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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne Brontë

Many contemporaries of the Brontë sisters believed the three sisters, writing under under male pseudonyms, were actually one man—an impressive feat considering Wuthering Heights, Agnes Grey, and Jane Eyre were all published within a two-month period. Yet it's not all that surprising readers were thrown off. I myself, knowing better, cannot help but think of “the Brontës” as one collective mind. Their shared history and passions, their simultaneous storming of the publishing world, their unfortunate life stories—these parallels have created three very similar writers. With Emily's singular work teetering on the romantic end of the spectrum, Anne's realist novels on the other, and Charlotte falling somewhere in between the two, the Brontë sisters seemed more like a single author dabbling in slightly different styles than three unique individuals.

 

When I began reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, I was hopeful that the youngest Brontë would avoid that signature Brontë quality of losing the story. Wuthering Heights was wonderful, and “the next generation” was necessary to see the passion and the loss of reality for Heathcliff, but the story dragged in these years. Jane Eyre, likewise, was wonderful, but Jane's time with St. John and sisters, while necessary to create some distance between the protagonist and Rochester, was largely uneventful. The Tenant... seemed likely to avoid this initially, as it began in just the right place and seemed to be moving at a steady pace; then it descended into a massive diversion that was, for the most part, unnecessary; sure it helped me to better understand the desperate situation Helen was in, but it went on for far too long and, once again, distracted me from the story I wanted. It didn't help that this flashback was largely hearsay within quotes within a journal within a letter within a novel. At this point, it may sound like I didn't like this novel; far from it, I love everything EmiCharlAnn Brontë wrote, but I do find it a bit bothersome that the one thing that keeps me from adoring these novels is that the author chooses to include one very lengthy section (by lengthy, I mean one-fourth to one-half of the novel) that I believe could've been seriously reduced. It's unfortunate, but not damning by any means.

 

Though probably the least memorable of the Brontë novels I've read thus far, The Tenant... stands on equal ground with Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. This was the most realistic of the three, and certainly controversial for the time. This has to be one of the earliest examples of feminist literature that exists today. The fact that Charlotte pulled the novel from publication immediately after Anne's death gives some indication for the sentiments of the time, and also why Anne was the least famed of the sisters. It was a very bold novel, and for this reason alone it carries as much weight, if not more, as her sisters' more fanciful works.

 

Clearly the works of the Brontës, despite their similarities, weren't the product of one mind. I know that, but I still can't quite separate them. Perhaps it doesn't matter. Despite that one big ramble at the center of each, I really do enjoy the works of the Brontës, and I very much look forward to visiting them again, regardless of whether it be Anne, Charlotte, or Emily.