Whitaker's Reviews > The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
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Jun 05, 12

bookshelves: canon, e-book, united-kingdom, 2012-read
Read from May 17 to June 04, 2012

I felt, reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, as if I was watching a black-and-white silent movie. There was the same sense of expressions and gestures exaggerated, made larger than life. Emotions were felt ten-fold. Characters are never just sad, they must be sullenly despondent; they are never just in love, but passionate, painfully so:
She turned from me to hide the emotion she could not quite control; but I took her hand and fervently kissed it. 'Gilbert, do leave me!' she cried, in a tone of such thrilling anguish that I felt it would be cruel to disobey.
Emotions are hot and violence never seems far away:
Bitter, indeed, was the tone of anguish, repressed by resolute firmness, in which this was spoken. Now, I raised her hand to my lips, and fervently kissed it again and again; for tears prevented any other reply. She suffered these wild caresses without resistance or resentment; then, suddenly turning from me, she paced twice or thrice through the room. I knew by the contraction of her brow, the tight compression of her lips, and wringing of her hands, that meantime a violent conflict between reason and passion was silently passing within.

Lawrence attempted to draw me into conversation, but I snubbed him and went to another part of the room. Shortly after the party broke up and he himself took leave. When he came to me I was blind to his extended hand, and deaf to his good-night till he repeated it a second time; and then, to get rid of him, I muttered an inarticulate reply, accompanied by a sulky nod. 'What is the matter, Markham?' whispered he. I replied by a wrathful and contemptuous stare.
It wasn’t difficult to imagine Mary Pickford or Lillian Gish in the role of Mrs Graham / Helen Huntingdon:

Poor Mrs Graham alone at Wildfell Hall:



Mrs Graham looking after little Arthur at Wildfell Hall:

Scene from The Scarlet Letter

Mrs Graham meets Mr Markham:

Another scene from The Scarlet Letter

Helen being wooed by Arthur:

Scene from The Fighting Coward

Helen Huntingdon realises that she's married a creep:

Silent movie heroine swooning

Helen and Gilbert finally meet at Staningley:

Scene from Lady Windermere's Fan

All of that was well and good, but in the transition from passionate despair at the end of Chapter 49 to passionate joy at the start of Chapter 50, the effect turned comic and I burst into peals of helpless giggling:
His lips moved, but emitted no sound; —then his looks became unsettled; and, from the incoherent, half-uttered words that escaped him from time to time, supposing him to be now unconscious, I gently disengaged my hand from his, intending to steal away for a breath of air, for I was almost ready to faint; but a convulsive movement of the fingers, and a faintly whispered 'Don't leave me!' immediately recalled me: I took his hand again, and held it till he was no more — and then I fainted. It was not grief; it was exhaustion, that, till then, I had been enabled successfully to combat. Oh, Frederick! none can imagine the miseries, bodily and mental, of that death-bed! How could I endure to think that that poor trembling soul was hurried away to everlasting torment? It would drive me mad. But, thank God, I have hope — not only from a vague dependence on the possibility that penitence and pardon might have reached him at the last, but from the blessed confidence that, through whatever purging fires the erring spirit may be doomed to pass — whatever fate awaits it — still it is not lost, and God, who hateth nothing that He hath made, will bless it in the end!

His body will be consigned on Thursday to that dark grave he so much dreaded; but the coffin must be closed as soon as possible. If you will attend the funeral, come quickly, for I need help.

HELEN HUNTINGDON.

On reading this I had no reason to disguise my joy and hope from Frederick Lawrence, for I had none to be ashamed of.
This was also black-and-white in another way: its characters. Helen wasn’t just good, she was positively saintly, going back to nurse her detested husband. Arthur wasn’t just bad, he was an absolute fiend, feeding alcohol to his toddler son. There were no shades of grey.

And the piety! Oh heavens, the piety! It was all so deadly earnest, all the time.

I can’t really say that I disliked reading it: I felt for Gilbert and Helen and was happy when they ended up together. But, truly, when rolled up all together, this novel just didn’t do it for me. I can’t say I disliked it. All I can manage to say—tremblingly, quiveringly, faintly even, but nevertheless with a resolve dug up from the deepest depths of my being, and a fierce and steely determination—is that it was just okay.

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Reading Progress

05/23/2012 "... and when I complained of the flavour of the overdrawn tea, she poured the remainder into the slop-basin and bade Rose put some fresh into the pot, and reboil the kettle, which offices were performed with great commotion, and certain remarkable comments."
05/24/2012 "A cool, reviving breeze blew from the sea -- soft, pure, salubrious: it waved her drooping ringlets, and imparted a livelier clolour to her usually too pallid lip and cheek. She felt its exhilarating influence, and so did I -- I felt it tingling through my frame...

