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Archived Group Reads - 2017 > Wildfell, Week 6: Ch. 46 - 53

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message 1: by Charlotte (new)

Charlotte (charlottecph) | 271 comments Helen and Gilbert are separated for a long time and poor Gilbert suffers while he thinks about her. They finally meet in the end.

What do you think about the book?


message 2: by Piyangie, Moderator (new)

Piyangie | 828 comments Mod
I wished Anne could have taken few more chapters at the end on Gilbert and Helen's happy union. But then again, to Anne, this was more than a love story, hence the focus of their union was brief so as to mark the happy ending.


message 3: by Linda (new)

Linda | 115 comments For me Tenant was an absorbing psychological portrait of its main characters dealing with issues which still resonate with modern readers. Her detailed realism brings these complex characters to life. What makes it distinctively Victorian for me is the high level of emotion in both Gilbert’s and Helen's narratives- more melodramatic than contemporary novels. Helen's character definitely reflects the Victorian image of Angel in the House, but one that is also changing. She wants to remain a devoted wife, but this develops to be at odds with concern for the moral upbringing of her son. In the introduction to my edition, it is pointed out that Helen is more modern-guided by revised conduct books of the 1830s- in an emphasis in her intention to be a moral guide for Huntington rather than a completely submissive wife. If she were totally submissive, she would not have left Huntington despite the outcome for her son. However, her continuing struggle with fulfilling her wifely role is evident as she returns to Huntington to nurse him for what appears to be at first only a non-threatening injury.

Helen's letters while she is nursing Huntington certainly describe an horrific situation. However, her willingness to totally devote herself to this abuser, even to offer her life in place of his, strains my credulity that anyone would realistically be able to behave like this. She even says she will stay with him if his behavior merits it, although she does have him sign an agreement about child custody. Is she just saying anything to comfort him so he will recover? Any thoughts?

Anne does ultimately leave us with a positive view of marriage with many happy couples- the Hattersleys, Lawrence and Esther, Arthur and Helen Hattersley among others. Except for Helen acting more forward than Victorian society would approve, she and Gilbert might not have joined these happy ranks. His overwrought behavior was becoming a little tiresome, I’m glad Helen took the matter in hand!

More background from the introduction from my text...Helen’s view on salvation for Huntington was based on Anne’s own belief that hell was only a temporary stop and sinners such as Huntington would ultimately be saved. She was influenced by the Moravian sect of Protestantism in this.
Huntington’s character was most probably based on Bramwell who was also good looking, might have fathered an illegitimate child, had an affair with the wife in the house where he was employed as a tutor (Anne was governess in this house as well), and became an alcoholic and drug abuser.
Because virtually nothing remains of Anne’s letters,diaries and such there is much conjecture as to her reasons for writing. In her Preface, she does say the novel is meant to be a cautionary tale. As the issues of marital breakdown,violence,divorce,child custody and the legal status of women became topics for debate in the 1840’s, it makes sense that Anne would be drawn to these topics. However, the leap from interest in these topics to writing a novel based on these themes is enormous. Tenant (and perhaps Agnes Grey, which I haven’t read), rather than Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights , truly reflects issues which remain just as serious in our own time. I’m glad it is achieving the recognition it deserves.


message 4: by Charlotte (new)

Charlotte (charlottecph) | 271 comments Thank you for your post, Linda. It was hard for me to understand why Helen so quickly diappeared and was back at Huntingdon’s side, being so patient. I also thought it was strange that she would say to him that she would stay.

The depiction of Helen leaves me with a deep impression. She is a strong, heroic woman.


message 5: by Renee, Moderator (new)

Renee M | 1979 comments Mod
I wasn't really surprised by Helen's choice to nurse her husband. I think she always hoped to appeal to whatever it was she saw in him at first; that which she fell in love. And always hoped to bring out his better nature.

