I mean, where do you begin with a book like this….?
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I think that sometimes there are stories that you do not meet at the right time in your life, that somehow neither you nor it are right for each other at that moment, but that you will meet again at some other point and be ready for each other then. Being ready for that reunion is what excites me; it is not necessarily about liking them when you do meet again, nor them you, but it is about being ready for that moment and bringing all that has gone before to it.
Reading is a continuum; we are points within it, and everything that we are is influenced by everything that has gone before. The memory of a copy of Pride and Prejudice that I bought on the train from the fancy bookshop in London, before putting it aside for a Bernard Cornwall. The way that when I came back to Pride and Prejudice earlier this year and started to slowly read it for the first time, a part of me was still one-foot in the Napoleonic wars.
All of this is to say that, for a long time, I did not read the Brontës. A part of me felt like I did not need to read them for what else was there to say? They were so deeply embedded into the literary fabric of the world that there was no space for my reading of them. I did not feel like it mattered; new editions would be made, tv adaptations would happen, and my interest in them would be minimal for I felt like they were not interested in me. I wanted books that needed to be read, that ached with urgency to be read, and yet I wanted that feeling to be mine alone. Selfish, perhaps, and yet true: this is what I wanted. Then.
But times change. People change. We walk through the world and we find new stories, and they find us.
And this time, when I read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, I was ready for it. I could see the storm that lies inside this raw, brilliant book, and I could find myself within it. I saw the raw, ragged edge of Anne’s work ; the burning rage against the world, the endless, burning rage; the storming heart of hope; the tight, precise control of a story that’s almost too-full, too close to burning and breaking and crumbling away into nothing. The unrelenting edge of fear. The slow destruction of self. The bravery, found deep down within when there’s nothing else to give. The wild loneliness of marriage, of living in a house on top of a hill, of living in a world that’s taken everything from you.
Where does one begin with a book like this? It is the story of a relationship, a pebble cast into the water and everything the ripples touch from that point on. It starts, and then it starts over, and then it starts all over again, a thousand little thread all of them tying and twisting and tautening against each other until the inevitable happens and one of them snaps. It is nuanced, smart, and so – utterly – unrelentingly honest. The brilliance of it, the brilliance.
(I am no fan of Gilbert though, my goodness).
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5 thoughts on “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë”
I’m looking forward to this as I’ve only read Anne’s Agnes Grey so far, and Tenant is rated more highly in terms of intensity and social commentary. I’m glad you were able to appreciate it better with *ahem* more maturity, so I have high hopes for when I get to it!
Oooh, would you recommend Agnes Grey? I’m trying to decide which Bronte to read next…! 🙂
I’m a relative newbie where Brontës are concerned so feel a bit of a fraud recommending. In my review (https://wp.me/s2oNj1-agnes) I noted that Agnes Grey was “a slightly uneven novel — in tone at least — but still astonishing for its realism and insights”, so I don’t know if that’s any help.
I’ve read all Charlotte’s published novels (apart from Villette, which I’m told is good but underrated) and fragments of her unfinished novels but have yet to tackle Emily’s sole effort. Jane Eyre is the obvious one to go for, I suppose, and I did enjoy it, but Anne’s story is also about the lot of governesses so interesting to compare.
This is amazing, thank you!!