Book Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALLThe Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, first published in 1848, and then again in 1994 by Wordsworth Classics in the edition I read it.

So glad this book is still in print. Really, really enjoyed it. Even while on vacation–flying from flat-bottomed boat rides to water parks–I could not put this book down. I white-knuckled most of it, after it warmed up (as every single Bronte book has to do). In it, Anne really masters the art of story-telling at a level that none of the other Bronte books reaches. It keeps you guessing, keeps you sighing and cringing and gasping, all the way through every twist and turn.

It is a pity, of course, that this book ruined Anne Bronte. The topics were considered riske and inappropriate for the time period, even though they were starkly honest, and older sister Charlotte considered the publication of the book before Anne’s untimely death a great mistake. Bummer. I am so glad it was published, Charlotte, with all of its affairs (dealt with in a way only a Victorian could do), psychological and emotional abuse, heart break, and sad desperation.

I don’t even know if I have much else to say. It is deeply religious (which I enjoy, but others might not). I would recommend that anyone who enjoys the genre run out and pick up a copy right away. It is greatly insightful and interesting. I might not have loved all the characters, but they were delivered with such empathy and with such natural foibles you root for them anyways. And humor! Without making you think this is a funny book (it’s not), many of the twists and supporting characters are imbued with a sort of tragi-comedy that is deft and thrilling. And frankness. Especially for the time, this book is frank while at the same time pulling lines of Victorian restriction so taught you believe for awhile that they can never be severed or, indeed, loosened.

Once again, I would not read the back of the book (or the Amazon synopsis) because it contains some spoilers. Just know that the book is a letter from one Gilbert Markham to his brother-in-law, relating the events of a few years in Gilbert’s youth when he was settling into gentleman-farming in a rural area of England. Into the neighborhood steals a mysterious woman–the tenant of Wildfell Hall–who is immediately secretive, reserved, and even antagonistic. Eventually, she is pestered enough by the scant, but nosy, neighbors, and reveals her story (which takes up more than half the book) to the concerned gentleman.

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Will be watching the three-episode BBC miniseries as soon as my husband rotates back around to the night shift. Then I will review it for you.

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QUOTES:

“‘The foundation is in the wickedness and falsehood of the world'” (p70).

“‘I was not indifferent to her,’ as the novel heroes modestly express it” (p74).

“A girl’s affections should never be won unsought” (p103).

“What can’t be cured must be endured” (p147).

“…for the more you loved your God the more deep and pure and true would be your love to me” (p160).

“Such vain presumption would be rightly served, if I should perish with him in the gulf from which I sought to save him! Yet, God preserve me from it!–and him too” (p206).

“Yes, and I will drink it to the very dregs: and none but myself shall know how bitter I find it!” (p211).

“…but indeed, it is nonsense to talk about injuring no one but yourself; it is impossible to injure yourself–especially by such acts as we allude to–without injuring hundreds, if not thousands besides, in a greater or less degree, either by the evil you do or the good you leave undone” (p228).

“Instead of my being humbled and purified by my afflictions, I feel that they are turning my nature into gall. This must be my fault as much as theirs that wrong me” (p247).

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