Review No.124 – The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë

Penguin, 2012

When the mysterious Helen Graham arrives to take residence in the long-abandoned Wildfell Hall, bringing with her a young son and quietly revolutionary ideas, she is a subject of fascination for her neighbours. Curiosity turns to condemnation as ugly rumours begin to spread. Only her new friend Gilbert Markham, remains loyal – but even he can’t imagine the events that turned Helen into the fiercely independent recluse he has begun to fall in love with.

What is it about the Brontës? In a time when women were expected to live their lives in silence and obedience, these three sisters were the most remarkable revolutionaries, staking their ground with a passion that reverberates through their writing centuries later. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a book that is unafraid to turn cool, exacting eyes on the hedonistic lives of the wealthy and powerful, and follow the consequences inflicted on those around them, particularly the women trapped in their sphere. Helen’s situation is all too familiar even in the 21st century and her strength of character is glorious. There were moments when I literally punched the air, I was so much on her side, and Anne’s own comments on her book are infinitely quotable:

I am satisfied that if a book is a good one, it is so whatever the sex of the author…All novels are or should be written for both men and women to read, and I am at a loss to conceive how a man should permit himself to write anything that would be really disgraceful to a woman, or why a woman should be censured for writing anything that would proper and becoming for a man.

She wrote that in 1848. The world would be a better place if more people had listened.

 

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