The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

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Overview

Anne, like her sisters Emily and Charlotte, published under a male pseudonym, Acton Bell, yet still this novel was scorned by many for its exposure of the abusive male chauvinism concealed, like all things sexual, during the Victorian Era. Just as she had to use a male pseudonym in order to be free to publish, as women authors were not yet deemed acceptable or bankable, Helen Graham, the novel's protagonist and a battered wife, assumes an alias in order to gain freedom from her suffering and take up residence in Wildfell Hall, "the wildest and the loftiest eminence in our neighborhood," according to the tale's narrator. Like her sisters, Anne employs the atmosphere of the bleak Yorkshire moors and the presence of an old mansion to set the stage for a tragedy that reveals the secret violence in a society considered well-mannered, echoing the rough, cold, rugged gloom of the fictional Wildfell Hall and her family's own remote parsonage; narrating a story that Brontë scholar Margeret Lane remarked, "is so close to one of the tragedies in the sisters' own lives, that no perceptive reader can be indifferent to it."
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"The chronology, notes, and explanatory notes makes this a readable text for any college student. The accessibility of the text sets this edition apart from the usual, mediocre preprintings of Victorian texts."--Professor Lawrence Czer, Martin Luther College

"An excellent text with an intelligent and helpful introduction. . . . an attractive book at a very agreeable price, and meticulously scholarly as well. I have not taught this text simply because, until now, there has been no text I liked sufficiently. Now I can. OUP has done academic teaching a major service."--Dr. A.G. Hunter, Curry College

"Anne Brontë sometimes gets lost in the shadows cast by her sisters, so it is a welcome treat to find such a useful, helpful, accessible edition of her fine novel. I look forward to the chance to introduce students to A.B.'s work in this attractive version."--Laura Dabundo, Kennesaw State College

"Clear type, useful notes, excellent binding."--H.A. Simpson, Hampden-Sydney College

"I have never included this novel in my course, but I'm seriously tempted with this version of it."--Sr. Pauline Fox, Mt. Mercy College

"An attractive, affordable copy."--Dr. Robert O'Connor, North Dakota State University

"Great to have new access to an under-represented author and text. Very helpful notes and insightful Introduction."--Rita S. Kranidis, Radford University

"How marvelous to have this out in paperback!"--Robin Feuer Miller, Brandeis University

"An admirably edited text, authoritative."--Richard Boyd, University of California, Riverside

"A very valuable addition to the World's Classics series--a rare novel, difficult to find in inexpensive editions."--John H. Wilson, Dakota Wesleyan University

Deborah Denenholz Morse College of William and Mary
"I will always order Lee A. Talley's Broadview edition of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which I teach nearly every year. The historical and scholarly contexts are beautifully summarized. This is an eminently useful edition. Well done again, Broadview!"
Sue Lonoff Harvard University Extension School
"This Broadview Edition is a rich resource, unrivaled in its range of contextual materials. When you read them, you see where Anne Brontë was coming from and why she felt compelled to 'tell the truth' as she saw it. Lee A. Talley's clear, accessible introduction orients readers to issues that teachers will want to consider and that students and general readers will find eye-opening. The footnotes are useful and easy to access. I will always order this edition in the future."
Andrea Westcott Capilano University
"Lee A. Talley, in the introduction to her new edition of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, succinctly argues Anne Brontë's case for wanting to write and publish her disturbing but powerful story, even as she addresses Anne's own status as third sister, explains early publishing confusion (including Charlotte's pervasive influence on Anne's reputation), and evaluates the novel's first reviews. To allow readers their own judgments, Talley includes numerous helpful appendices placing Tenant within the legal, educational, and philosophical contexts of Victorian culture, and as with other Broadview texts, provides an extremely useful sampling of contemporary reviews."
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Herbert Rosengarten is Chair of the Department of English at the University of British Columbia.
Josephine McDonagh is Professor of Victorian Literature at Oxford University.

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Read an Excerpt

You must go back with me to the autumn of 1827.

My father, as you know, was a sort of gentleman farmer in ----shire; and I, by his express desire, succeeded him in the same quiet occupation, not very willingly, for ambition urged me to higher aims, and self-conceit assured me that, in disregarding its voice, I was burying my talent in the earth, and hiding my light under a bushel. My mother had done her utmost to persuade me that I was capable of great achievements; but my father, who thought ambition was the surest road to ruin, and change but another word for destruction, would listen to no scheme for bettering either my own condition or that of my fellow mortals. He assured me it was all rubbish, and exhorted me, with his dying breath, to continue in the good old way, to follow his steps, and those of his father before him, and let my highest ambition be, to walk honestly through the world, looking neither to the right hand nor to the left, and to transmit the paternal acres to my children in, at least, as flourishing a condition as he left them to me.

