The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

by

Anne Brontë

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next day, Helen and Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell attend a party at the Wilmots’, making the acquaintance of Wilmot’s handsome and outgoing niece, Annabella, and Annabelle’s quieter cousin, Milicent Hargrave. Annabelle is a flirt and very popular with the men in attendance. Milicent becomes quickly attached to Helen. Mr. Huntingdon is also there, as is his friend, Mr. Grimsby, whom Helen dislikes instantly on account of his sinister and insincere air. Helen mentions the practice of having men lead women into the dining room. Grimsby is charged with leading her in. She finds the whole thing silly and obsolete, and wonders why party guests aren’t allowed a say in such coupling.
The tradition of men leading women into the dining room is comparable to that of the London season. Again, women do not have the power to refuse the service, and must go along with whatever man has been assigned to them. Further, the convention underestimates women’s abilities and puts them in a subordinate position. Women are perfectly capable of finding a room and a seat at a table on their own—they don’t need men to show them the way.
Themes
Gender, Sexism, and Double Standards Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Helen then ruminates on the possibility that Mr. Huntingdon would not have picked her anyway, as he seems partial to Annabella Wilmot. The two flirt all through dinner and afterwards, when the whole party has adjourned to the drawing room, Annabella does her best to monopolize Mr. Huntingdon’s attention. Helen, stuck in a corner looking over Milicent Hargrave’s paintings, is jealous of Annabella until finally Mr. Huntington approaches her. Bored by Milicent’s artwork, Arthur casts it aside and launches into a round of entertaining conversation that Helen finds impossible to recreate in a faithful way. There is something about Mr. Huntingdon’s charm that invests everything he says and does with great interest and fun.
Painting is thematically significant throughout the novel, and it is an art form Helen very much values. She also values friendship and kindness. For her to be charmed by Arthur Huntingdon just moments after he dismisses her new friend’s work suggests that, by focusing so much on Mr. Huntingdon, Helen is at risk of growing insensitive to the feelings and needs of others and neglecting art for the more short-term pleasures of romance.
Themes
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Mrs. Maxwell comes over and, by overwhelming Mr. Huntingdon with what Helen considers irrelevant questions, puts an end to the conversation. Helen moves to a different part of the room and is joined by Mr. Wilmot, who, made bold by wine, attempts to woo her in a clumsy and unrefined manner. Helen finds him repulsive but does not want to be rude to her host, and is only saved from further discomfort by Mr. Huntingdon, who begs her to come with him to look at a painting.
Like Mr. Boarham, Mr. Wilmot is another unwelcome suitor whom Helen finds much inferior to Arthur Huntingdon.  Again, Arthur prospers by comparison with a stodgy, older man. The fact that he suggests they retire to look at a painting shows that Arthur is now at least somewhat familiar with Helen’s hobbies and passions.
Themes
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Work and Idleness Theme Icon
Helen happily agrees, and finds that Mr. Huntingdon cares very little about the painting, a striking Vandyke. He hoped only to get her away from Mr. Wilmot, whose attentions to Helen anger him. Mr. Huntingdon then asks Helen how she feels about him. Reluctant to confess her feelings before understanding his, she turns the question on him, and he is telling her that he adores her just as Mrs. Maxwell arrives again to interrupt them and take Helen aside. Mrs. Maxwell asks Helen if Mr. Huntingdon has proposed, and Helen tells her he has not. Mrs. Maxwell says they will talk further once they’re home.
Arthur’s interest in art ends the moment he has the fortune to get Helen alone. Once safely out of earshot of Mr. Wilmot and the rest of the party, he reveals his true purpose in drawing Helen away: to drag from her a confession of love. Mrs. Maxwell, though, warned Helen against just such a situation—it is not a lady’s place to declare her love. She must wait for a man to declare his, and Arthur obliges.
Themes
Gender, Sexism, and Double Standards Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Work and Idleness Theme Icon
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Having left the party, Mrs. Maxwell visits Helen in her room and reminds her of the conversation they had in which Helen promised she would not even think about marrying a man strictly for his looks and charm. Her aunt asks if Helen believes Mr. Huntingdon to be a good man, and Helen says she thinks he could be a good man if he had a woman like her to guide him. He has often said so himself. Mrs. Maxwell brings up a rumor that Mr. Huntingdon was involved for a time with a married woman, but Helen brushes it off as untrue and stubbornly defends Mr. Huntingdon. Mrs. Maxwell insists that he spends his time poorly, engaging in immoral activities with a group of vide-ridden young men. If all the scandalous rumors are true, Helen says, she vows to save him from himself.
Helen has obviously fallen in love, and in doing so, she has set aside all rationality in favor of romance and fantasies of reforming a sinful man. Her promise to her aunt about marrying a man for his inner worth meant nothing in the face of reality. Arthur Huntingdon has little to recommend him beyond looks, charm, and a penchant for fun. He is the very man Mrs. Maxwell warned her about, but Helen is determined to love him anyway, and prove her worth as a Christian by saving him from a life of ill-spent leisure.
Themes
Gender, Sexism, and Double Standards Theme Icon
Christian Faith and Morality Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Their conversation comes to an end when Mr. Maxwell calls for his wife. He has been in a bad mood, Helen writes, because his gout has gotten worse. Mrs. Maxwell goes on to use Mr. Maxwell’s health as an excuse to quickly flee from London back to the country, but Helen suspects her aunt of ulterior motives—she wants to get Helen away from Mr. Huntingdon. While they prepare to leave town, Helen refuses to mention the young man’s name to either her aunt or her uncle, but he is never far from her mind.
Helen is not yet the master of her own fate. As a young woman, she is under the guardianship of Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell, and she is also now at the mercy of Arthur Huntingdon. She has made her choice; she loves him, but she must wait for him to choose her.
Themes
Love and Marriage Theme Icon