Victorians! discussion

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Archived Group Reads - 2017 > Wildfell, Week 5: Ch. 38 - 45

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message 1: by Charlotte (new)

Charlotte (charlottecph) | 271 comments Helen finally escapes and the identity of Mr. Lawrence is revealed.

Please post your contributions to the discussion of chapters 38 to 45 here.


message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

This story is a great illustration of the challenges for women who suffered abuse at the hands of husbands during this time. I appreciated the description of evolving policy during this time in response to the last set of chapters.

And so Helen and Gilbert are briefly reunited, admit mutual passion and commit to parting, more or less permanently. Helen tries to always act with honor and protect her son and secondarily, herself. These chapters helped me understand what it meant to claw your way out of such a trap as Helen's - and Helen had a brother and Rachel to help.

This must have been such a common story but with few positive outcomes. And of course, many spouses and partners remain bound to abuse through various means today. Reading this story gives me more insight into what that entails.


message 3: by Charlotte (new)

Charlotte (charlottecph) | 271 comments Anne Brontë is very serious, but also honest. She lets Helen oblige to the norms and forces her and Gilbert apart.

I thought it was an anticlimax after having waited for them to meet again for so long (most of the middle part of the book). But Anne is strict with the realities!

Meanwhile Helen’s husband can have other relationships in her plain view. How unfair!


message 4: by Linda (new)

Linda | 115 comments No doubt the tensest moments come when Huntington discovers Helen’s diary, I was dreading a physical backlash, but Huntington is actually more of a psychological abuser so taking away anything that might help her to escape makes more sense. However, Anne actually provides some hope for marriage in this section. After Helen confronts Hattersley about his treatment of Milicent and how he wants his children to view him, his commitment to change his ways (he has already distanced himself from Huntington’s behavior) counterbalances what is happening to Helen. We can only hope he carries through with his pledge.

That religious belief provides solace for Helen comes through as she talks with Gilbert about their meeting in Heaven, even if they cannot find happiness on earth. Helen argues for the comfort of this and Heaven in general, while Gilbert does not agree. A relationship as living human beings is not the same as one between disembodied spirits. I agree that it would not be in character for Helen to do anything else but part with Gilbert, much as she despises it she is still married to Huntington. Only her overriding concern for Arthur even pushes her to abandon her marriage and act outside the norms of Victorian expectations. She says multiple times if it were only herself, she would remain with Huntington.

Two disconnected thoughts- I still have not forgiven Gilbert for his brutality toward Frederick- absolutely no justification for that. Also, I am surprised Huntington didn’t press Frederick about Helen’s whereabouts or show up at his house. Maybe I’m a victim of too much detective television, but it seems likely someone on the run would try to find refuge with their family.


message 5: by Ginny (new)

Ginny (burmisgal) | 193 comments Helen is very devout, and turns to the Bible in all her crises. But she is selective, finding scriptures to support her in despair, then to justify her decisions that go against accepted behaviour. After Huntingdon violates her diary, her art, and her personal belongings, leaving her "a slave", she turns to Lamentations (a part of the Bible I had never heard of) in the old Testament; then thinking of little Arthur, turns to the new. Bronte knows, and all her readers would know who said the words in the second quote.
"Have I no faith in God? I try to look to Him and raise my heart to heaven, but it will cleave to the dust. I can only say, ‘He hath hedged me about, that I cannot get out: He hath made my chain heavy. He hath filled me with bitterness—He hath made me drunken with wormwood.’ I forget to add, ‘But though He cause grief, yet will He have compassion according to the multitude of His mercies. For He doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men.’ [selections from Lamentations.] I ought to think of this; and if there be nothing but sorrow for me in this world, what is the longest life of misery to a whole eternity of peace? And for my little Arthur—has he no friend but me? Who was it said, ‘It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish?’ "



message 6: by Ginny (new)

Ginny (burmisgal) | 193 comments I just posted the link to a book of essays I am reading in the resources section. One theory is that Huntingdon, from the very beginning, is terribly jealous of Helen's love for God. That his sinking lower and lower is not a reaction to her severity with him, but rather jealousy and frustration with her profound faith. He cannot compete, so he does the opposite.


message 7: by Renee, Moderator (new)

Renee M | 1861 comments Mod
I'm fascinated by this perspective. It makes much more sense to me.


message 8: by Piyangie, Moderator (new)

Piyangie | 780 comments Mod
Charlotte wrote: "Anne Brontë is very serious, but also honest. She lets Helen oblige to the norms and forces her and Gilbert apart.

I thought it was an anticlimax after having waited for them to meet again for so..."


I think this is the contrast Anne wanted to draw from her story. Helen, no matter how cruelly she was treated, feels dutifully bound to her husband, although she will never live with him under one roof (both for her sake and especially of her son's). She is an honest christian woman who never compromises her virtue. Even after finding love again, she still stands by her duty as a wife to her unworthy husband. By establishing an honest, virtuous character in Helen, Anne arouses sympathy and support for her against her bully of a husband who has no morality.


message 9: by Linda (new)

Linda | 115 comments Angel in the House--
It occurred to me that while so many have noted Helen’s moral and religious devotion to her husband and to being a loyal wife despite her horrendous situation, I don't believe anyone has linked it to the Victorian ideal image of women as the Angel in the House. From the BBC website on Victorian history-

“...the ideal woman at this time was not the weak, passive creature of romantic fiction. Rather she was a busy, able and upright figure who drew strength from her moral superiority and whose virtue was manifested in the service of others.

...it was a way of living and working based on evangelical beliefs about the importance of the family, the constancy of marriage and woman's innate moral goodness.”

Helen would remain a sympathetic character for Victorian readers, despite the criticisms of the book as coarse and unsuitable, because she tried with all her might to fulfill the ideal of the Angel in the House. It is only when her moral duty to Arthur, removing him from the corrupt influences of Huntington, must supersede that of being a wife that she finally concludes she has to leave.


message 10: by Piyangie, Moderator (new)

Piyangie | 780 comments Mod
Linda wrote: "Helen would remain a sympathetic character for Victorian readers, despite the criticisms of the book as coarse and unsuitable, because she tried with all her might to fulfill the ideal of the Angel in the House. It is only when her moral duty to Arthur, removing him from the corrupt influences of Huntington, must supersede that of being a wife that she finally concludes she has to leave ..."

It is unbelievable why the book was criticised as unsuitable at the time of its publication. As you pointed out Linda, Helen indeed tolerated all cruelty and insult to herself and tried her best to be the ideal dutiful wife. Only when it threatened the upbringing of her only child that she decided to take action; and this is also for the benefit of her child, for as a mother she had an obligation to her son. Helen is a remarkable woman of her day who should be respected and admired and not criticised.


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