'Well!--an honest and industrious farmer is one of the most useful members of society; and if I devote my talents to the cultivation of my farm, and the improvement of agriculture in general, I shall thereby benefit, not only my own immediate connections and dependants, but, in some degree, mankind at large: hence I shall not have lived in vain.'

With such reflections as these, I was endeavouring to console myself, as I plodded home from the fields, one cold, damp, cloudy evening towards the close of October. But the gleam of a bright red fire through the parlour window had more effect in cheering my spirits,and rebuking my thankless repinings, than all the sage reflections and good resolutions I had forced my mind to frame; for I was young then, remember--only four-and-twenty--and had not acquired half the rule over my own spirit that I now possess--trifling as that may be.

However, that haven of bliss must not be entered till I had exchanged my miry boots for a clean pair of shoes, and my rough surtout for a respectable coat, and made myself generally presentable before decent society; for my mother, with all her kindness, was vastly particular on certain points.

In ascending to my room, I was met upon the stairs by a smart, pretty girl of nineteen, with a tidy, dumpy figure, a round face, bright, blooming cheeks, glossy, clustering curls, and little merry brown eyes. I need not tell you this was my sister Rose. She is, I know, a comely matron still, and, doubtless, no less lovely--in your eyes--than on the happy day you first beheld her. Nothing told me then that she, a few years hence, would be the wife of one entirely unknown to me as yet, but destined, hereafter, to become a closer friend than even herself, more intimate than that unmannerly lad of seventeen, by whom I was collared in the passage, on coming down, and well-nigh jerked off my equilibrium, and who, in correction for his impudence, received a resounding whack over the sconce, which, however, sustained no serious injury from the infliction; as, besides being more than commonly thick, it was protected by a redundant shock of short, reddish curls, that my mother called auburn.

On entering the parlour, we found that honoured lady seated in her arm-chair at the fireside, working away at her knitting, according to her usual custom, when she had nothing else to do. She had swept the hearth, and made a bright blazing fire for our reception; the servant had just brought in the tea-tray; and Rose was producing the sugar-basin and tea-caddy from the cupboard in the black oak sideboard, that shone like polished ebony in the cheerful parlour twilight.

'Well! here they both are,' cried my mother, looking round upon us without retarding the motion of her nimble fingers and glittering needles. 'Now shut the door, and come to the fire, while Rose gets the tea ready; I'm sure you must be starved,--and tell me what you've been about all day. I like to know what my children have been about.'

'I've been breaking in the grey colt--no easy business that--directing the ploughing of the last wheat stubble--for the plough-boy has not the sense to direct himself--and carrying out a plan for the extensive and efficient draining of the low meadowlands.'

'That's my brave boy!--and Fergus, what have you been doing?'

'Badger-baiting.'

And here he proceeded to give a particular account of his sport, and the respective traits of prowess evinced by the badger and the dogs; my mother pretending to listen with deep attention, and watching his animated countenance with a degree of maternal admiration I thought highly disproportioned to its object.

'It's time you should be doing something else, Fergus,' said I, as soon as a momentary pause in his narration allowed me to get in a word.

'What can I do?' replied he; 'my mother won't let me go to sea or enter the army; and I'm determined to do nothing else--except make myself such a nuisance to you all that you will be thankful to get rid of me on any terms.'

Our parent soothingly stroked his stiff, short curls. He growled, and tried to look sulky, and then we all took our seats at the table in obedience to the thrice-repeated summons of Rose.

'Now take your tea,' said she; 'and I'll tell you what I've been doing. I've been to call on the Wilsons; and it's a thousand pities you didn't go with me, Gilbert, for Eliza Millward was there!'

'Well! what of her?'

'Oh, nothing!--I'm not going to tell you about her;--only that she's a nice, amusing little thing, when she is in a merry humour, and I shouldn't mind calling her----'

'Hush, hush, my dear! your brother has no such idea!' whispered my mother earnestly, holding up her finger.

'Well,' resumed Rose; 'I was going to tell you an important piece of news I heard there--I've been bursting with it ever since. You know it was reported a month ago that somebody was going to take Wildfell Hall--and--what do you think? It has actually been inhabited above a week!--and we never knew!'

'Impossible!' cried my mother.

'Preposterous!!!' shrieked Fergus.

'It has indeed!--and by a single lady!'

'Good gracious, my dear, the place is in ruins!'

'She has had two or three rooms made habitable; and there she lives, all alone--except an old woman for a servant!'

'Oh, dear!--that spoils it--I'd hoped she was a witch,' observed Fergus, while carving his inch-thick slice of bread and butter.

'Nonsense, Fergus! But isn't it strange, mamma?'

'Strange! I can hardly believe it.'

