Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Brontë

WildfellHallI can’t quite put this book in to words. It’s a book I have longed to read for a long while – I love Jane Eyre and, while not one of my favourites, I also appreciate Wuthering Heights (truthfully I prefer the 1978 song by Kate Bush to the book). Having read something by both her sisters, I felt a while ago that it would only be fair to finally read something by Anne.

I often go on about binding and publishing and aesthetics of a book – this time is no exception. I adore these Penguin English Library editions. They look beautiful when uniform on a shelf and the cover designs are simply gorgeous. The texture of these covers is almost waxy and gah if I can by a book in these editions, I will have it! So when I saw this edition of this book I knew it was the one I absolutely needed, no other edition would suffice.

This took me a good 2 weeks to read; I did a bulk of it while away but I found it quite difficult to sit down and binge on (as I do with many classics). I have to admit, I do find books with more characters – especially classics which often have convoluted plot lines and the like – quite difficult to get my head around!

The tenant in the title isn’t actually a tenant at all – it emerges that she is actually heir to the property. She only fled to Wildfell to escape an alcoholic husband. This itself is quite a scandal as when this was written, the act of a married woman running from her husband (especially with a child) is actually against the law – a law that essentially saying that women are property and have no more legal privilege than a wooden spoon. Helen is awesome. And she is a world apart from Jane and her fight to be happy or Catherine’s defiance against the patriarchy. Anne’s (absolutely remarkable) Helen, defies law and she does not give damn about it. Many readers raised their eyebrows (because that’s how us British folk show our staunch disappointment) and others said that this was not as good as Jane Eyre – and while I agree on an emotional level (Jane Eyre holds a dear place in my heart) I have to say, Helen is so much more feisty and less wishy-washy than Jane or Catherine in her sister’s novels and ultimately, I think the plot was actually better too.

I hate to compare this to her sister’s work – but it is just a whole universe different. It is so much more mature for one thing, the main plot is alcohol dependence and it’s just a world apart from the main story arcs in Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. It is also a story that seems a lot more poignant as it was close to home for the sisters when this was written (Branwell, their brother, drank himself to death from what I understand) but it is also a story that is so relevant now too. The only similarity is that, like Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, it is ultimately a romance and (eventually) the right people get together.

This is probably a better novel than Jane Eyre – but as I’ve said, I have an emotional attachment to that book and it’s going no where from my heart. I truly think I could reread it, hate it and still not have a bad word said about it. So on my Brontë Scale The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is currently a close second at 4.5/5!

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