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Tuesday, July 20th, 2010
6:16 pm - Need Help: The Proposal at the End of "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall"

This is a call for help.

Hi. I'm new to this community, but I'm a big Anne Bronte fan who needs some help understanding the proposal scene at the end of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

current mood: curious

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Wednesday, June 21st, 2006
11:15 am - 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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Wednesday, May 24th, 2006
2:37 am - Question for members

What made you pick up something by Anne Bronte and read it? Neither of her novels is particularly famous (although both are listed in "1001 novels to read before you die," hooray), so this should be interesting. I hear Tenant is sometimes done at the GCSE in Great Britain, and some University classes have started to read it here in North America. And, of course, die-hard Bronte fans generally want to read every book by every sister.

Myself? While taking a second-year undergraduate class on literature from 1800 to the present, we did Wuthering Heights (brilliant), and the professor, who I respect and admire very much, came out with the old chestnut that Anne would be long forgotten if it weren't for her family ties. I thought the best thing to do was decide for myself, so I bought The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

I kept it to one side for almost a year, though, during which time I did a Victorian lit survey course with the professor who had dismissed Anne, hearing him express similar sentiments again during the preamble to Jane Eyre. I had started to think that maybe there was an Honours Essay in defending Anne Bronte, if she was worth defending. So, that summer, I read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, loved it, and spent the second half of the next school year writing 12,500 words about the relationship between its narrative structure and its feminist message. The prof whose dismissal of Anne sparked the whole thing? He was my supervisor, and I don't know if I changed his mind, but the dissertation was well received. :)

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Tuesday, May 23rd, 2006
5:13 pm - Charlotte VS Anne

A PDF of a Bronte newsletter; the last article talks about Helen Huntingdon as a "British Amazon," and rightly identifies The Tenant of Wildfell Hall as one of the first feminist texts.

Actually, this is not the first time I have seen Wildfell Hall honoured with the title of "first truly feminist novel." Now, if people would recognize that Agnes Grey predates Jane Eyre in composition (despite AG being published later than JE), maybe people would see that Anne was a least as innovative as her sisters, and that the development of the novel since the 1840s owes a great debt to her.

Anyway, in the last paragraph, the author talks about how Wildfell Hall is more radical, more subversive, and more strongly feminist, than Jane Eyre. I happen to agree, and have always wondered why Jane Eyre became the championed text of the feminists in second half of the 20th century, when Wildfell Hall makes a stronger case.

This brings up the old Anne VS Charlotte idea. So many Anne-fans (going right back to George Moore, who championed Anne in the early 20th century) can't seem to help but feel Charlotte did Anne wrong --- not intentionally (most likely), but still. Between decling to republish Wildfell Hall and patronizing/infantalizing Anne in the years following her death, there's some basis to the idea.

I think Charlotte totally missed Anne's genius. She was blind to it. Anne is the Bronte sister whose style was the most in sympathy with Jane Austen, and Charlotte strongly disliked Austen. It's unfortunate that her own person taste set the critical response for more than a hundred years to follow.

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Sunday, May 21st, 2006
3:40 pm - First Post

Well, I just created this community, after threatening to do so for about a year (ever since finishing my undergraduate dissertation on The Tenant of Wildfell Hall). I don't have time to say much at the moment, but I figured I'd share a couple of essential Anne Bronte links.

Anne Bronte: The Scarborough Connection. Without a doubt the most extensive and informative website regarding both the life and work of Anne Bronte. Warning: there's an embedded midi of Kate Bush's Wuthering Heights in the background (I love the song --- just against embedded midi on principle), so you might want to turn your speakers down before clicking.

Anne Bronte Remembered in Scarborough. A very touching and informative biographical essay on Anne, with specific emphasis on her remarkable last days in Scaroborough, where the doctor attending her said "he had never seen such a deathbed and it gave evidence of no common mind."

Truth: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall Fanlist. A lovely fanlist, but it doesn't actually seem to be listing anyone at the moment. That must be a technological error, because I signed up a few months back, and I wasn't the first.

The preface to the second edition of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. A critic once described this as the best, most concise, most direct defense ever made by an author of his or her own novel. Hyperbole perhaps, but it is compelling stuff, and offers valuable insight into Anne herself. It's well worth remembering that, until its re-publication was forbidden by Charlotte (after Anne's death), Wildfell Hall was immensely popular (outselling Wuthering Heights), controversial, and even radical. Hence, Anne's response to her critics in this preface to the second edition, which was rushed to the presses after the first edition sold out in 6 weeks.

So, that's it for today. Feel free to join up and post about anything to do with Anne!

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