This second and last novel by Anne Bronte was published in 1848, a year after publication of “Agnes Grey” and a few months before her death in May, 1949. Like her sister Emily, she also died before her time but not without gaining her place in the arena of English literature with her two novels. While “Agnes Grey” is shorter in length and easier to read with its simple characters and storyline, “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” is longer and introduces us to much more complex characters.
|The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall
|Penguin (08/2007), Arcturus Publishing (Jun 2010), and Others
Like “Wuthering Heights”, we meet two narrators here: Mr. Gilbert Markham and Ms. Helen, but the difference is they are the hero and heroin of the story. The small, sleepy neighborhood of the Wildfell Hall is awakened one morning with the news that the Wildfell Hall is rented by a widow called Mrs. Graham and she has come to live there with a servant and her only son, Arthur. Since, she is a stranger in this part; her over-civil neighbours start attempts to get acquainted with her, as much for the novelty of an addition in their dull lives as with the hope of obtaining some fuel for gossiping about her past life. But the lady repels them with her inclination to be left alone and rejecting to mingle in the society more than the utmost civility would demand.
Gilbert is an established gentleman in the area and slowly gains her friendship by showing regard for her son and becoming a companion to her by their similar thoughts and views. However, the neighborhood is soon stirred with rumours about Mrs. Graham having an affair with her landlord Mr. Frederic Lawrence and Gilbert is also driven away from her by a misunderstood notion of the same. In order to explain her conduct, the lady gives him her diary, and it is through this diary that we learn about the life of Helen starting with her love for Mr. Huntingdon at the young age of eighteen resulting in their marriage against the wishes of her aunt,
Helen knows him to be a thoughtless, extravagant man and marries him with an intention of improving him by her loving guidance. However, after marriage she realises the actual extent of evil of his nature and the depth of dishonourable behavior to which he has sunk. She does everything in her power, trying to persuade him with love and perseverance to leave his bad habits, but to no avail. Meanwhile, she has given birth to a son and slowly he becomes the chief solace of her life and she feels her greatest responsibility lies in protecting her son’s character.
Hardly after three years of their marriage, she witnesses her husband with a lady guest of the house exchanging romantic vows and when confronted, he shamelessly defends his conduct. After this, they live under the same roof, as estranged as possible, for the sake of her son. Years pass and the condition worsens as the father is now indulging the infant son in all the bad habits of his. Helen decides to leave her husband to save her son after the unbearable circumstances (scenes of drunken revellery in front of the child) he regularly keeps her putting into, in presence of guests. But, her husband learns about the plan and deprives her of all the money and means to leave him.
Finally, driven to extreme when her husband brings home a young woman as a governess in name but his mistress in reality, she runs away in the middle of the night with her servant and her son and comes to Wildfell Hall, by assistance of her brother Frederic Lawrence, the landlord of the place. She is earning her livelihood by painting, living in constant dread of discovery by her husband who is doing everything in his power to get the child back. Knowing all these, Gilbert once again professes his love for her but she declines saying she would soon leave this place.
But fate intervenes here in form of Mr. Huntingdon receiving a severe injury falling off his horse and being deserted by everyone. Helen goes back and nurses him, enduring his ill nature and vices on his deathbed. What happens at last? Is she relieved by the death of her husband who has been only a cause of misery and pain in her life? Or the illness transforms the man and they are united again? What happens to Gilbert and his unrequited love?
The story is full of many a side characters with interesting portrayals giving us a very good picture of the early 19th century England with all its vices and virtues. Anne’s poetic language is present here in more mature a form making the narration as worthy of attention as the story. She concentrates more on the thoughts and the emotional turmoil of her characters than the outer incidents and events. Anne, moved by the fate of his brother, had written this book as a solemn task she took upon herself to warn the world against the ruin that lack of discipline and absence of temperateness in a human disposition can bring. And religion is once again (like “Agnes Grey”) quite a substantial part of her narrative here and quotations from religious scriptures are presented very often.
An emotional story, beautifully told in a poetic language… Enjoy Reading…