(A review of 'The Tenant of Wildfell Hall',
a novel by Anne Bronte
Review first written on May 20, 2019)
Of course, it is an excellent book and was definitely ahead of its time - to the point that it aroused much criticism in times it was written. The fact of a woman walking out on her husband must itself have been sensational during those times. I am really curious about the lives of Bronte sisters. I could really like to read a common biography of them or see a Doctor Who episode based on them.
All that said, I am gonna focus on why I didn't like this one as much as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Part of the reason why I have avoided reading 'The Tennant of Windfell Hall' this long is that I had read Agnes Grey and was worried that the protagonist here would be just as righteous. It is one of the most dislikable qualities a person can have in my opinion.
Now there are two reasons I hate righteousness. First, righteous people will cause themselves unnecessary suffering. Helen, for example, will suffer gladly for this righteousness. First, she chooses to stick around with a husband (Arthur) - around whom she suffers and she chooses to stick around out of a sense of righteous Christian duty or sanctity of marriage or some other such absurd phrase. When she does run away from Arthur (which was to be the key attraction of the book in my eyes) - she does so not because of herself but for her son. Now I don't understand feminism much, but isn't it a bad example for women (or for anybody)? A person who can't take a step for her own happiness but will do it for that of others? Jane Eyre, on the other hand, had refused to marry an already married Rochester of a sense of self-preservation.
Again, Helen won't give into the passionate love she feels for Gilbert choosing to ask him to go away of devotion to a failed marriage. This faithfulness to a point of faultiest fault among wives is really annoying. I mean don't you find it ridiculous that Arthur first had to die (preferably after a long illness during which Helen nurses her so selflesssly) for Helen to think of other man? I should like to know which was the first English book that had a cheating wife as the protagonist in it? Especially which was first such female-authored book?
Third and this is worst, she came back to a dying Arthur of Christian love and forgiveness - choosing to suffer undeserved insults from him. Righteousness has worst flavor when it is combined with religiousness.
The second reason why I don't like righteousness is that it always comes with righteous judgment. Arthur is supposed to be a sinner and so are his friends. Arthur might even have a point when he said that she driving all joy out their child's life.
Also, the righteous people are also always ready to preach which is the case with Helen.
Righteousness is always checking your passions which might explain why some people think the book is devoid of passion. It ain't, all major characters show passion - only it is that Helen is too righteous to check it in in herself and too judgemental on her husband and his friends when they act on it. Emily Bronte's Characters on the other hand always acted passionately.
But the faults of the protagonist are not faults of the novel or its author. That ain't the reason why I took the fifth star away. The thing is this sense of righteousness gives you the impression that the book is written too cautiously, too consciously. A good novel always shows something of its author's mind (ideas, insecurities, vulnerabilities, values, way of looking at the world, etc) but Anne Bronte seems to be determined to selectively chose which parts she shows to the world. The part of her soul that goes into the book is like a well-dressed woman, too conscious of impression she might be creating (if not determined to have a particular lesson to teach) while, with Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, the part of the souls of their authors that entered in the books had the natural vulnerability and beauty of women you have walked in when they were changing clothes. I am sorry if the expression was too rude. But it is how I explain myself how the cyber-psychologist in me loved Wuthering Heights (CG Jung himself discussed the book, calling Heathcliff Emily's shadow) and Jane Eyre (where, among other things, the toughest decision of Jane's life was inspired by a dream) but not so much this.