The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Anne Bronte’s second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, was published in 1848. In the format of a letter from Gilbert Markham to his brother-in-law in the first volume, followed by diary entries by Helen Graham in the second, the style is rather unconventional although follows a similar first-person format to Anne’s previous novel, Agnes Grey. The book gained more popularity than Agnes Grey and has twice been made into TV films by the BBC.

Like her previous novel there are feminist implications contained within the novel, showing Helen as not prepared to put up with abuse from her husband. Indeed in one seen she slams her bedroom door on her husband, a radical act in the Victorian age when rape within marriage was considered both legal and normal. However Anne maintains some aspects of Victorian morals, with a clear dislike of the adulterous character of Lady Lowborough.

In the first of the three volumes, Gilbert Markham is against the advice of his mother casually courting Eliza Millward until he switched his attention to a woman who has newly arrived in the village, Helen Graham. In retribution Eliza begins to spread rumours about Helen, which have some weight due to the village’s view of Helen and her son Arthur as mysterious newcomers. The rumours lead Gilbert to attack Mr Lawrence who is believed to be courting Helen, leading her to refuse to marry Gilbert but revealing the contents of her diaries to prove she had not interest in Mr Lawrence.

The second volume follows Helen’s marriage to Arthur Huntingdon. Helen fell for Huntingdon based upon his wit and handsome looks, but realising his negative features – self-indulgence and selfishness – resolves to change his ways through gentle persuasion and example. The marriage goes down hill following the birth of their child, Arthur, who Huntingdon sees as a rival for his wife’s attention. The is exasperated by visits of Huntingdon’s drunken friends, although Helen does not fall for Walter Hargrave, the brother of Helen’s friend, who shows his affections for her.

Following on from Huntingdon’s encouraging of his son to drink, Helen makes plans in her journal for her escape. She will leave Wildfell Hall and support herself as a painter, taking her son with her. Upon reading this in the journal, Huntingdon destroys her tools preventing her escape. Along with her brother, however, she is able to find a secret refuge in Wildfell Hall.

In the third volume Helen instructs Gilbert to end his pursuit of her. Shortly afterwards Huntingdon become gravely ill, although Helen is unable to comfort him on his deathbed due to the self-inflicted nature of his illness. A year passes when Gilbert hears rumour of Helen’s impending marriage. He returns to find that Mr. Lawrence is marrying Helen’s friend Esther, and decides to pursue Helen who has moved up in the world. Despite this after a chance encounter the two once again become lovers and marry.