The Tenant of Wildfell Hall | Anne Brontë


I wanted to love The Tenant of Wildfell Hall after reading the introduction by Stevie Davies, which discussed the wildness of Anne Bronte and all of Charlotte's attempts to quell the flame in this particular novel, even to declare this work misrepresentative of her beloved sister after Anne's death. I was thrilled. I wanted to be "wilded out" Bronte-style.

Sadly, while Tenant deals with many themes that I'm certain were brazen and taboo to openly discuss in her time — i.e. the abusive potential of husbands, the shamelessness with which the genteel classes indulged in adultery and alcohol — I was underwhelmed. Wild? The morals of this book could not be more clear-cut if it were a literal pocket-sized priest: The bad are innately bad, the good are innately good, the mediocre are innately mediocre. The bad may repent but this does not render them less bad; the good may hit ponies out of jealousy but they repent and are still good; the mediocre waddle and wallow and pretty much remain mediocre.

Charlotte, what was so objectionable?

The saddest thing is perhaps that I found Anne Bronte's narrative of cruelty and fraud much more life-like and stirring than her portrayal of true love. Much of the plot is driven by one man's real love for a woman who has experienced several false alarms, but to my modern skeptical eye there is no particular distinction marking Mr. Markham as better or realer. It occurred to me that perhaps Anne simply had no conception of what real, "good" love looked like, and therefore could not achieve the verisimilitude that she crafted for real, "bad" suffering. 

(Meanwhile, Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and Villette suggest more familiarity with the quirks and irrationalities and patient timeline of real courtship...)