Mr Markham, are you quite sure that it's the sea breeze that's making you tingle?"
05/28/2012 "“Arthur is getting tired…and no wonder, for he has so few sources of amusement: he never reads anything but newspapers and sporting magazines; and when he sees me occupied with a book, he won't let me rest till I close it.”

This is turning out to be a little too Austentacious. Still, it’s good advice: Never marry a person who won’t let you read."
06/01/2012 "His body will be consigned on Thursday to that dark grave he so much dreaded; but the coffin must be closed as soon as possible. ... On reading this I had no reason to disguise my joy and hope from Frederick Lawrence, for I had none to be ashamed of.

Hmmm, I don’t think helpless giggling was the reaction Ms Bronte was looking to provoke."

Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

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message 1: by MJ (new) - rated it 4 stars

MJ Nicholls Only two?


message 2: by Chris (new)

Chris I enjoyed the ongoing commentary


Whitaker MJ wrote: "Only two?"

I know, I know. It's horrible of me. Honestly, that's how I felt about it: it was ok. What was it about it that moved you?


Whitaker Chris wrote: "I enjoyed the ongoing commentary"

Thanks, Chris!


message 5: by MJ (new) - rated it 4 stars

MJ Nicholls I thought the sandwich structure was quite well done, despite the trying first 100 pages. I wouldn't say it moved me exactly but I was compelled enough to enjoy the way things turned out.


Whitaker MJ wrote: "I thought the sandwich structure was quite well done, despite the trying first 100 pages. I wouldn't say it moved me exactly but I was compelled enough to enjoy the way things turned out."

Interesting. I re-read your review. Some of the things that bugged you about the book bugged me too, but you still managed to enjoy the book more than I did. Looks like we'll have to chalk it up to the variety of human experience. :-)


message 7: by Antonomasia (new) - added it

Antonomasia Emotions were felt ten-fold. Characters are never just sad, they must be sullenly despondent; they are never just in love, but passionate, painfully so
In many older novels, feelings are far more strongly expressed. (Or strongly felt?) I get the impression it's almost taboo to talk or write this way now, and there's a certain amount of disapproval for even thinking in that way. Any theories on why this is?


Whitaker Antonomasia, that's an interesting point you bring up. I think the older novels you are thinking of are those from the Romantic period, however, which was a very emo period.


Katy I don't share your view of this story, but I was thoroughly entertained reading it! Thank you for sharing. I laughed out loud several times! I love it!


Whitaker Why thank you Katy. That has to be the best kind of compliment. :-)


JonSnow I would like to make a comment. I positively loved this novel. One fault which you give Arthur is his giving his child alcohol. This was actually very common in victorian times due to the contaminated water supply. Water was not safe to drink, it made you sick. So often alcohol was given even to kids. Most of what people drank was not water due to such poor conditions.

As for the exaggerated emotions, it seems a stylistic thing of literate from that time period (I study literature in university). I would not say it is necessarily a bad thing. One thing to remember is that this is a novel of moral reform, so Arthur was naturally depicted as a complete fiend in contrast to his saintly wife. Anne Bronte was very traditionally religious which reflects in the virtuous saintly nature of Helen. I do not feel this to be problematic.

I did find at times that I would laugh at the social conduct of some to others. There were times which people were insulting others very subtlely... yet... paradoxically also quite obviously... and as such there were many.... "Ohhh... snap" moments, haha. I enjoyed that. It kept it interesting.

I found this quite a page turner. While I positively LOVE Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, I actually found myself reading through Tenant of Wildfell Hall much faster with much more eagerness to read more more more. To rate this a 2 seems rather cruel, as it is, in my opinion, and in the opinion of many academics where I study, that this is a very well constructed, very well written novel. I Could not possibly conceive of rating it less than 4/5, but I rated it 5/5... so I'm biased, haha.

Anyways, maybe it is the style of novel that does not appeal to you? I can understand that, as we are all different and find intrigue in different things. Perhaps you rate it as a 2/5 for you did not enjoy it? But can you not acknowledge that it was of quality literary value?


Whitaker Thanks for your comment and for so politely disagreeing with me. The whole rating system is a bit of an exercise in futility isn't it, particularly if you treat the stars as assessments of quality. I'm glad you enjoyed the book. Hey, I'm glad when anyone enjoys reading. Don't take my rating or comments too seriously. I'm not Harold Bloom after all, and I'm not even pretending to be him so my reaction to the book is more my loss (or gain). I'm sure there'll be books we both enjoyed, books I loved which you hated, and vice versa. Either way, the world still turns. Love your comments though. It's always nice to read another viewpoint. Hope to see you around GR. Talking books is always fun.


JonSnow Oh yeah, I mean... we all have different tastes. We as people are all so self centered that we think everyone should like something because we do, haha. In my case, I am guilty of that, hahaha. I am indeed always curious though what it is the puts people off about certain books which I find agreeable and others don't.


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