Last Christmas I was a bride, with a heart overflowing with present bliss, and full of ardent hopes for the future – though not unmingled with foreboding fears. Now I am a wife: my bliss is sobered, but not destroyed; my hopes diminished, but not departed; my fears increased, but not yet thoroughly confirmed…
Usually when I post about a book half way through, it’s because it’s either exceptionally long (like War and Peace) or it’s taking exceptionally long for me to read it. The latter is the case with Anne Bronte’s novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
I confess I had not heard of Anne Bronte until I started reading her sisters’ novels. I have no idea whether she felt left out in the Bronte family but I didn’t want to do that a century and a half later.
The first part of the novel is told in the form of letters from Gilbert Markham to a friend in which he describes his involvement with the mysterious Helen Graham, his neighbor and the novel’s title character. Gilbert and Helen are both fascinating characters. Helen is the more intriguing simply because we know so little about her. We know she seems to have been hurt by someone and has a maturity beyond her years. The fact that she is making a living as an artist in a society where women didn’t make a living outside of marriage makes her even more interesting.
I also find Gilbert a great narrator as one who will defend Helen to the utmost without giving one iota about what his community thinks. Granted, it’s not difficult to determine that there are things about Helen of which Gilbert is not aware – nor is the reader. As the result of what I have the feeling is a huge misunderstanding, Helen finally gives Gilbert her diary to read.
That leads to the next part. Helen writes about her courtship and ultimate marriage to Arthur Huntingdon – a scoundrel that Helen is bent on changing. I don’t condone Arthur’s behavior by any means but the contrast between the Helen that Gilbert knows and the naive Helen that is married to Arthur is almost jarring.
At the halfway point of the novel, I think there is still more to be revealed about Arthur and Helen’s marriage and what circumstances might be responsible for the added maturity of the Helen that eventually moves into Wildfell Hall.
I’ll keep reading.