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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - review

I recently re-read Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and hereafter follows my Goodreads review of it, should you be interested.

(Rating: 4 stars out of 5)

When I first read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, during my tear through all the Bronte novels in existence, I ultimately deemed it my second-favorite, after Jane Eyre (and just before either Shirley or Wuthering Heights--I need to re-read those to remember and decide anew). But this time through I found myself irked by a couple of things. One was the meandering, hitting-you-over-the-head-with-moral-instruction, heavy-on-the-foreshadowing dialogue. The other, which is interrelated with that complaint, is the oppressive piety. More than once, I found myself thinking incredulously, "You're talking about theology at a time like this??" (Most specifically, when Helen and Gilbert are trying to tear themselves away from each other for what they think will be the remainder of their lives.)

Then again, that was Victorian England for you. And that was the exact reason Helen couldn't easily get rid of her abusive husband, or let herself indulge in a love on the side. So, without the piety, there wouldn't be much plot. Even so, I can't help being annoyed by it, because Anne Bronte seems to be defending the virtues of such a system even while showing what massive problems it holds. I for one would hate living in a society like that. (Except for the pretty dresses. And the servants to help with meals and child-rearing and stuff.)

All that said, I did find myself sucked into the story and wanting to keep reading it, which is my basic and most important test of the quality of a novel. And though some find Gilbert Markham vapid or irrelevant, count me among those who really, really like him. He's a perfect balance between the monstrous hedonism of hubby Arthur and the severe piety of Helen--he's passionate but responsible, with the capacity for fun. I don't think my liking is just because the divine Toby Stephens played him in the miniseries, but you can never be too sure. (Doesn't hurt that the also-divine Rupert Graves played Arthur. I'm willing to overlook a lot of plot changes for the eye candy in that one.)

Anyway. Maybe this book deserves five stars, not four. Hell, we'll compromise. Four and a half. Er, sorry, Miss Bronte; I meant "h---."


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 9th, 2011 09:52 pm (UTC)
The best Victorian Novel I have read so far is Dickens' Great Expectations- Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre are both fantastic novels so The Tenant of Wildfell Hall must be good. I'll try to get hold of it tomorrow...

The Illusionist

May. 11th, 2011 09:59 pm (UTC)
Enjoy! You might look into Wilkie Collins as well--his novels are pretty addictive with some good twists. As far as Dickens, I've been meaning to re-read A Tale of Two Cities, which people keep including on their best-ever lists, and which I vaguely remember liking from high school. French Revolution is always good drama!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )