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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

4.1 59
by Anne Bronte

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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


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."

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A frighteningly up-to-date tale of single motherhood and wife-battering.”
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."

Product Details

Random House UK
Publication date:
Vintage Classics
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.10(d)

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?'


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.'

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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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 59 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In simple words, this is a love story. Mostof the reviews were misleading to me,focusing too much on the unusual-for-its-time plot. It held my interest to the endand unfolds in a fresh way. Anne Bronte should have as much recognition as her twosisters. This particular edition is part ofthe Barnes and Noble Library of EssentialReading, which says it all. There is anintroduction by Deborah Lutz which althoughinteresting to me, is one to question Dr.Lutz and other feminist writers/teachers inmy opinion often read far too much into thewritings of women from past eras and theirconjecture becomes fact, which is misleadingand negative. Of course this makes forlively discussion and that's a good thing!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love the Bronte's and have read all of their books. This one definatly is one of the best. Anne Bronte should be as well known as her sisters for this amazing novel. It was captivating and i could not put it down. Surprisingly enough, i read it in two days! It was so good, i can't even describe how wonderful it is!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In the introduction to this book the comment is made that if it had not been for the other two Brontes, no one would be reading this book today. I have to disagree. This book has a few issues (mostly there is some confusion about who the narrator is writing to ( a friend but if he is married to the narrators sister, why does the narrator mention his sister got married?) and why he has gone into the narrative in the first place), but the characters and the plot make it easy to overlook the issues. The themes covered in this book are relevant today. It covers the difference between love and infatuation, the effects substance abuse has on families, the courage born from the duty to protect ones child, and in short the refusal to be anyones victim. I felt we got to know the tenant of wildfell hall and observed through her actions and thoughts that she was remarkable and admirable, as opposed to being told by the author that she was such. It was as if we got to understand her, know her and like her they way the narrator did. She was a woman who had many reasons to be small - if she had let the cruel treatment of others, and her lifes disappointments change her. Instead she was remarkable by staying true to herself and to her moral compass. The circumstances in this womans life ,at a time when women had so little empowerment , were the makings of a tragedy. Instead we find a story and a character that was ahead of its time.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have been a fan of the 3 Bronte sisters for more than a year now. I found Charlotte to be an adequet writer, but when I read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, I knew I had found the best sister of all. Ann Bronte is the one whom little is known about, but she is definately the best writer, towering over her sisters with her masterpiece that I found so engrossing. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was absolutely incredible, portraying evil being conquered by true love, and finishing with the happiest ending ever!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I haven't read the book yet- but it makes you give a rating. Just in case you are looking at this book, the Collins Classics appears to be from the complete unabridged 2nd edition of the novel. It includes the preface letter in Volume One that I noticed several free editions did not have in it. There are actually 593 pages in this edition not 192 in the product details above.
alc1967 More than 1 year ago
Much better than Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights. It's a shame that Anne Bronte is not as well known as her sisters, Charolotte and Emily. I find her writing to be much less verbose and much easier to follow. Both this book and her previous book, Agnes Grey, are well written and engage the reader in the story and the characters. I felt like I got to know the characters much better than in Jane Eyre. If you must pick a Bronte sister, go with Anne Bronte and save the others for when you have absolutely nothing else to read. This book got a little "preachy" at times, but it is not overwhelmingly so. Maybe the subject matter was shocking at the time of the original publication, but certainly not in today's society. In fact, I thought it handled the subject matter very well and gave an insider's look at what it is like to love someone who is determined to destroy themselves.
Book-touched More than 1 year ago
I loved this book, it aroused all sorts of emotions in me. Set in the Victorian Era the heroine Helen Huntington Graham could easily be transported to today. Helen angered/frustrated me, puzzeled me and touched my sympathy as did other major characters in the book. It was fun to retire to my modern day garden, read this book and be transported to the Victorian era. It challenged me to think what could have informed Anne Bronte at such a young age and during her time in history of the themes of which she wrote: sextual inequality, feminism, domestic abuse, alcohol/drug addiction, marital infidelity. As I researched this I learned she saw and lived much of it within her own family. Anne earned her place as the best of the Bronte writers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The quality of the image is so terrible that I couldn't make out more than half the words on some pages. I understand that scanned books will have errors, but the 1858 copy is simply illegible and should be labeled as such.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
AnonMI More than 1 year ago
Far more religion that goes on for pages than is in any of her superior sisters works, and her love story is rather juvenile, with its trumped up ending so that everyone will be thoroughly happy and financially well provided for and everyone bad will get their just desserts from fate (or God as Anne would put it). The superiority of her sisters work is so obvious it bears almost no comparison. I muddled through it so as to, frankly, say that I did read it and found it wanting in every respect.
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Exciting novel, one of my favourites, with a strong-willed main heroine and her wonderful story. "The Tenant" was praised before me, so I will write here only about this edition of it. 1. The only good thing in this edition is an introduction by Dr. Lutz. Very helpful, well-written and informative. 2. With exception of the aforementioned introduction this is copy of Progect Gutenberg edition which in its turn a copy of 1920 copy of 1900 edition of "The Tenant". 3. It's an incomplete edition (see Wikipedia for more information about mutilated editions of "The Tenant"). The Prologue, some parts of the text and chapter headings are omitted. Complete novel begins with: "Dear Halford, when we were together last..." 4. There is stupid out-dated and out of place introduction by M.A. Ward, sometime a renown anti-feminist writer. "The Tenant" is clearly a feminist novel, and you may guess what did she write about Anne and her novel. Ward's criticism is absolutely unjust. Below in my recommendations I've added the editions of "The Tenant" which I know to be complete. If you want to read the novel in its best, buy one of this editions.
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