September: Bronte: the Tenant of Wildfell hall
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Rating: part of this book gets a dazzling 5 stars from me, but unfortunately chunks of it get 1 star. In the end, I'll give it 3/5 stars.
What I Disliked This book was ridiculously over-long. My edition was 487 oversized pages, which doesn't sound that bad really. However, too many of these pages were completely unnecessary. The actual story, which took up the middle of the book was framed with a 96 page (sixteen chapters!) introduction and a 76 page conclusion. Everything that happened in these 172 pages could have been considerably condensed. The events of the first section could easily be told in one paragraph. Okay, to add a little suspense, Bronte should have made it one short chapter. The concluding frame was a little more important to the story, but again could be told in one chapter. As for the middle section, it also could have been trimmed.
Bronte really likes to use a lot of words. She uses a lot of words to describe every.single.detail of what is going on in a character's mind, and what they think is going on in the other characters' minds. There is also a lot of moralizing and 19th century social commentary. For pages and pages and pages and pages. Near the end, Gilbert apologizes for his "melancholy musings." Sorry, too late. I already hate you.
What I Liked: There is probably about a hundred pages of this novel that I just love and think are brilliant. The protagonist, Helen, is a courageous proto-feminist who stands up to her abusive alcoholic husband in an era when that just wasn't done. And the 150-odd pages of actual story were very interesting.
I also think that Anne's main characters were much more realistic than her sisters'. In particular, her ability to write male characters far surpasses Emily and Charlotte's. These men actually have conversations, and can speak to a woman without going into diatribes and sermons, like every male character in Jane Eyre. Sure, Huntington is a tyrannical reprobate, but he's not an evil psychopath like Heathcliff.
And when the going gets tough, Helen forms a plan just like an real adult. She doesn't have a hissy fit and will herself to die (Cathy, Wuthering Heights) or run away, immediately lose all her money and then wander the moors (the heroine in Jane Eyre). In the end I like both Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre better than The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, but the one thing I can say in Anne's defense is that her main character is a grown up.
Just for fun, I'd like to see this story retold from Huntington's point of view. Yes, he was vile--I mean, what sort of father gets his four-year old son drunk and teaches him to swear? But still, I think from his wing-back in front of the hearth, Helen would look like a humorless stick-in-the-mud. He was no angel, but considering he was met with her dour, judgmental face at breakfast every morning, its no wonder he escaped to London for months at a time.
Recommended for: Fans of 19th century British literature. I also think that anyone who has enjoyed the other Brontes should give this one a try too.
And yes, Helen gets quite dour and judgmental - and probably not much fun to be with - but in the beginning of their marriage that's not the case. Only when she discovers his faults and that they are due to a darker side of his character (like flirting with married women and having had a relationship with one of them and not considering that a bad thing), she starts to become like that. He would probably have been happier with a wife like poor Millicent... (that's her name, right?)