I also have to wonder if Anne needed to show Helen as caring for him until death in order to "deserve" happiness with Gilbert after "abandoning" her marriage. The topics covered were already considered scandalous... but I know that many heroines of the time who chose non-traditional paths ended up paying a very steep price before the conclusion.


message 6: by Linda (new)

Linda | 115 comments Renee wrote: "I wasn't really surprised by Helen's choice to nurse her husband. I think she always hoped to appeal to whatever it was she saw in him at first; that which she fell in love. And always hoped to bri..."

Good point about Helen’s deserving happiness earned by her return to Huntington.


message 7: by Ginny (new)

Ginny (burmisgal) | 242 comments Linda wrote: "Helen's character definitely reflects the Victorian image of Angel in the House,."

I had never come across the "Angel in the House" phrase before. It seems that this popular poem was written in 1854, 6 years after Tenant was published. Although the criteria for the "ideal Victorian wife" certainly were around in Anne's time, this poem and the use of the phrase did not come into popularity until after Anne's death.


message 8: by Piyangie, Moderator (new)

Piyangie | 828 comments Mod
I agree with Renee. It is not surprising Helen's choice in going back to her husband in time of his need to nurse him. Given Helen's character she would do nothing less. She never abandoned the idea of saving him from his own immoral conduct and restore his faith. In fact she tried hard at this while living with him and she would never have abandoned the marraige if not for his son's sake; to save him from a corrupted upbringing.
And as for Helen's feelings towards Gilbert, it is all but natural for her to be drawn towards his kind and caring self; something which her own husband was not. He was such a fresh air to her suffocated life. But still, Helen knew her limits and was loyal to her undeserving husband till the end of time. Only when she was free from all encumbrances did she thought of Glibert from a romantic light. I believe this is what Anne wanted to establsih in the character of Helen - a strong, virtuous woman. To this extent, Helen's character resembles that of Jane Eyer.


message 9: by Piyumi (new)

Piyumi | 22 comments Linda wrote: "For me Tenant was an absorbing psychological portrait of its main characters dealing with issues which still resonate with modern readers. Her detailed realism brings these complex characters to li..."

Thanks for this amazing post Linda, and I love how you zeroed in on the massage, that I feel Ann was trying to get out to her readers, when you wrote 'Helen's character definitely reflects the Victorian image of Angel in the House, but one that is also changing'.
'One that is also changing' that right there for me is the triumph of Anne Bronte's work.
I have said this before, that I feel this novel could have done with a bit of serious editing of the plot and writing technique, but one cannot get away from the modern views that were spilling out of the author's mind as she wrote this.


message 10: by Piyumi (new)

Piyumi | 22 comments Renee wrote: "I wasn't really surprised by Helen's choice to nurse her husband. I think she always hoped to appeal to whatever it was she saw in him at first; that which she fell in love. And always hoped to bri..."

That is indeed a good question to ponder Renee about Anne's need to show Helene earning her happiness and it makes sense now that you highlighted it.


message 11: by Piyangie, Moderator (last edited Oct 13, 2017 11:39PM) (new)

Piyangie | 828 comments Mod
Linda wrote: "For me Tenant was an absorbing psychological portrait of its main characters dealing with issues which still resonate with modern readers. Her detailed realism brings these complex characters to li..."

Thanks for this beautiful and analytical post, Linda. Yes, unlike Jane Eyer and Wuthering Heights, Tenant of the Wildfell Hall truly reflects the issues we still encounter. It is a timeless classic and on Anne's part, a bold attempt. And I'm glad too that the book has finally gotten its due recognition in equal footing with the works of her famous sisters.

In answer to the question you have raised, I think she felt it is still her duty as a wife to take care of him and to guide him to become morally a better person. However, knowing Huntingdon's pretentious conduct, she could not totally trust him, and so she wanted to secure her custody over their child. She was torn between her duty to her husband and to her child which was conflicting and it was the best she could do under the circumstances.


message 12: by Ginny (new)

Ginny (burmisgal) | 242 comments Linda wrote: "Because virtually nothing remains of Anne’s letters,diaries and such there is much conjecture as to her reasons for writing. In her Preface, she does say the novel is meant to be a cautionary tale..."

