing interpretations of Christianity. But Anne is consistently a bold thinker and always true to herself. I can’t help but wish she’d lived to write more novels.

    Liked by 1 person

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