The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a very brave, straight to the point social commentary on the prevailing ethics of the Victorian era. Anne Brontë deals with abuse, alcoholism, domestic violence, sexual ethics and infidelity, gambling, the social and marital status of women and inequalities of access to education for young girls. The protagonist, Helen Huntington (aka Graham), boldly violates social norms as she slams the door on her abusive husband, and the banging ”reverberated throughout Victorian England”, as author May Sinclair famously noted in the early 1900s.
Anne Brontë has produced a pioneering, highly feminist novel, a book that shocked Victorian society upon its release and even more so when it was revealed that the author was in fact a very young woman!
Anne’s depiction of middle-class bourgeois life in the 1800s is fantastic. The author unravels the story through a series of documents; letters and diaries, creating an interesting dense, multi-layered setting, while demonstrating different perspectives depending on the narrating voice which is being presented each time.
The prose is down-to-earth realist and I disagree with those who don’t see passion in it; most notably her sister Charlotte who consistently blocked its re-publication on the grounds that “it hardly seems to me desirable to preserve ... the choice of subject in that work is a mistake”. That was of course after the book had become an immense success, despite the mixed critical reception, instantly upon its original release, and everybody knows that Charlotte was as jealous a bitch (of both Emily and Anne) as she was talented.
Anne defied the sharp criticism of her book as coarse through her notes on the Second Edition of the Tenant that read: “My object in writing the following pages was not simply to amuse the Reader; neither was it to gratify my own taste, nor yet to ingratiate myself with the Press and the Public: I wished to tell the truth, for truth always conveys its own moral to those who are able to receive it.”
Now a widely acclaimed landmark feminist book, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall feels like the perfect revenge for Anne Brontë against those who named her weak, passionless and inexperienced. A true literary gem by a real radical.