The tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

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.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

What’s your favorite Brontë classic and why?

The confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins

Frannie Langton is a mulatta slave at the Paradise plantation of Mr. Langton in Jamaica. As a mulatta and a house slave she doesn’t fit in, especially as she has learnt to read and write. When Mr. Langton wants to write a book about species, Frannie helps him with it and the two of them conduct some strange experiments. After a fire, Langton and Frannie leave Jamaica for London. Once there, he gives Frannie away to Mr Benham and she becomes a house slave again. She can’t remember anything when a few months later her mistress, whom she loves dearly, is found dead with herself sleeping beside the body. In jail, Frannie decides to write her story as it may be the only way to save her life.

I picked this book up at the library when looking for Bridget Collins’ ‘The binding’. Lured in by the beautiful cover and the promise of an original gothic novel, I immediately started reading it.

The story opens in London with Frannie in jail for the brutal murder of her owners, Mr. and Mrs. Benham. She can’t remember anything of that night and doesn’t believe she would be able to murder her mistress whom she loved with all her heart. So she starts writing her story from the beginning, when she was still a house slave at a Jamaican plantation.

I had expected much of this story, but it didn’t live up to my expectations. The story does have some gothic elements such as a murder, a household with secrets and some strange experiments, but I wouldn’t define it as the gothic novel I had hoped it would be.

The story itself is interesting enough, although I got the impression of having it read all before. There are a lot of predictable plot elements and some cliches. Frannie is a complex character and you don’t really get a grip on her.

What really put me off was the writing style. Collins writes in first person but it wasn’t always clear whether something was said in a dialogue or it were just thoughts of Frannie herself. I couldn’t follow what was said and done in some chapters. And especially when the trial begins, it all becomes a mess. Frannie appeals to a certain ‘you’, with which she means her lawyer and this strangely changes the whole narrative and style. There are some revelations at the end, but they couldn’t make up for the rest of the novel.

I must give Sara Collins credit for writing some beautiful lines about the importance of reading. The fact that Frannie has learned to read and can share that knowledge with Marguerite is an important aspect of the story. It makes her even more the outcast.

But in the end, I’m disappointed by this book. Yes, it has an original main character and it talks about slavery and racial debate, so in that sense it’s an important story to tell. But I couldn’t see past the messy writing style and had hoped that the crime aspect would take up a more prominent role in the book.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

What’s your favorite gothic novel?

Valhalla by Alan Robert Clark

Princess May Of Teck moves with her parents to Florence after they have fallen from grace within the English royal family. The serious May likes Florence and the company of painter Henry Thaddeus Jones. After their return to England, Queen Victoria wants May to marry Eddie, her grandson and second in line to the throne. Against all odds, Eddie and May become fond of each other. But when Eddie suddenly dies of the flu, May’s future becomes unsecure.

I must admit I didn’t know anything of Queen Mary’s life before I read this novel. My knowledge of the British royal family stops at Queen Victoria, apart from the current’s queen of course :). So Valhalla gave me a nice insight in the young May Of Teck and the formidable woman she would later become.

This is a story about love and duty. And the longing for freedom of a young woman not able to make her own choices. It’s about the sad loss of a prince and how it can torn a whole family apart.

I feel I now have a better understanding of Mary Of Teck’s young life, although some of the elements in the novel are fictional or only based on rumors (her love interests for example). Mary is often seen as an ice-queen alongside her husband George V. In this book you get to know the young couple and how they try to keep up appearances. I had hoped to learn more about Georgie’s character and the king he would be.

At first the writing style didn’t really grip me. I just couldn’t always follow who said what. Halfway the book, I felt a connection with May and I just wanted to know how her story would end. At that point, I was used to the writing and I enjoyed the book a lot.

The title ‘Valhalla’ is only explained in the last chapter. I believe it would have worked out better if it had been mentioned earlier in the book. Now it felt a bit artificial.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher to provide me with a copy of this book in return for my honest opinion.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

What’s your favorite book about royalty?