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The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall
by Anne Bronte
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Helen Graham has taken up residence in the bleak Wildfell Hall with her young son to escape her alcoholic and philandering husband. The story is narrated both by Helen and the man who falls in love with her. Frederick Davidson and Nadia May take the roles of the storytellers, and they do an excellent job of portraying both the male and female voices. May reads Helen's diary and correspondence. May's voice is young, fresh and naive, well-suited to Helen as a young woman; the voices of the men are excellent as well. Her laughter sounds genuine, and her portrayal of drunken men is perfect. She moves the narrative along crisply, with just the right touch of drama. Davidson's voicing is also excellent, but he tends to overdramatize at times, and his tempo is just a shade too fast. The choice to use both male and female narrators was a good one, enlivening the story and underlining the differences between the sexes in Victorian England. S.S.R. (c) AudioFile, Portland, Maine
From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Erica Bauermeister
Of the three Bronte sisters, Emily and Charlotte are better known, yet it is Anne's work which carries some of the strongest feminist themes. In The Tenant of Wildfell Hall a devout young woman named Helen falls in love with a man who is handsome, but whose values are questionable; willing to believe she can alter his character, she marries him. Her marriage becomes a misery she has no power to change until she devises a bold plan to take control. Her story comes through two voices - her own and that of Gilbert Markham, a man who falls in love with Helen later in her life - and is told through journals and letters written over a period of time. Because of the privacy and immediacy of these narratives, the reader sees personal changes and attitudes Helen and Gilbert are often unaware of at the time: we witness Helen's first naive protestations of passion for her husband and follow her through her eventual disillusionment; we recognize Gilbert's early, unconscious egotism. While the plot continues and mysteries are unraveled, what Helen and Gilbert say - as well as what they don't say - provides another story to follow, which reinforces Anne Bronte's indictment of the sexual double standards of nineteenth-century Britain. -- For great reviews of books for girls, check out Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14.
From the Publisher
Anne, the forgotten Bronte sister, produced a novel more relevant today than either Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre. This is a Victorian classic of astonishing power and passion, anticipating the struggle for equality of opportunity for women.
It is autumn of 1827 when a woman named Helen Graham moves into the deserted, stately moorland manor Wildfell Hall with her young son. The neighbors take immediate notice of this awkward circumstance, and she is subjected to their jealousy and the idle rumor they spread. They discover she is escaping a brutish marriage and has taken an assumed name to prevent her husband finding her. She must unchain herself and her son physically and emotionally from his roguish influence and earn a living. The imaginative power and realism of these characters involved in marital hostilities urge the reader to view the far-reaching aspects of their struggle with a more compassionate understanding. The husband she left, Arthur Huntingdon, was a selfish womanizer who only wanted to satiate his own desires. Even though Helen offered to help him turn his life around, he had no wish to give up his drunkenness or adultery. At last Helen grew to despise him as much as she once loved him. But when she witnessed his attempts to make his son a chip off the old block, her motherly duties overrode her responsibilities as a wife, and with the help of her brother she runs away to the obscurity of a small town. Here she meets Gilbert Markham who falls in love with her and requests her hand in marriage. She refuses him and offers an explanation by supplying him with references to her journals and letters that will eventually convince him of the desperation of her married life. As the plot advances and mysteries unwind, what Gilbert and Helen say--and also what they don't say--gives the reader access to Bronte's scourging accusation of the sexual ambiguities of 19th century Britain. And even though they are often unaware of their insensitive reactions to their own beliefs, they realize they love each other. When Arthur Huntingdon dies, they are finally allowed to marry.
The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
Novel by Anne Bronte (writing under the pseudonym Acton Bell), first published in three volumes in 1848. This epistolary novel presents a portrait of debauchery that is remarkable in light of the author's sheltered life. It is the story of young Helen Graham's disastrous marriage to the dashing drunkard Arthur Huntingdon--said to be modeled on the author's wayward brother Branwell--and her flight from him to the seclusion of Wildfell Hall. Pursued by Gilbert Markham, who is in love with her, Graham refuses him and, by way of explanation, gives him her journal. There he reads of her wretched married life. Eventually, after Huntingdon's death, they marry.
Inside Flap Copy
Over a short period in the 1840s, the three Brontë sisters working in a remote English
parsonage produced some of the best-loved and most-enduring of all novels: Charlotte's Jane Eyre, Emily's Wuthering Heights, and Anne's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, a book that created a scandal when it was published in 1848 under the pseudonym Acton Bell.
Compelling in its imaginative power and bold naturalism, the novel opens in the autumn of 1827, when a mysterious woman who calls herself Helen Graham seeks refuge at the desolate moorland mansion of Wildfell Hall. Brontë's enigmatic heroine becomes the object of gossip and jealousy as neighbors learn she is escaping from an abusive marriage and living under an assumed name. A daring story that exposed the dark brutality of Victorian chauvinism, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was nevertheless attacked by some critics as a celebration of the same excesses it criticized.