'But you may believe it; for Jane Wilson has seen her. She went with her mother, who, of course, when she heard of a stranger being in the neighbourhood, would be on pins and needles till she had seen her and got all she could out of her. She is called Mrs. Graham, and she is in mourning--not widow's weeds, but slightish mourning--and she is quite young, they say--not above five or six and twenty--but so reserved! They tried all they could to find out who she was, and where she came from, and all about her, but neither Mrs. Wilson, with her pertinacious and impertinent home-thrusts, nor Miss Wilson, with her skilful manoeuvring, could manage to elicit a single satisfactory answer, or even a casual remark, or chance expression calculated to allay their curiosity, or throw the faintest ray of light upon her history, circumstances, or connections. Moreover, she was barely civil to them, and evidently better pleased to say 'good-bye' than 'how do you do.' But Eliza Millward says her father intends to call upon her soon, to offer some pastoral advice, which he fears she needs, as, though she is known to have entered the neighbourhood early last week, she did not make her appearance at church on Sunday; and she--Eliza, that is--will beg to accompany him, and is sure she can succeed in wheedling something out of her--you know, Gilbert, she can do anything. And we should call some time, mamma; it's only proper, you know.'

'Of course, my dear. Poor thing! how lonely she must feel!'

'And pray, be quick about it; and mind you bring me word how much sugar she puts in her tea, and what sort of caps and aprons she wears, and all about it; for I don't know how I can live till I know,' said Fergus, very gravely.

But if he intended the speech to be hailed as a master-stroke of wit, he signally failed, for nobody laughed. However, he was not much disconcerted at that; for when he had taken a mouthful of bread and butter, and was about to swallow a gulp of tea, the humour of the thing burst upon him with such irresistible force, that he was obliged to jump up from the table and rush snorting and choking from the room, and, a minute after, was heard screaming in fearful agony in the garden.
As for me, I was hungry, and contented myself with silently demolishing the tea, ham, and toast, while my mother and sister went on talking, and continued to discuss the apparent or nonapparent circumstances, and probable or improbable history of the mysterious lady; but I must confess that, after my brother's misadventure, I once or twice raised the cup to my lips, and put it down again without daring to taste the contents, lest I should injure my dignity by a similar explosion.

The next day my mother and Rose hastened to pay their compliments to the fair recluse; and came back but little wiser than they went; though my mother declared she did not regret the journey, for if she had not gained much good, she flattered herself she had imparted some, and that was better: she had given some useful advice, which, she hoped, would not be thrown away; for Mrs. Graham, though she said little to any purpose, and appeared somewhat self-opinionated, seemed not incapable of reflection--though she did not know where she had been all her life, poor thing, for she betrayed a lamentable ignorance on certain points, and had not even the sense to be ashamed of it.

'On what points, mother?' asked I.

'On household matters, and all the little niceties of cookery, and such things, that every lady ought to be familiar with, whether she be required to make a practical use of her knowledge or not. I gave her some useful pieces of information, however, and several excellent receipts, the value of which she evidently could not appreciate, for she begged I would not trouble myself, as she lived in such a plain, quiet way, that she was sure she should never make use of them. 'No matter, my dear,' said I; 'it is what every respectable female ought to know; and besides, though you are alone now, you will not be always so; you have been married, and probably--I might say almost certainly--will be again.' 'You are mistaken there, ma'am,' said she, almost haughtily; 'I am certain I never shall.' But I told her I knew better.'

'Some romantic young widow, I suppose,' said I, 'come there to end her days in solitude, and mourn in secret for the dear departed--but it won't last long.'
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
Anne Brontë: A Brief Chronology
A Note on the Text
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Appendix A: Writings by the Brontës
Appendix B: Contemporary Reviews
Appendix C: Women's Education
1. Mary Wollstonecraft, Introduction to A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)
2. Mary Wollstonecraft, from A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)
3. Hannah More, Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education (1799)
4. Sarah Lewis, Women's Mission (1839)
5. John Cowie, "Noble Sentiments on the Influence of Women" (1847)
Appendix D: Wives
1. Hannah More, from Coelebs in Search of a Wife (1808)
2. Caroline Norton, "A Letter to the Queen" 1855
Appendix E: Childrearing
Appendix F: Temperance
1. Joseph Entwistle, "On Drinking Spirits" (1804)
2. J.P. Parker, Lecture on Temperance and Slavery (1847)
3. Unsigned, "Temperance and Teetotal Societies" (1853)
Appendix G: Women and Art
1. Unsigned, "Let Us Join the Ladies," Punch (1857)
2. Ellen C. Clayton, English Female Artists (1876)
Select Bibliography
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2003

    A touching story...

