Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

I was hesitant to read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte. In my freshman year I picked up Jane Eyre, and I liked it but not as much as I thought I would. Some parts of the book were truly very interesting, but I could not relate to any of the characters. Perhaps if I was a more... emotional.....? I think that is the word I am looking for, so if I had been a more emotional person I would have related to Jane better. And every single person Jane or I had ever liked died. What is up with that?! And though Mr. Rochester is the dark and brooding type, I have decided that really is not my type. (Sorry to any people who staunchly love Mr. Rochester!)

I assumed that all of the Bronte sisters came of the same ilk in literature. After just hearing about Wuthering Heights and all its dark drama and death, I believed myself correct.

So with some trepidation I read this novel. I was surprised from the very beginning. For it started in a quiet English village, from the perspective of a civilized farmer named Gilbert Markham. It went on to describe the mysterious widow who had become the new tenant of.... you guessed it, Wildfell Hall. :)

Thorughout Gilbert's narrative, I was struck by the amusing satirical tone of the piece. The villagers were all agog over the new tenant, they were silly and base when compared to her, and they very quickly turned on her when the latest gossip came along. It was almost Jane Austen-ish in the beginning.

About halfway through the piece, we switch perspectives. The book is now an epistolary novel, with diary entries written by Helen, the tenant, to explain her mysterious past and her present mysterious actions toward Gilbert. (Who, not surprisingly, has fallen head over ears in love with her, as they would have said at the time.)

Helen's narrative starts off happily. Indeed, she is a spirited, happy little thing, jesting with her aunt over her matrimonial choices. She enters into London society with a swirl of gaiety and parties and beaus. But one beau stand out. At first, I rather liked him, but I was always concerned, for he didn't seem like the type who would suit Helen. 

I was right. More so even than I wanted to be. There were some extreme red flags during their courtship that Helen chose to completely ignore. She thought she could reform him. After all, she is his "angel." This proves to be... not the case, as you could guess. She cannot reform him. He was brought up in laziness, selfishness, vanity, and vice and he wishes to stay that way. Then he has some extreme,,, indiscretions, and I, as the reader was screaming for Helen to take her child and get out of there! 

But since her character is how she is, the time is what it is, and the role of women was what it was, that was not possible. So she went on living in that awful house for several more years. But everyone has their limit, and finally Helen reached hers. I cheered when she finally became the Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

To see if her husband follows her, to see if she and Gilbert can ever be together, and to find out if it is even possible for Helen to have a semblance of happily ever after, read the book. I think it is really good. It is not light social satire like Austen, nor frothy romance like Georgette Heyer, but it is not dark depressing Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights-ish. It is a perfect in between, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

So don't judge a book by it's cover. Or it's sister's books..... but I believe the cover shown is a very pretty one, wouldn't you say so?

Now, have any of you ever read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall? Jane Eyre? Both? What did you think?