Monday, 27 April 2009

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

What I thought was going to be yet another of the Brontës' dark and dismal books turned out to be rather good. Until now, Jane Eyre is the only Brontë novel I’ve really ever cared for (I apologize to the Wuthering Heights lovers. I’ve tried, but I just can’t make myself read it a second time.). Knowing that this book dealt with a horrible marriage in which the wife was more or less abused, I was expecting lots of dark, depressing scenes, yet instead of telling the story linearly, Anne starts the novel in a time that gives the reader hope and knowledge that things will get better. She also cleverly creates a mystery, despite giving the reader insight into the future. She only tells part of the story, leaving the reader to guess or wonder out how it reached that point. This pulls the reader into the story as half a story is, well, just that, half a story. It also gives Anne a good side story by allowing her to tell us how people of that day and age looked upon mysterious people. Anyone whose history is not fully known must be bad, otherwise they would tell you what you want to know about their past. There seems to be no feelings of generosity or Christian spirit involved, despite the otherwise important place of Religion in that society. Indeed, it is the vicar who is one of the most involved in spreading slander.

Once having created the mystery, she goes on to tell the story of how Mrs. Graham wound up as the tenant at Wildfell. This part of the book does become dark and sad. The only criticism I have of it is that it went on just a bit too long. I felt like I’d gotten the point and could we please just move along now. However, I don’t suppose the characters were able to do that, so why should we? Finally, it does move along and the author goes on to tie the two sections of the books together.

All in all it’s a good story and one that must be finished to understand how it all fits in together. The author makes many statements about life and religion, the meaning of which aren’t clear until the book has been read to the end, at which point, things seem to fall into place. Anne Brontë's style seems to be something between realism and romanticism. She tries to give the reader a strong sense that should we live our lives as we should and not as we want, things will turn out for the best in the end, but that suffering will and must take place first for us to truly comprehend the extent of our blessings. It’s almost as if she wants her characters to suffer through antithesis of what they are striving for, so that they can see that their ideals are maybe placed a little too high. We should be content with less than perfection, but will only be able to be so if we suffer through horrors first.

I’ll just add that the book has an interesting perspective, namely that instead of focusing on one particular person as a villain residing within a better class of people, Anne shows us what the world of the villain looks like. That is to say that in literature in general, there are often references to unworthy young men who run with the wrong crowd. Anne shows us what the inner workings of such a crowd look like. For this reason alone, the book is worth a read.


Lula O said...

This one is a favorite of mine, along the lines of Collins The Woman in White, a good gothic mystery. There's a good PBS version of this that come out about 10 years ago. Charlotte also used the name Graham in Villette. I wonder what their fascination was with that particular name.

Laura's Reviews said...

I love this book also. I think that it is as good as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights...I'm not sure why Anne is always left out. I agree with Lula - the PBS version was quite good.