The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is one of the books that had me banging my head as to why I have waited this long to find it. The Bronte sisters were on my neglected read list for 2013 so I started with the sister I didn’t know, Anne. I liked Agnes Grey so I jumped into this book immediately after finishing Agnes Grey.
Gilbert Markham is the story teller or more correctly the letter writer as the novel is the letter Gilbert is writing. Anne Bronte assumes the identity of Gilbert writing as a male for the first part of the book then the book switches to Gilbert reading Helen’s (the tenant) diary. The switch reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando; a near seamless switch of the story tellers sex. I will admit at the start of the book, I was wondering how a mid-nineteenth century woman would be able to carry the story out as a male narrator. It is, however, very well done.
Alcohol is one of the major themes in the book. It destroys lives and marriages and although deadly, it is not hopeless some people can reform. The effects of alcohol are seen through the eyes of Helen Huntingdon (introduced as Helen Graham) in the second part of the novel. It affects those around her: her husband, his friends, her friends through the actions of their husbands, and even her young son.
Faith plays a major role for Helen. No matter what happens she maintains her faith.
Helen learns the role of a strong woman in the story and in someways goes against the norm of society at the time. She manages not to just and take all that is given to her as do some of the other women in the novel. Her friend Milicent who went from “a little plump lassie then, with a pretty pink and white face: now she’s a poor little bit of a creature, fading and melting away like snow.” all at the age of five and twenty. Anne Bronte takes what can be seen as a realistic look at life in Victorian times and writes a compelling novel.