This to me is so sad. It seems Charlotte made every effort to suppress or destroy everything Anne had written. Of course, we can only speculate as to her reasons. This is a great article about that and seems like an interesting blog.
http://www.annebronte.org/2017/04/02/...


message 13: by Linda (new)

Linda | 115 comments Ginny wrote: "Linda wrote: "Because virtually nothing remains of Anne’s letters,diaries and such there is much conjecture as to her reasons for writing. In her Preface, she does say the novel is meant to be a ca..."

Thanks for the article. It makes total sense that Charlotte was motivated by both her guilt and shame about Branwell in suppressing Tenant.


message 14: by Renee, Moderator (new)

Renee M | 1979 comments Mod
Interesting article, Ginny. I have to admit that I knew nothing of Anne in my younger days; when I was reading Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights for the first time. I do not even remember her being discussed in my Lit classes at university, which is far more surprising. It seems to me that Anne was overlooked for distressingly long time.


message 15: by Piyumi (new)

Piyumi | 22 comments Renee wrote: "Interesting article, Ginny. I have to admit that I knew nothing of Anne in my younger days; when I was reading Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights for the first time. I do not even remember her being d..."

Same for me, neither in my school nor university Lit classes was Anne's work ever discussed.

I had also read that article about Charlotte actually suppressing Anne's work, it was in the forward of my book :o.
Shocking and sad


message 16: by Ashley (new)

Ashley | 8 comments Not to be really "un-intellectual" (I think anything I could add has been covered), but I loved the Victorian take on the boy rushing to the airport before the girl gets on the plane! Gilbert wading through snow and carriages delaying his progress--I refused to read ahead or any information about the book before I finished it, so I really had no idea of the outcome. It was a nice break from the harder parts of the book.


message 17: by Ginny (new)

Ginny (burmisgal) | 242 comments I have been dipping into New Approaches to the Literary Art of Anne Bronte, a collection of academic essays. (Almost $200 on ebay--luckily I am able to find most of these through my library system.) Some of it is too esoteric for me, but I am finding some great ideas about this book.

In particular, the use of the male and female voices. This makes it possible for Anne to give the two points of view and experiences. I think this is done brilliantly. Making two completely different characters write down their story is a very difficult thing--not many writers can do this. It gives such depth to the whole picture.

Thanks for bringing this book to my attention, and for all your insights.


message 18: by Hilary (new)

Hilary (agapoyesoun) | 188 comments Thank you, Ginny, for the article about Anne and Branwell. Ever since I heard about Charlotte's suppression of Anne's work I have been extremely angry when I hear Charlotte's name mentioned. This article, however, highlights some possible causes for her treatment of Anne. She was obviously a very complex character, as complicated in her own way as Branwell in his.

What terrible sorrow their father had to bear. His heart must have been torn apart by the death of his wife and his older daughters. He was physically assaulted by his own son, but as the loving father that he was, prayed with his repentant son at the end of, and no doubt right throughout, his son's life. He then had to face the deaths of his other three daughters.

In some ways it is easy to be frustrated with Branwell and hence understand Charlotte's anger towards her brother. He didn't help to shoulder his father's burden but rather followed a path of self-destruction. He did not, however, have the strength either mentally or physically of his father so how much can he be held accountable? There is a sense of diminished responsibility at play here.


message 19: by Hilary (new)

Hilary (agapoyesoun) | 188 comments I wanted to be utterly delighted with this book, but I didn't give it a proper chance. I started and stopped too many times. I was drawn in very much by the first part of the book. Then, when we have a throwback in time through Gilbert's reading of Helen's diary. I never got the same level of enthusiasm back.