"Every reader who has felt the power of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights comes, sooner or later, to The Tenant of Wildfell Hall," observed Brontë scholar Margaret Lane. "Anne Brontë, with all the Brontë taste for violence and drama, and with her experience of the same rude scenes and savage Yorkshire tales that had fed the imaginations of her sisters, did not shrink. She used the material at hand, and shaped it with singular honesty and seri-
ousness....Anne is a true Brontë."
This edition of The Tenant of Wildfell
Hall is the companion volume to the Mobil Masterpiece Theatre WGBH television presentation broadcast on PBS.
The Modern Library has played a significant role in American cultural life for the better part of a century. The series was founded in 1917 by the publishers Boni and Liveright and eight years later acquired by Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer. It provided the foun-dation for their next publishing venture, Random House. The Modern Library has been a staple of the American book trade, providing readers with affordable hard-bound editions of important works of liter-ature and thought. For the Modern Library's seventy-fifth anniversary, Random House redesigned the series, restoring as its emblem the running torchbearer created by Lucian Bernhard in 1925 and refurbishing jackets, bindings, and type, as well as inau-gurating a new program of selecting titles. The Modern Library continues to provide the world's best books, at the best prices.
The Modern Library of the World's
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a dramatic serial on Mobil Masterpiece Theatre, a public television series presented by WGBH-TV, Boston, made possible by a grant from the Mobil Corporation.
"The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was conceived in the same atmosphere as Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Wildfell Hall has power and imagination, and is so close to one of the tragedies in the sisters' own lives, that no perceptive reader can be indifferent to it."
"I wished to tell the truth, for truth always conveys its own moral to those who are able to receive it."
About the Author
Anne Bronte was born at Thornton, Yorkshire, on January 17, 1820. She was the sixth and youngest child of Reverend Patrick Bronte, an Irishman by birth, and Maria Branwell Bronte, who was from a prosperous Cornish family. Following her mother's death in 1821, Anne and four sisters and one brother were raised by an aunt, Elizabeth Branwell. The two eldest daughters, Maris and Elizabeth, died in 1825 from tuberculosis contracted at the religious boarding school to which they had been sent.
Anne spent her childhood and formative years in the isolated parsonage at Haworth, Yorkshire, where her father was curate. The Bronte children all thrived in fantasy worlds that drew on their voracious reading of Byron, Scott, and Shakespeare as well as The Arabian Nights and gothic fiction. Anne and Emily worked together on a saga about the fictitious island of Gondal while Charlotte and brother Branwell wrote melodramatic chronicles centered around the imaginary kingdom of Angria. In 1836 Anne entered Miss Wooler's School at Roe Head, Charlotte and Emily's alma mater, but withdrew the next year because of illness.
Financial considerations forced Anne to seek employment as a governess. In 1839 she arrived at Blake Hall in Mirfield to tutor the children of Joshua Ingham, a local squire and magistrate. From 1841 to 1845 she was governess at Thorpe Green, the home of Reverend Edmund Robinson located twelve miles from York. In 1843 Branwell Bronte also found work as a tutor at Thorpe Green until suspicions of an illicit relationship with his employer's wife resulted in dismissal. Branwell's gradual descent into alcoholism, drug addiction, and madness is reflected in the writings of all three sisters, particularly in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
The Brontes launched their literary careers in 1846 with a collection of verse published pseudonymously as Poems by Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. In 1847 Anne's first novel, Agnes Grey, was published in a volume together with Emily's Wuthering Heights. Based on Anne's experiences as a governess, it exposed the desperate plight of unmarried, educated women driven to take up the only respectable career open to them. Though critic George Moore, perhaps Anne's greatest champion, later deemed it 'the most perfect prose narrative in English literature,' the work was overshadowed by the intense originality of Wuthering Heights, not to mention the enormous success of Charlotte's Jane Eyre, which had appeared a few weeks earlier.
Anne continued writing; her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, came out in 1848. The bold story of a strong-minded woman's struggle for independence, the book unmasked the dark brutality of Victorian chauvinism but was nevertheless attacked by some critics as a celebration of the very excesses it criticized. Charlotte Bronte, as she later revealed in the 'Biographical Notice of Ellis and Acton Bell' (1850), was especially disturbed by it: 'The choice of subject was an entire mistake. Nothing less congruous with the writer's nature could be conceived. The motives which dictated this choice were pure, but, I think, slightly morbid.'
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall reminded other reviewers of Wuthering Heights, and it quickly went to a second printing. 'Every reader who has felt the power of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights comes, sooner or later, to The Tenant of Wildfell Hall,' wrote Bronte scholar Margaret Lane. 'Anne Bronte, with all the Bronte taste for violence and drama, and with her experience of the same rude scenes and savage Yorkshire tales that had fed the imaginations of her sisters, did not shrink. She used the material at hand, and shaped it with singular honesty and seriousness. . . . [One] discovers from Wildfell Hall that Anne is a true Bronte.'
The final months of Anne Bronte's life were filled with tragedy. Both Branwell and Emily died of tuberculosis in the autumn of 1848. Anne Bronte succumbed to the same illness at Scarborough on May 28, 1849.
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