A Review of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
By Tim Whittome

A Powerful And Astonishing Tour-De-Force Masterpiece.

At the outset, I feel bound to point out that the Oxford Classics edition of this work is one of the few editions to actually be complete. By complete, I mean it includes the first chapter of Anne's original work (Dear Halford...etc.) and does not instead launch into the meaningless 'You must go back with me... '. Readers should take care to buy copies of The Tenant that include the opening chapter as well as Anne's famous preface to the second edition. What I like about the Oxford Classics edition is that it includes both, along with some excellent notes about Anne Brontë and the possible source for the characters.

For me, The Tenant is an incredible novel. I have read it six times in the past six years and it still retains its awesome power. One cannot fail to be impressed by its acute and realistic characterization as well as its subtle understanding of the male psyche and the many psychological layers that all her protagonists feel both within themselves and for each other. I once wrote a whole article on Hargrave alone, but all the characters are so well realized that there are hardly any weak ones here. Far from being the prude that she is often characterized as, the heroine, Helen Huntingdon is warm and passionate. The fact she is also a forerunner of Ibsen's Nora in the Doll's House should likewise arouse our interest and sympathy for the character. Anne is very like Jane Austen in her sensitive and acute characterization.

Anne is too often a forgotten heroine of English literature and as next year (1999) is the 150th anniversary of her death, it is a good time to re-evaluate her position as both the 'Cinderella' of English literature and the forgotten Brontë Sister. Many such re-appraisals have taken place in recent years as critics come to see Anne as more than the pale shadow of her allegedly more talented sisters. In the final analysis, just reading her work rather than learning about it from others will prove the truth of what those who love Anne Brontë and her work will readily bear witness too.

Many of the scenes in The Tenant are astonishingly vivid and realistic in their passion and intensity, and without spoiling the reader's prospective enjoyment, I will cast further comment aside at this point beyond a brief remark that Anne's handling of such aspects do show that she was more than a match for both Emily and Charlotte.

I am sure that most readers will enjoy and want to read this work again and again. I suggest taking reading it by a nice fire on a rainy day but occasionally looking out the window at the brooding, intense, misty and maybe snow-capped mountains (if you are lucky enough to be near any). Notice and think about what you see and as you return to the book, realize that this wonderfully talented Brontë sister has done exactly the same.


 Copyright © 1998 Tim Whittome
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