I am very glad though that Anne's book has been fully resurrected. I do, overall, find it better than Agnes Grey, though I quite liked it too, but I'm glad that justice was done for Anne. It is terrible to think that she might easily have been overlooked.


message 20: by Linda (new)

Linda | 115 comments In my immersion into Victorian literature, I have taken some continuing ed courses online through Oxford University. One of their courses is on the Brontes. The texts they use are Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights- no surprise- but ... also Agnes Grey and Tenant! I guess validation by Oxford is a pretty good indication of Anne’s resurrected reputation.


message 21: by Hilary (new)

Hilary (agapoyesoun) | 188 comments Oh I'm delighted to know that, Linda. Well done, Anne!


message 22: by [deleted user] (new)

Piyangie wrote: "I wished Anne could have taken few more chapters at the end on Gilbert and Helen's happy union. But then again, to Anne, this was more than a love story, hence the focus of their union was brief so..."
Very helpful, thank you for the context. I think Anne combines the horrors of her governess experience with those of watching her brother deteriorate. And lays out a story where a good, devout woman saves her son from them. Almost a fantasy for how Anne must have felt about her brother Bramwell - imagining saving him from himself. When one loses a sibling under these circumstances one spends much time imagining saving them.


message 23: by [deleted user] (new)

Hilary wrote: "I wanted to be utterly delighted with this book, but I didn't give it a proper chance. I started and stopped too many times. I was drawn in very much by the first part of the book. Then, when we ha..."

Golly, online lit courses from Oxford, sign me up! Maybe in retirement...


message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

Hilary wrote: "Thank you, Ginny, for the article about Anne and Branwell. Ever since I heard about Charlotte's suppression of Anne's work I have been extremely angry when I hear Charlotte's name mentioned. This a..."

I am so glad we read it. What an amazing, powerful book!


message 25: by [deleted user] (new)

Ashley wrote: "Not to be really "un-intellectual" (I think anything I could add has been covered), but I loved the Victorian take on the boy rushing to the airport before the girl gets on the plane! Gilbert wadin..."
Yes, Ginny, she develops Helen's and Gilbert's voices very well, quite convincing!


message 26: by Piyangie, Moderator (new)

Piyangie | 828 comments Mod
Ginny wrote: "Linda wrote: "Because virtually nothing remains of Anne’s letters,diaries and such there is much conjecture as to her reasons for writing. In her Preface, she does say the novel is meant to be a ca..."

Thanks for sharing this informative article, Ginny. It is really sad that Charlotte took such a stance on the book. Though I can understand her own gulit and shame, she did the society and especially the literary world, a grave wrong.
I didn't know the existance of Anne Bronte till I joined goodreads; that speak a little for the damage Charlotte has done. But as I said earlier in a comment, I'm really glad Anne and Tenant of Wildfell Hall had finally earning their due recognition. Such a powerful writer and a very powerful story. I'm happy that we got the opportunity to read and discuss the book in our group.


message 27: by Piyangie, Moderator (new)

Piyangie | 828 comments Mod
Ginny wrote: "In particular, the use of the male and female voices. This makes it possible for Anne to give the two points of view and experiences. I think this is done brilliantly. Making two completely different characters write down their story is a very difficult thing--not many writers can do this. It gives such depth to the whole picture.
..."


I totally agree with you, Ginny. It was very interesting to see the use of both a male and female voice to narrate the story and Anne has done it brilliantly. In this way, we read the story from both the male point of view and the female, thus making it a reliable, balance piece of work.


message 28: by Piyumi (new)

Piyumi | 22 comments Hilary wrote: "I wanted to be utterly delighted with this book, but I didn't give it a proper chance. I started and stopped too many times. I was drawn in very much by the first part of the book. Then, when we ha..."

Ah, thanks for opening up Hilary, I though I was the only one who got stuck when the reading of the diary took over the plot. I too lost my enthusiasm there and didn't recover, hence my view that Anne could have used a bit more editing in her final draft.
Glad to know there is validation from Oxford and the lot :) though


message 29: by Lesley (new)

Lesley (lesleyhere) | 1 comments I really enjoyed this book. I wasn't sure about Gilbert if it was just a one sided infatuation or if it was a mutual adoration until we return to his point of view. I understood why Helen would return to her husband. She is pious and would never shirk her duty. I was happy when he finally died. It was such a refreshing story for Victorian literature. It's good to give Anne Bronte some recognition.


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