Monday, July 28, 2008

Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Bronte

I finished The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (finally!) a while ago, but only until now have I managed to write a review on it, simply because I didn’t know what to say. So, thanks to a little bit of help from other bloggers, here it is:

Becky asked: Did you like the Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte? Would you recommend it? Does it hold up to the more well known works by the other Bronte sisters

Bybee asked: Have you read the other Bronte sisters? Have you read Agnes Grey? Does Tenant of Wildfell Hall have that Gothic feel to it?

Alessandra asked: Were you able to relate to the main character? Is this a book you would recommend?

Suey asked: Oh, I loved The Tenant of Wilfell Hall... but it's been awhile since I read it. I remember it bounced from a letter format... back to a more normal narrative form. Did you like that? Or did it interrupt the flow for you? I need to read this one again some day!

Imani asked: Ha, ok, clearly a lot of Bronte fans here. I'm in the same boat -- what did you think of it? I've only read some of Charlotte's novels and though I have "Agnes Grey" I've yet to read it. (Only the first few pages and that was promising.)

Bookchronicle asked: on The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte: How does Anne compare with Charlotte and Emily? As Anne is not most commonly listed as a "classic" (unlike Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights) do you think it deserves a more high polished reputation?

Chris asked: I enjoyed The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I think Anne is overshadowed by her sisters. Have you read any of the other Brontes' works? (Where does Tenant fit in for you if you have?) Did you think Helen was a strong female character?

She Reads Books asked: Have you read any other books by Anne Bronte? In particular, if you've read it, how does Wildfell compare to Agnes Grey? How does it compare to Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights?

As to whether or not I liked The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, I was really on the fence about it. It was a tough novel to get into, but it really picked up around the middle, and I’ll tell you why. The first half of the book is narrated by Gilbert Markham, a local squire. You can tell that Anne Bronte didn’t know very much about men; the “voice” she uses here isn’t very masculine. In fact Gilbert himself doesn’t seem very masculine; he prefers to spend time chatting with the other female characters and only once, I believe, does he ever have a conversation with another man.

The book picks up when we get to the diary of Helen Graham, and this is also where the mystery truly begins. Helen didn’t strike me as being either weak or strong, just melodramatic at times. Also, the abrupt bounce from the epistolary format to diary was a bit jarring. Don’t get me wrong, Bronte is a good writer, and she really its her stride in the latter part of the book, but ultimately I preferred Agnes Grey over Tenant (in the former book, Anne wrote about what she knew, which was governessing). It’s true that Anne is overshadowed by her older sisters, but my lukewarm feelings about this book shouldn’t put you off from reading her work.

It’s been awhile since I’ve read either Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre, but those books, in my opinion, were more memorable than this one. There were more characters that grabbed my attention in those books. I even preferred Villette, in a way. But as I've said, Anne is a good writer; in my opinion, this just isn't her best.


nbbaker1102 said...

I haven't read any Bronte. I have a copy of Wuthering Heights on its way from bookmooch. I guess I'll start there.

Lenore said...

Wow - you've already read 11 and finished the challenge. YAY!

I need to start on my 3rd book. I think it's going to be The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields.

jenclair said...

I've only read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I always thought The Tenant of Wildfell Hall sounded good - great title anyway. However, maybe I should try Agnes Grey instead.

Michelle said...

Interesting. I'm always thinking I should read one of the other sisters.. perhaps I'll start with a different one!

Michael Collins said...

I realize it's merely a difference of opinion, but, as a man, I think Anne understood the gender much better than Emily or Charlotte. Gilbert struck me as a type of vain young fellow who fancies himself a ladykiller (he describes himself as 'the beau of the parish' at one point. How conceited!), and I thought Arthur and Lowborough were more believable and balanced versions of Heathcliff and Rochester, respectively.

I really have to disagree with the idea that Agnes Grey is better. . again, it's a taste thing. AG is very good the way a piece of excellent needlepoint is good, if you ask me -- it's contained, extremely precise and neat, great attention to detail, and its subtlety rewards the sensitive or observant reader. Wildfell is where Anne gets ambitious, and I think it is the more memorable and broadly appealing of the two.

Dorothy W. said...

I'm hoping to read this one sometime soon -- I'm interested in your mixed reaction but certainly not put off the book! I'm curious to see what that male voice is like.

Amanda said...

I liked this book pretty well. I read it a couple months ago and reviewed it on my book review blog, here. I've now read one book by each of the Bronte sisters, and ultimately, this ranked somewhere in the middle. I was impressed by her boldness in making these statements about women's lives back in the time period when she lived. She was sure to receive a lot of negative criticism for it.


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