When Mrs Helen Graham and her five-year-old son Arthur move into the abandoned Wildfell Hall, she becomes the talk of the town. Her strange ways and ideas mark her from the other nobel families. Gilbert Markham is the only one to befriend the young woman who paints to earn a living. But rumours grow that Helen has left her husband, the father of her son. Wildfell Hall is a quiet sanctuary no longer when her secrets are to be exposed.
Anne is the last of the Brontë sisters of whom I hadn’t read a novel yet. Having both loved ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’, I was looking forward to discover her writing. So ‘The tenant’ became my first book for the classics club.
The tenant of Wildfell Hall is a Victorian epistolary. The novel is told from two perspectives. The first part is a long letter from Gilbert Markham to his brother-in-law (who doesn’t appear in the novel, apart from just being the unknown receiver of the letter). He writes about the arrival of Mrs Graham and her son at Wildfell Hall and the reception by the other families. There is some irony about the elite in this book reminiscent of Jane Austen. But in my opinion Anne is more subtle and funnier (I especially loved Fergus, who’s sadly only a minor character).
I loved Gilbert’s perspective. You get to read the opinions of women on another woman from the point of view of a man who adores her. Gilbert is a bit naive, insecure and stubborn at times. But still he makes for a good main character.
Halfway, Gilbert receives Mrs Graham’ diary and we are introduced to her story. Here, the writing style changes and I needed some time to get used to it. Helen’s story covers some very serious themes that must have been taboo subjects in the 19th century. Alcohol addiction, mental abuse, adultery… The men in Helen’s story are vile creatures.
Anne has written a quite modern story, that maybe isn’t as upsetting anymore than it used to be. But it tells the story of a woman fleeing her unhealthy marriage for a safe haven. This story doesn’t need ghosts or a haunted house. The writing is extremely readable, it didn’t feel as if I was reading a 19th-century-book.
This doesn’t make it any easier to choose my favorite Brontë sister 😅
This is book 1/50 for the Classics club.
What’s your favorite Brontë classic and why?