About two week ago I finished reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte. I counted this under the category ‘a book set in Europe’, although it could have counted as a few different things.
Although Anne Bronte is one of the least well-known Bronte sisters, I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The style seemed like a mix between Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen. It has a similar style to Charlotte Bronte with the feminist themes, coupled with beautiful and accurate observations of characters/setting, but it also resembles Austen’s style that is lighter and more relationship-focused than that of Charlotte Bronte.
I loved that the novel used some of the Gothic elements, like many Victorian novels, including Jane Eyre (one of my top 5 favorites). The Tenant of Wildfell Hall presents an interesting adaptation of the Byronic hero that is present in so many Gothic novels, in that the hero is actually a heroine. It’s definitely arguable that Helen Graham, the main character of the novel exhibits the traits of the Byronic hero, or in this case, heroine.
For those who may or may not know, the Byronic hero was named after Lord Byron, as a variation of the romantic hero.
Character traits of the Byronic hero include: high level of intelligence/ keen observation skills; cunning and adaptability; sophisticated/ educated; self-critical/ introspective; mysterious/brooding, but also charismatic/ magnetic; struggles with integrity; power of seduction and sexual attraction; social/ sexual dominance. Helen doesn’t necessarily fit every category, but many Byronic heroes won’t check every box.
A brief summary without spoilers: A mysterious widow arrives at Wildfell Hall, a manor near Gilbert Markham, the narrator of the first and third parts of the novel. He observes her with great interest and begins to learn about her life, despite her wishes to remain as isolated as possible from the world around her. However, Mr. Markham and Arthur, Helen’s son, soon form a strong bond, and Helen is eventually drawn into a friendship with Mr. Markham. Helen harbors secrets though, that if the truth was found out, her and little Arthur’s lives could be drastically changed forever.
That’s all I’ll say of that. There are elements of mystery and intrigue, as well as romance and heartbreak. If you’re looking for drama and Victorian gossip, there’s some of that as well. Honestly, it has all the elements of a great novel, and the characterization is vivid. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would recommend it to anyone remotely interested in Victorian literature.