The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Anne Brontë

The youngest of five children born to Patrick and Maria Brontë, Anne and her siblings grew up in the Haworth Parsonage where their father worked as a curate. When her mother died suddenly, Maria’s sister, Elizabeth, moved into the parsonage to help take care of the children. Anne was Elizabeth’s favorite and the two shared a room. A devout woman, Elizabeth helped shape Anne’s religious education, while her sister Emily fueled her creative ambitions. As a teen, Anne attended Roe Head School where her oldest sister, Charlotte, was a teacher. In her second year at the school, Anne grew gravely ill and was sent home to recover. A year later, she became a governess at Blake Hall, which served as the inspiration and model for Wellwood House in her first novel, Agnes Grey. The children under her care were unruly and even cruel, and Anne was traumatized by the experience and dismissed from her position after less than a year. Her second stint as governess for the Robinson family at Thorp Green Hall was more successful. She grew to love the family and even secured a position tutoring the Robinson’s son for her brother, Branwell. Anne resigned her post when it was discovered that Branwell and Mrs. Robinson were having an affair. Anne moved back home to the parsonage where Charlotte and Emily were likewise unemployed. The three sisters decided to work together to produce a book of verse. Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell was a failure, but Agnes Grey, Anne’s biographical novel chronicling her years as a governess, sold well, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, with its unflinching look at alcoholism and unhappiness in marriage, caused a sensation when it was published in June 1848. Soon afterward, though, Branwell died of tuberculosis, and, three months later, Emily died as well. Anne was heartbroken and soon became ill herself. Six months after Emily was buried, Anne died in Scarborough at the age of 29.
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Historical Context of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Prior to 1870, married women had no rights other than those bestowed on them by their husbands. All money, property, and children belonged to men. If a woman were to leave her marriage, her husband was within his rights to bring her home against her will. If she fled with her children, she could be charged with kidnapping. Even if she had the temerity to find employment, the money she earned would automatically be her husband’s, and if she refused to surrender her earnings, she was considered a thief.

Other Books Related to The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

As brilliant and relatively isolated young women living in a sleepy country village, the Brontë sisters influenced each other’s styles and subject matter in undeniable ways, to the point that “Brontë” has become synonymous with a certain kind of tale redolent of windswept moors and verging on Gothic love stories. For a comprehensive journey through the Brontë canon, read Anne Brontë’s Agnes Gray; Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Villette, and The Professor; and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Turn to Samuel Richardson’s epistolary morality tales, Pamela: Or Virtue Rewarded and Clarissa or the History of a Young Lady, and Thomas Hardy’s tragic Tess of the D’urbervilles for more stories of pious and undervalued heroines. Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford offers another glimpse of British village life, and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Mansfield Park are slightly sunnier takes on love deferred. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is often considered one of the first feminist novels in English literature. Middlemarch and The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot likewise detail the struggles strong women face in trying live independent lives.
Key Facts about The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
  • Full Title: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
  • When Written: Spring 1847
  • Where Written: Haworth Parsonage, West Yorkshire, England
  • When Published: June 1848
  • Literary Period: Victorian Realism
  • Genre: Novel
  • Setting: 1820s, rural England
  • Climax: Helen plucks a rose from a bush outside her window and hands it to Gilbert, with great ceremony. Gilbert nearly wastes the moment, taking the rose from Helen with very little show of emotion, and so she snatches it away and throws it outside, telling him that the rose represented her heart and he has, in effect, thrown it away. Gilbert, realizing that he could lose Helen if he doesn’t seize the moment, fetches the rose and proposes marriage. Helen accepts, and their years of frustrated and thwarted passion end in complete happiness.
  • Antagonist: Arthur Huntingdon
  • Point of View: First person from the points-of-view of Gilbert Markham and Helen Graham

Extra Credit for The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Their Brother’s Keeper. Most scholars believe The Tenant of Wildfell Hall to be biographical in nature and that the character of Arthur Huntingdon is at least in part based on Anne’s brother Branwell, who suffered from alcohol and opiate addiction and whose death of tuberculosis at the age of 31 was precipitated by his dissolute habits. His erratic behavior was a constant embarrassment to his sisters, who were often charged with taking care of him and at times tried to cover up the worst of his behavior, which included setting fire to his bed.

Charlotte as Censor. Charlotte Brontë went on to become the most famous of the Brontë sisters, perhaps because she was also the longest lived. When The Tenant of Wildfell Hall appeared in print, Charlotte was one of its harshest critics, saying that Anne was not suited to write about the brutal realities of alcohol abuse and infidelity, but should instead stick to calmer subjects. A year after Anne’s death, the publishers of the book approached Charlotte to authorize a reprint. She refused to do so, claiming that she wanted to keep the book out of circulation in order to protect her sister’s memory from the attacks of readers and critics who, like her, were turned off by its depressing subject matter—but some believe she acted out of jealousy.