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Review: "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" by Anne Brontë

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is available for free download from our ebook catalog.

Readers looking for more Brontë after consuming Emily's and Charlotte's work often turn to the less famous sister, Anne. One common theme among these readers is surprise that Anne is as good or even better than her sisters. Agnes Grey, Anne's first novel, is sweet and impeccably constructed. However The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is her stronger novel. While also impeccably written, much of this novel is not sweet. Its strong points lie in the gutsy portrayal of taboo and uncomfortable subjects such as alcoholism and marital strife.

Another difference from her first novel is the unique narrative technique. The first third of the novel is a  letter by a prosperous farmer, Gilbert Markham, to a friend. He relates the beginnings of his friendship with the new tenants Wildfell Hall, Helen Graham and her son. The first part of the narrative passes quickly, and just as it comes to a climax we pass to the second part: Helen's diary of her life before moving to Wildfell Hall. This part of the story is most engrossing. Helen describes her courtship and marriage to Arthur Huntingdon. We see their first meetings, their mutual attraction, her Aunt's portentous warnings, their marriage, and the birth of their son. Then things get interesting. Anne Brontë apparently had the opportunity for first-hand observations of alcoholism and abuse.

The story within a story narration works wonderfully. Helen's narrative ends precisely where the first part of the story picked up. The last part is also told through letters, both Helen's and Gilbert's, and brings the story to a close. If the ending seems almost too happily wrapped up, she more than makes of for it in the middle section.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a story that will stay with you, perhaps requiring subsequent readings. Another common theme among readers is astonishment that such an accurate portrayal of marital strife should come from a young woman who never married. Be sure you read Anne Brontë's excellent preface, as she makes several important remarks on how the book was received upon publication and the defense of her chosen subject matter .

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