‘I see that a man cannot give himself up to drinking without being miserable one-half his days and mad the other.’
When Helen flees from her alcoholic husband in order to protect her son she defies societal convention. Earning a living as an artist, she becomes the mysterious tenant of Wildfell Hall as she hides herself away and uses her art to support her child. However, the beautiful and reclusive young woman soon begins to stir up malicious gossip and speculation. Captivated and drawn to Helen, Gilbert Markham becomes suspicious when he begins to hear these stories, however it is only when he reads Helen’s diary that he learns the full cruelty that her husband subjected her to in her previous life.
Rejecting the societal norms surrounding marriage in Victorian Society, Anne Brontë’s novel, said to be based on the experiences of her own brother Branwell, shocked her readers at the time and still remains a scandalous read today.
'She looked so like herself that I knew not how to bear it'
In this sensational, hard-hitting and passionate tale of marital cruelty, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall sees a mysterious tenant, Helen Graham, unmasked not as a 'wicked woman' as the local gossips would have it, but as the estranged wife of a brutal alcoholic bully, desperate to protect her son. Using her own experiences with her brother Branwell to depict the cruelty and debauchery from which Helen flees, Anne Brontë wrote her masterpiece to reflect the fragile position of women in society and her belief in universal redemption, but scandalized readers of the time.
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For well-educated women of lesser means in the mid-nineteenth century, there was only one option for employment that paid decently and provided a sense of dignity: becoming a governess. These young women were tasked with educating the children of the rich in the ways of the world.
When the Grey family falls into debt, Agnes is forced to find work as a governess and learns of the misery and cruelty that exist in the landed classes. In her first home, she sees a family with spoiled, abusive children; and in the second, she discovers the misery of the elite, who seem from afar to have everything. Drawing from her own experiences as a governess, Brontë has crafted with warmth and realism the story of a young woman named Agnes Grey.
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This Broadview Edition includes a critical introduction that situates the novel in significant Victorian debates, and provides appendices that make clear Brontë’s intellectual inheritance from important eighteenth-century writers such as Hannah More and Mary Wollstonecraft. Material on temperance, education, childrearing, and nineteenth-century women artists is also included in the appendices.
It is only when she allows Gilbert to read her diary that the truth is revealed and the shocking details of the disastrous marriage she has left behind emerge...
Told with great immediacy, combined with wit and irony, THE TENANTOF WILDFELL HALL is a powerfully involving read.
The Irish novelist George Moore praised Agnes Grey as "the most perfect prose narrative in English letters."