The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
ISBN10: 1687165424 ISBN13: 9781687165428 Publisher: Independently Published Published: Aug 18 2019 Pages: 766 Language: English
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall begins with the arrival of the beautiful and mysterious Mrs Graham in a quiet country neighbourhood. Everyone is thrilled to have someone new to talk about, but infuriated by the secrecy that surrounds her. Nasty rumours circulate.All this takes place against a backdrop of country houses, vicars and picnics. So far, so Jane Austen - and at times this does feel a bit like a rough, early Austen. But the Tenant of Wildfell Hall is made of messier, bloodier and more overtly political stuff, and we are denied the guaranteed comfort of a happy ending. The title of "the first feminist novel" has been awarded to other books, perhaps with less justice.Mrs Graham's real name is Helen Huntingdon, and she and her son are fugitives. Her husband Arthur is a drunkard and an adulterer, but she has disgraced herself by leaving him.From the contents of Helen's diary, we learn that she was warned off marrying Huntingdon, but he was very charming, and she was very young. She tried to make it work for years, but gave up when she learned he was having sex with a house guest. The scene where she confronts him tells us everything we need to know about the legal enslavement of women in 19th-century England: She: "Will you let me take our child and what remains of my fortune, and go?"He: "No."She: "Will you let me have the child then, without the money?"He: "No, nor yourself without the child. Do you think I'm going to be made the talk of the country for your fastidious caprices?"Forced to stay, Helen bans her husband from her bed. (The slamming of Helen Huntingdon's bedroom door against her husband, May Sinclair later wrote, reverberated throughout Victorian England.) Eventually she does flee - to Wildfell Hall.This is not a perfect novel. Helen is a goody-goody bore at times, but she is manifestly too interesting for Gilbert Markham, the farmer we are asked to believe her in love with. But if you can forgive that, and more importantly, weather the road-block of a first chapter, this is a cracking page-turner.Bront died less than a year after The Tenant was published. Her last words, whispered to her sister Charlotte, were: "Take courage."