So here I am in week 12, having been neglectfully silent in the past few weeks. The good news is that I read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall some weeks ago. The bad news is that I didn’t get around to writing the review until 2010 and thus have had to partly re-read it in order to do so! No great penance, though.
TToWH has an unusual and intriguing structure – the outer layer is written as a string of letters from a man to his brother-in-law (daring, perhaps, on Anne Brontë’s part, to assume the voice of a man?). Approximately halfway through, he quotes a diary written by the female protagonist over a number of years verbatim, for most of the rest of the book. The prose is also extraordinarily detailed in the first section – but the male narrator has already indicated that his will be a detailed missive.
According to the endnotes in my Penguin Classics edition, Brontë’s novel was a very early, if not the first, novel to deal with substance abuse among the upper classes. Clearly not one to shy away from controversial topics, she also touches on raising children and the worth of ambition. I don’t know what is was that inspired Brontë to depict an unhappy marriage in such detail, but it is certainly credible – and goes one step further than merely describing the subject matter, demanding that the reader ask themselves what is right, what is permissible.
There are the usual Austen-like illustrations of domesticity – the nuances of courtship, an amusing description of the pontificating vicar, the nature of English beauty (very different from that which is desired today!), repeated depictions of women as nosy gossips whose contribution to society from the kitchen is undervalued and really quite a lot about hair.
An excellent book, just beating Mansfield Park to the place of “favourite book so far”.