Today marks the first in a series of reviews of Classical Novels and other texts that were on the school curriculum when I was growing up.
I will not be approaching them in quite so much depth as a school imposed essay might but I am interested in themes particularly in regards to the depiction of women at the time as the Bronte's were forced to pose as male Novelists and poets before they were taken up by a publisher. Their own lives were adversely affected by the spectre of their brother’s weaknesses and ego so I am deeply interested to look for correlations in their stories.
This first few book choices are inspired by the recent BBC film about The Bronte Family.
I had read Wuthering Heights by Emily during my GCSES and Jane Eyre by Charlotte as an A level student The latter holds a precious place in my heart, the former, well let’s just say Heathcliff and Cathy are not my favourite couple! My plan is to read the more obscure books by this incredible family across this year along with other Nineteenth Century novels suggested by friends.
I wanted to start the with Anne Bronte’snovel, “ The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” as it was one that I had started, but never finished when I started reading the additional reading list prior to my A levels.
Twenty Four years later...
I enjoyed the book very much and it falls very easily into the Eyre area on the spectrum. Written in the form of a prolonged letter to his Brother in Law with a large portion of journal reproduced in it’s centre, Gilbert describes the development of his acquaintance and later love for the mysterious Tenant Mrs Graham whose installation along with her young son at the rather forlorn and dilapidated Hall of the title causes much gossip in the drawing rooms and on the paths of the locality. Over time we learn the truth of her isolation and aloofness.
It is a complex story, filled with many imperfect personalities. Gilbert is revealed to be a dedicated and loyal man at heart, but he is not immune to the faults and excesses of emotion and he is not always admirable, but always likeable. The most interesting male character is in fact a true gothic villain.
I believe that Anne Bronte’s own experience with her Brother Branwell and his excesses and addictions, may well have inspired the central antagonist Arthur Huntingdon whose alcoholism and mental torture of Helen inspired equal measures of pity and anger that she is held in his thrall beyond their physical proximity. His dissolute ways and that of his circle of friends and acquaintances are depicted with stark honesty and you can just hear the sarcasm and vitriol pouring off the page.
There are other cads and heroic saviours in play, but it is in fact the women of the novel that left me with the most resonant impressions, some are cruel and catty, exalting in their ability to bring misery on others particular others of their own sex, others meek and utterly ruled by by their husbands, whose behaviour is utterly reprehensible.
Helen Graham is a character apart, not truly cowed by her circumstances, but still a victim of Male pride and disrespect.She is a multi layered personality, her own exacting standards for herself and each of the men who pass into her sphere is as much an impediment to her happiness as a protective bubble to prevent her falling into total desolation.
This is a story about more than Love and romance and despite it’s Happy resolution is much more hard edged and socially revealing about the disparity between the lives of men and that of women in the time, where breeding and morality stand for little in the face of socially accepted misogyny.
A thought provoking and interesting read.