Tarantula (sirgallivant) wrote in annebronte,

Gilbert Markham (mild spoilers for Tenant)

"Gilbert, the hero, seems to be a favourite with the author, and to be intended as a specimen of manly character; but he would serve as the ruffian of any other novelist. His nature is fierce, proud, moody, jealous, revengeful, and sometimes brutal. We can see nothing good in him except a certain rude honesty; and that quality is seen chiefly in his bursts of hatred and his insults to women."
- An American reviewer, around the time Tenant was first published.

While many scholars are coming to appreciate The Tenant of Wildfell Hall as a work of critical value in its own right, a number of them seem to have a problem with accepting Gilbert Markham as any sort of hero, or even as a believable character at all.

Another scholar has said that 'it is impossible to see Markham as either inspiring or returning passion' and that the traits of jealousy, vanity and brutality only make him 'trivial'.

I wonder if any of these conclusions relate to Anne's perceived status as a lesser writer compared to her sisters. While I agree that Gilbert has serious imperfections, I don't think that they make him any less of a believable character. I would have considered Tenant a much less successful work, had Anne chosen to unite Helen with a model of moral excellence and perfection after her marriage with Huntingdon. Of course Gilbert isn't going to be perfect. He has grown up in a sheltered community where he has been indulged and mollycoddled. Just as he must come to develop a sense of maturity and responsibility (aided by his friendship with Mrs Graham), so too must Helen overcome her youthful impulsiveness and naivety. Neither of them is perfect. While Gilbert can be recklessly brutal (e.g his attack on Mr Lawrence), his violence only shows the strength of his attachment to Helen. He can be fierce, but it is always as a consequence of his passion for her. When he is jealous, it is over her also.

Though an imperfect 'hero', I don't think Gilbert Markham is any less of a character than Helen or Arthur Huntingdon, and I think his imperfections contribute to the artistic strength of Tenant as a whole. What does everyone else think?
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