The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
Leading a calm life, based on her love for others, and fully gratified by her relation with her sisters, Anne Bronte owned a grat strength and the will to endeavour and persevere the tiring work of governess, just the point where her sisters Charlotte and Emily had failed. Just because the most important thing in the world for her was God, she saw herself as one sent from him on Earth to do a little good to others.
By this key has to be read her second and till now unfortunate novel, ‘’The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’’. The book, published in 1848 and only lately reconsidered thanks to a wonderful and highly successful BBC screen adaptation, appears to the eyes of the unpracticed reader as a complex tale, plainly exposed and strangely organized.
Mainly there is its division into three parts, of which the most interesting is the second, the heart of the book, because in it are drawn the main two characters of the whole. The beginning and the end seem in a certain degree additive parts, almost boring for lacking of interest but looking at this novel today we can’t agree with Charlotte’s judgement, that proclaimed it ‘an entire mistake’. Certainly these first and third part are a frame to the plot, in which characters as Eliza Millward, or the vicar, Miss Wilson, the same Markkam’s family are almost an excess.
The most important part of the book is instead the midst one: in it many characters are pictured, all quite important and well conceived. To begin with the same narrator, the poor and miserable Helen, she is a very well-pictured character, all home and family, whose only trouble is her unhappy husband’s situation. At the beginning of her memories, when she is still a young girl, a comparison can easily stand with her sister-heroine, Jane Eyre. Just in the answers, in the countenance, in Helen’s obstinate character and love, we see this resemblance; the reader almost thinks of her as another strenuous Jane and besides also her future husband Arthur Huntingdon looks much like the first Mr. Rochester; but Helen on the contrary is very nice and the comparison with her literary-sister is at an end when the narration of the marriage-affair begins. Another important point of resemblance with ‘Jane Eyre’ is Mrs. Huntingdon’s fondness and ability at drawing. Sources of that art in this case have to be discovered in Anne’s own care and ability at it, so that she has transfused this gift also in her second heroine, who in opposition to the first little and plain Agnes, has many phisical and intellectual virtues more: firstly the strnght to endure the sufferings that her husband’s ill-conduct gives her, then the stoicism by which she can see her love dejected and despised for a frivolous woman, then the courage to endure loneliness and the impudent Hargrave’s courtship.
It is just the increasing firmness of character in Helen that draws attention to the usual Bronte characteristic, the ability to create a woman, pretty or not, whose fight in life is the price she pays to live. Also this character has to suffer hard, this time not in the economic way but in the moral one; her husband’s collapse is not only and exclusively his ruin but through it, she sees mainly the dissolution of all her reforming precepts and plans. And from this moment on, coinciding for her with her first open betrayal, all her love is reserved to her son, the only real thing she still possesses.
The second important character in the novel, by many considered the main one, is the same Huntingdon, whose magnetic force is the attraction of the book. Through the first features the author gives of him, he is irremediabily a drunkard without hope, a dissolute completely out of a right line of conduct. Other minor characters besides his are on his way but somehow they are always saved from a complete ruin while life for Huntingdon is vice, wine and women, unless he has any scruples. His is a potent, realistic portrait, just drawn from reality by that poor frightened Anne who had seen, day after day her brother’s long and painful decaying. And while powerful is the figure of the drunkard, it can easily stand a comparison with ‘’Wuthering Heights’’, Anne’s sister only novel in the scenes about Hindley. But the book is by no means a copy of Emily’s masterpiece because of its very different structural and basic points. ‘’The Tenant’’ reproduces the drunkard man seen in a milded way, from his family that is not willing till the end to admit his faults and mistakes.
Many aspects are in this book also different from the first and still immature ‘’Agnes Grey’’ – in her second and last work finally Anne has gone beyond her religious view of the world and has now arrived to an objective phase and also to a critic one. Just in this discharge she asserts herself as a new-born writer, a woman finally free to see the world as it really is, also if this admission costs her an unvaluable price.