Literature: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
(1848) was the second and last novel by the other
Brontė sister, Anne Brontė
. Set in the 1820s, the novel tells the story of Helen Graham (really Helen Huntingdon), who takes up residence at the mostly-decayed Wildfell Hall under distinctly mysterious circumstances. Helen immediately captures the unwanted attention of the local villagers, many of them nasty gossips. More to the point, she attracts our male protagonist and narrator, Gilbert Markham, who (despite some misgivings) falls passionately in love with her. As Helen's diary reveals, however, there's an insuperable obstacle to any relationship with Gilbert: far from being a widow, she's still married.
The novel sold extremely well at first, a close second to Jane Eyre
, but its bracing assault on both drunkenness and the sexual Double Standard
earned it a scandalous reputation. Its plot and characters have often been taken as a sly Take That
to both Emily Brontė
's Wuthering Heights
and Charlotte Brontė
's Jane Eyre
(the latter of which was written at the same time as Tenant
). Despite its early popularity, the novel slipped into relative obscurity following Charlotte refusing to allow the novel to be reprinted in 1850 alongside Wuthering Heights
and Anne's own much less popular Agnes Grey
, deeming the work to be "an entire mistake.
" Critics began to dismiss the book as well, believing it to be a mere manifestation of Anne's bitterness over her brother Branwell. Its frank treatment of sexuality and marital decay earned it more attention in later years.
The BBC has adapted it twice, most recently in 1996 with Tara Fitzgerald, Rupert Graves, and Toby Stephens in the leading roles.