The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
I had read novels by the other Bronte sisters, but never Anne, and I liked this one a lot. It is written in the first person through the eyes of a young man who runs the family farm in England in 1827. The narrative is set up as a series of letters written to a friend, explaining his life and the mysterious young widow and child that have taken up residence in a nearby small mansion that has fallen on hard times.
Most of the gossipy local women look on the newly arrived widow with suspicion and negativity, because she is not open with information about where she came from and her life. Gilbert, the young farmer is attracted to her and her son although he to is often rebuffed when he tries to find out more about her. Despite her usual indifference to him, she sometimes lets down her guard and treats him like a friend.
Gilbert falls more and more in love with a Helen, the widow. Although she hardens at his advances, you can tell it's hard for her to do because she cares a great deal for Gilbert. Finally, because Gilbert is so insistent and confused about her behavior, she gives him a diary so he might understand her situation.
Here the novel begins another first person narrative, this time through Helen. We discover she is not a widow, but a women who is trying to protect her son by escaping an abusive marriage to a drunken, partying, and womanizing man. She had tried desperately to change his behavior, but he and his friends just spiral deeper into the alcoholic morass until she had to make her escape and disappear to protect her son.
Realizing her situation doesn't change Gilbert's love for her, but her pleading and knowing she is married, makes Gilbert promise to keep his distance. He does this then is thrown into turmoil when he learns from gossiping neighbors that she has left Wildfell Hall and returned to her rotten husband.
That's all I am going tell you about the story.
Like her sisters, Anne had to first publish the book under a man's name (Acton Bell). Even so the society of the 1600's found the story about the drunken husband shocking, and when rumors flew that it was really written by a woman, many critics didn't believe it. It caused a huge stir also because it was the first time a novel told of a woman leaving her husband, and justifying it. Anne's sisters, Charlotte and Emily got quite mad at Anne for the novel because they thought the drunken husband character was based on their brother, and many suspect the novel fell into its obscurity because the sisters tried to suppress it after Anne’s early death.
I wondered why I had never seen it as a drama because the story was quite good and seemed to be on a par with all of those other period English novels that have been turned into film many times. I really enjoyed reading the book.
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