Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

At last, I have finished Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.  Now I have read a book by each of the Bronte's sisters.  I'm sure there are many that will disagree with me, but I think that Anne Bronte is the lesser known sister for a reason.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall begins with the narration of Gilbert Markham, a young farmer from a small English village.  When a young widow and her son move to the village, she and Gilbert clash a bit because she is very solitary and protective of her son.  But Gilbert is rather persistent, and eventually friendship and more develops between them.  But the widow, Helen, resists any romantic relationship and, amid rumors that she is her landlord's mistress, she tells Gilbert her story.

Helen married when she was very young to a handsome and charming man who soon proved to be a reprobate.  Much of the book is about her miserable married life to Arthur Huntingdon.  I did feel for Helen, and I think that given the time the book was written in, the subject matter of a disastous marriage was pretty scandalous.  But I didn't find it all that compelling of a story.

But the book did have its moments.  There is one character, Walter Hargrave, who I found to be one of the most dispicable characters I've read about in a long time.  He is a friend of Helen's husband, Huntingdon, but he repeatedly tries to win Helen's heart.  He makes sure to take every opportunity to point out every bad thing that Huntingdon does wrong, how awful he is, as if that will induce Helen to throw aside her own morals.  I'm not describing this very well, but he's gross.  So gross.  Helen rejects him at every turn, but he won't leave her alone, no matter how clear she makes it that she wants nothing to do with him other than a polite friendship. 

Hargrave's behavior is part of the reason why I didn't really like Gilbert, because he kind of does the same thing.  He continues to pursue Helen even after she makes it clear she's not interested in a relationship.  And even after he finds out that she's still married, he uses Hargrave's logic that Huntingdon's adultry releases her from her duty of fidelity.  I couldn't understand why Helen responded to Gilbert's attention, but I suppose he does have redeeming qualities.  He's a good man (even though he is at times prone to jealous rage!) and he doesn't drink and whore around like Huntingdon and his friends did. 

But Gilbert and Helen were both a little bland.  I think that is one reason why the novels by Anne's sisters are more famous.  There's just more going on with the characters and with the plots that makes them interesting and memorable.  I mean, I'm glad that Helen gets to have her happy, pious life eventually, but it's boring. 

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