In college I took a course on Women and Literature, and I'm disappointed that on all the great works written by women or about the struggles women havIn college I took a course on Women and Literature, and I'm disappointed that on all the great works written by women or about the struggles women have faced through history...this wonderful work wasn't included! Anne is often the "forgotten Bronte" to her big sisters Charlotte and Emily. However, in my opinion, she's my favorite *gasp!* I certainly enjoyed this book more than Wuthering Heights! Anne Bronte was certainly a woman ahead of her time; not only does she write a novel about a female protagonist overcoming the harsh and cruel double-standards of the Victorian era, but she takes all those vices of the period (drunknesses, gambling, sexual immorality, domestic violence) and throws them out there for the world to see, pointing a finger at these injustices when a "good gentlewoman" isn't supposed to know about such things, and certainly isn't supposed to write about them. That's why this novel is so powerful! Considering the time it was written (1848), it was so brave for a woman author to step forward and talk about such things.
Helen, our protagonist, is a woman who has run away from her drunk, unfaithful, and abusive husband, Arthur. We learn through Helen's journal entries, that in the beginning, Arthur won Helen over with his dark charms and "bad boy persona". Helen, who is young and naive, marries Arthur, believing that she can reform him of his vices, and chooses to turn a blind eye to them...at first. However, Arthur shows little signs of attempting to redeem himself, and continues his drunken debauchery with all his friends, which seems reminiscent of an unending frat party held practically every night at their estate. To make matters worse, right under Helen's nose, Arthur continues to have extra-marital liassons with the wives of some of his so-called friends. When Helen calls him on it, he violently threatens her, and Helen finally realizes the hell she has married into. She and Arthur have a son, (named after his father) whom her husband plans to "make a man" just like him. He gives young Arthur wine and forces him to drink until the boy gets sick. He also teaches him to say foul things, from swearwords to explicit sexual lymrics. For Helen, this is the last straw, and both she and her son flee from her husband's vices and cruelty.
Truly, how many authors wrote about such things in 1848? This book was regarded as "shocking" upon its release, and even more so when it was finally learned that a woman wrote it. Such things were just not discussed, be they written by men or women, which leads me to wonder how many other tragic, let sadly common, stories such as this one, were kept under wraps? The title comes from the house that Helen and her son retreat to. Due to all her experiences, Helen is a recluse, which immediately leads the villagers to gossip. Thankfully, there is one descent person in the village, a handsome farmer named Gilbert, who will become Helen's white knight. That's not to say that Helen can't handle herself, for she certainly does. This woman goes through the ringer, far more than any of the other female protagonists written by Anne's sisters. She survives physical, sexual, and mental abuse by a man who, at that time, had the law completely on his side. If she even tried to get a divorce, there would be no way that she would have gained custody of her son. Her only option for survival is to flee, and once she's on her own, she's forced to use her accomplishment as a painter, to earn wages so both she and her son can put food on the table and have a roof over their heads. A woman gaining income on her own, without the help of a man...in the 1840's! If the story of the abuse weren't shocking enough, this is icing on the cake!
I applaud Anne Bronte for writing such a story, for revealing to the world the injustices women faced in situations similar to Helen's. And I also applaud her for giving a story like this a happy ending, because it could very well have ended the way "Wuthering Heights" did, where the struggles are in vain, and the characters are doomed by the pressures of society. Perhaps that may have been more "realistic", but I'm glad Helen overcame her bastard of a husband, and got the opportunity to marry a man for love, a man who not only loves her but respects her and admires her for all that she has done. Reading a story like this, you're rooting for Helen all the way, and giving her such an ending not only makes you feel good, but it also makes you feel that yes, there is justice in the world.
So do yourself a favor and read this amazing book! And if you're an English teacher, looking to build your curriculum around great women authors, or books about women...then *please* add this to your list! ...more