Skip to main content

Reading journal for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, part 5

After I wrote the last entry I didn't touch the book for several days. Not because I wasn't interested in continuing, but because I had other things to do. My mind occasionally (very occasionally) goes wandering in other directions than reading and I had a few days during which I simply didn't feel like picking up a book. On with the journalling, but first a BIG FAT SPOILER WARNING: Read no further if you don't want any surprises revealed to you about the story.

I finished it yesterday. I found the middle section, consisting of Helen's account of her courtship and marriage an utterly realistic portrait of a marriage entered into with more haste than forethought.

Both parties has unrealistic ideas of the other. Huntingdon seems to have married out of a spoiled, egotistical, hedonistic man's desire to make a conquest of something he sees as utterly desirable - in this case a living, breathing woman (or girl, really) - that didn't quite turn out to be as delightful as he thought it would be, much like a young boy who sees and advert for a toy that, once he gets his hands on it, turns out to be something less or other than he thought it was.

Helen goes into the marriage knowing he has faults, but dismisses them as minor and expects to fix them and make him the good man she imagines she sees, through the rose-coloured glasses lovers often wear, underneath the carefree, spoilt exterior. Like so many women before and after her, she then discovers that it is easier said than done to change someone who doesn't want to change. Add Huntingdon's alcoholism into the mix and the outcome is an inevitable deterioration of the marriage and a dissatisfaction on both sides that grows into contempt on his side when he finds that he can't drag her down with him, and hatred on hers when she discovers he is cheating on her. This makes her determination to not allow him to turn their son into a copy of himself utterly believable, although her method of weaning the child off alcoholic drinks is really nothing short of child abuse, however well meant it is.

It is clear to anyone who has had to deal with an alcoholic in their life that Anne Brontë was writing from real life experience. That an unmarried woman during a time when such things as marital problems were not openly discussed should be able to write so convincingly about a deteriorating marriage shows that she must also have been able to observe something of that kind. The sick-bed scenes and death scene are utterly wretched and believable as well, and the pathos of Huntingdon's death makes one almost feel sorry for the wretched man.

If I have a complaint about the story it is the emotional melodrama of the aftermath of Gilbert's reading Helen's diary. He clearly has a low self-esteem mingled with strong pride. First he uses her absence from her son's home as an excuse for not writing to her (when a letter might easily be read after her return or even be forwarded to the right address by the servants) and then, when he discovers she is an heiress, all he wants to do is run away for fear that she will reject him. This spells to me a man who is in no way certain that his beloved loves him back. And is it any wonder, when she shows so much reticence to act in her own interest and send him a word? Even with the onus of having to be seen to be in mourning for a year after her husband's death, the postal service would make it easy for her to write to him without it being noticed. Or, for that matter, it would have been so easy to take her brother into her confidence and have him drop a hint in Gilbert's direction.

All of this makes for drama and creates conflict, to be sure, but the way it is done is just a little bit over the top. But, taken altogether, this is a nicely satisfying read. I might even read it again some day.

Oh, and the scene outside the church near the end? Brilliant. He gets to make a fool of himself over her, but not so much as to make him a public laughing-stock:
     I approached the little rural church—but lo! there stood a train of carriages before it; it needed not the white favours bedecking the servants and horses, nor the merry voices of the village idlers assembled to witness the show, to apprise me that there was a wedding within.  I ran in among them, demanding, with breathless eagerness, had the ceremony long commenced?  They only gaped and stared.  In my desperation, I pushed past them, and was about to enter the churchyard gate, when a group of ragged urchins, that had been hanging like bees to the window, suddenly dropped off and made a rush for the porch, vociferating in the uncouth dialect of their country something which signified, ‘It’s over—they’re coming out!’
     If Eliza Millward had seen me then she might indeed have been delighted.  I grasped the gate-post for support, and stood intently gazing towards the door to take my last look on my soul’s delight, my first on that detested mortal who had torn her from my heart, and doomed her, I was certain, to a life of misery and hollow, vain repining—for what happiness could she enjoy with him?  I did not wish to shock her with my presence now, but I had not power to move away.  Forth came the bride and bridegroom.  Him I saw not; I had eyes for none but her.  A long veil shrouded half her graceful form, but did not hide it; I could see that while she carried her head erect, her eyes were bent upon the ground, and her face and neck were suffused with a crimson blush; but every feature was radiant with smiles, and gleaming through the misty whiteness of her veil were clusters of golden ringlets!  Oh, heavens! it was not my Helen!  The first glimpse made me start—but my eyes were darkened with exhaustion and despair.  Dare I trust them?  ‘Yes—it is not she!  It was a younger, slighter, rosier beauty—lovely indeed, but with far less dignity and depth of soul—without that indefinable grace, that keenly spiritual yet gentle charm, that ineffable power to attract and subjugate the heart—my heart at least.

Now, I wonder which I should read next? Another book by Anne, or should I move on to Charlotte? I don't think I'm quite ready for Emily yet.


Popular posts from this blog

Book 40: The Martian by Andy Weir, audiobook read by Wil Wheaton

Note : This will be a general scattershot discussion about my thoughts on the book and the movie, and not a cohesive review. When movies are based on books I am interested in reading but haven't yet read, I generally wait to read the book until I have seen the movie, but when a movie is made based on a book I have already read, I try to abstain from rereading the book until I have seen the movie. The reason is simple: I am one of those people who can be reduced to near-incoherent rage when a movie severely alters the perfectly good story line of a beloved book, changes the ending beyond recognition or adds unnecessarily to the story ( The Hobbit , anyone?) without any apparent reason. I don't mind omissions of unnecessary parts so much (I did not, for example, become enraged to find Tom Bombadil missing from The Lord of the Rings ), because one expects that - movies based on books would be TV-series long if they tried to include everything, so the material must be pared down

List love: 10 recommended stories with cross-dressing characters

This trope is almost as old as literature, what with Achilles, Hercules and Athena all cross-dressing in the Greek myths, Thor and Odin disguising themselves as women in the Norse myths, and Arjuna doing the same in the Mahabaratha. In modern times it is most common in romance novels, especially historicals in which a heroine often spends part of the book disguised as a boy, the hero sometimes falling for her while thinking she is a boy. Occasionally a hero will cross-dress, using a female disguise to avoid recognition or to gain access to someplace where he would never be able to go as a man. However, the trope isn’t just found in romances, as may be seen in the list below, in which I recommend stories with a variety of cross-dressing characters. Unfortunately I was only able to dredge up from the depths of my memory two book-length stories I had read in which men cross-dress, so this is mostly a list of women dressed as men. Ghost Riders by Sharyn McCrumb. One of the interwove

First book of 2020: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach (reading notes)

I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but I loathe movie tie-in book covers because I feel they are (often) trying to tell me how I should see the characters in the book. The edition of Deborah Moggach's These Foolish Things that I read takes it one step further and changes the title of the book into the title of the film version as well as having photos of the ensemble cast on the cover. Fortunately it has been a long while since I watched the movie, so I couldn't even remember who played whom in the film, and I think it's perfectly understandable to try to cash in on the movie's success by rebranding the book. Even with a few years between watching the film and reading the book, I could see that the story had been altered, e.g. by having the Marigold Hotel's owner/manager be single and having a romance, instead being of unhappily married to an (understandably, I thought) shrewish wife. It also conflates Sonny, the wheeler dealer behind the retireme