    I am a great lover of Victorian Classics, especially decent novels depicting the importance of love in relationships. This novel by Anne Bronte, I should say is the most touching story I have ever read.. Eventhough the plot is of the early 19th century, the heroine's character cannot be confined to that era. She can be anyone, even a 21st century woman. Being very independent myself, I could identify with her. In some ways, I realized that my nature is very much similar to that of Helen Huntingdon's (the negative traits in her). May be that's the reason why I am drawn to this book and it's leading lady. Mind you, I am not a feminist. This is a book, I think, women (especially younger ones) should read and learn from. The moral strength, sense of responsibility and learning from mistakes... these are top three positive aspects of Helen's character. I realized as I progressed through the book that I need to develop them myself to be a better and strong person. I can assuredly say that Helen Huntingdon is my most favorite heroine of all times. Anne Bronte's portrayal of the character of a strong woman with deep moral conviction who emerges out a winner in life establishes her as a writer with deep sensitivity.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2008

    Anne Bronte's Best Novel

    This book is the best Bronte book written. Anne is even better than Charlotte and Emily. The story is amazingly advanced for its time in terms of her criticism of the hypocrisy and misogyny of her society. I could not put this book down!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 26, 2002

    A Secret That Should Not Be

    It is unfortunate that Anne Bronte has been slighted for her sisters, Emily and Charlotte. Her novel is written with incredible depth and complexity. Helen Graham, the protagonist, is nothing like her archeptypal Vicorian peers. Bronte establishes her to serve as a means of outcry against the rigidity of the Victorian era, as well as a plea for reform. The novel is an expose on taboo subjects, such as infidelity, domestic abuse and alcoholism. Even more startling is her advice to readers: better to never marry than to marry poorly. This was a very revolutionary idea for the era, for no girl could afford to not marry and maintian whatever status she had. Bronte does not oppose the institution of marriage, rather she recognizes the importance of selecting a worthy mate. The novel provokes much thought and is ideal for discussion environments, whether in academia or social.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 5, 2001

    Beautiful! A Wonderful and Engrossing story

    This is the story of Helen Graham, a mysterious and fiercely independent woman living in a secluded castle during the 19th Century in Victorian England. Helen, along with her son Arthur, is a recluse, and soon becomes the topic of town gossip. She is befriended by Gilbert Markham, who at first is received very coldly by Helen, but he is persistent and wins her trust. It becomes clear that Gilbert has developed intimate feelings for Helen, and although we can guess that she feels the same for him, she is determined to convince him that this is not a proper match. So she gives Gilbert her diary, which vividly details her abusive marriage to Arthur Huntington, an alcoholic and debaucher. Although this may sound like a depressing topic (which it is), Bronte¿s talent is what makes the book so absorbing and satisfying. She incorporates all the necessary ingredients to sufficiently whet your appetite, (romance, suspense, and a plethora of plot twists and turns) and provides a very satisfying, albeit, surprise ending. This is a book I will read again and again. It is a real treasure. By the way, I was told that the Oxfords Classics edition is the best one to buy. It contains a preface by Ann Bronte and the letter to J. Halford Esq. in the beginning, instead of just starting with Chapter One ('You must go back with me'). These were in Anne's original text, and in my opinion, add quite a bit to the entire work. Highly recommended, especially for book clubs. Cris

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2013

    Good book, but not in this version

    The complete text seems to be here, but it's so riddled with typos it's hard to enjoy, or even understand what was trying to be written. All, or nearly all, free versions available via Barnes & Noble seem to have this problem.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2007

    A reviewer

    The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is one of the most amazing books I have ever read. The themes of this book are, in some ways, more powerful than either Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. Helen Huntington has to be one of the most controversial Victorian heroines written of. Her struggles are the one's that most books from this era brush over. This book shows the dark side of life in the nineteenth century, something you will never find in a Jane Austen novel. Everyone should read this!!!!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2002

    Anne was a genius, and her book is a treasure

    I loved this book, and cannot understand why Anne Bronte has been so neglected, pushed back back behind her older sisters. I love most of Charlotte's books as well, but The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is my favorite. It is so well written, and so engrossing, that the closer I came to the end, the slower I read, for fear that it would be over.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2001

    Anne deserves more credit!

    Having thoroughly read the works of both Charlotte and Emily Bronte; I have to say I don't understand the tendency to shun the works of Anne. Anne's novel shares many characteristics of her exaulted siblings. Anyone who likes the Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights should enjoy this novel as well! I truly hope that Anne begins to regain her rightful place in the literary canon.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 8, 2000

    Outstanding

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Anne Bronte has given the reader a view of her life. I watched the BBC Production of this novel on Masterpiece Theatre. Everyone should read the novel and see the movie!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 1999

    Anne Bronte's best book!

    This book was an excellent one. Having never attempted to read classic literature, I was caught by this book. The story was written as if Anne Bronte were writing the story about her own life, she demonstrates the hardships women in her time went through. The language is simple and the story not at all difficult to follow. Written to be clever instead of witty, the story comes to life in the diaries of the two main characters. A wonderful book!!!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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