I first came across The Tenant of Wildfell Hall when I was in sixth form, age 17, when I had joined a book club alongside some of my friends and a few teachers. It was well liked by my fellows but I hadn’t got to it yet and was in general rather busy. It looked and sounded like something similar to Wuthering Heights and Pride & Prejudice. Wuthering Heights was my all time worst read ever, and I’ve tried to give it a chance since, and still massively disliked it. Pride & Prejudice I did enjoy, and I’m definitely a purist when it comes to the film adaptations. I was just a little too busy, and I think I wasn’t too keen to read something so similar again.
This time I picked it up and was pleasantly surprised. It read nicely and moved naturally through introduction into a deeper story. Once you passed the first set of letter-based stories, into the diary entries of Helen, you were emotionally attached to the characters and the events of which they told.
Marriage is a key theme within the book and I was cynical in my view, sadly due to the media and stories around me, and automatically expected the view of marriage to be: when it gets hard, get out. Instead Helen’s life surprised me. Once she had grown up, suffered some, and found an amazing amount of love for her son Arthur, she was honorable and true to her beliefs and principles. No matter how many insults, pain and struggles were thrown at her, often with malicious intent, she stays true. Even when her husband cheats blatantly, she refuses to do likewise. She cares, and protects, and moves forward with her life, doing as much as she can to be a Christian – not for herself, but for God.
I don’t want to give too much away about the end of this book but I can honestly say I was overwhelmed and shed a few tears in the last ten pages or so. The story wasn’t attempting to be dramatic, over-emphasised or shocking. The events felt natural and I can imagine at that point in time, the lives of many women must have had some similarities if they had not been so careful in their choice of husband. The ongoing determination to do one’s best is possible the only over the top area of the entire book, and that I feel is somewhat down to my distorted view stemming from my own place in western 21st century culture.
I would highly recommend this book, have lent it out within the last fortnight, and have already heard back that my friend loved it too. It is simple and beautiful and hopeful. Hopefully it has also taught me to be a little kinder in my view of the world and people, and hopefully live up to as good an example.
- The (Superb) Tenant of Wildfell Hall (afictionhabit.wordpress.com)