The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

by

Anne Brontë

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Chapter 18 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Helen begins her entry for the 25th of August, contending that she is working hard at being content in the country, but her thoughts are always with Mr. Huntingdon. She cannot wait for spring, when she will be in town again and, she hopes, in his company again. When that time arrives, she will assess whether her impression of him or her aunt’s is the most accurate and act accordingly. She cannot believe that he still loves her, but, if he does, and if he should ask her to marry him, she will do her utmost to reform his character.
Helen has learned at this point to value Arthur Huntingdon’s opinion over her own. She worries more about the possibility that he might no longer love her than she does about the chance that he could be unworthy of her love. Powerless and restless, she resigns herself to waiting until spring to see how her life will turn out.
Themes
Gender, Sexism, and Double Standards Theme Icon
Christian Faith and Morality Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
September arrives, and Mr. Maxwell invites a group of gentlemen to the country for a shooting party. Helen is dismayed at first to find out that Mr. Wilmot and Mr. Boarham are among the party, but then her uncle informs her that Mr. Huntingdon and his friend Lord Lowborough, are also coming, and she is ecstatic. Mrs. Maxwell invites Annabella Wilmot and Milicent Hargrave as well. Helen assumes Annabella is on the guest list to divide Mr. Huntingdon’s attention from her, and Milicent because she is such a wholesome influence. Helen says she wishes she were like Milicent, or more like her anyway.
Helen is relieved to find she won’t have to wait as long as she thought. The shooting party will afford her the opportunity she wants to discern Arthur’s feelings for her. By wishing she were more like Milicent, Helen is admitting to what she sees as flaws in her own character. Milicent is kind and giving and unfailingly sweet to everyone. Helen is already growing jealous of Annabella Wilmot and her ability to fascinate Arthur Huntingdon.
Themes
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Weeks pass and the shooting party arrives. Helen writes from a place of misery. She says her diary is a friend to whom she will pour out her heart, and her heart is very much full of Mr. Huntingdon. On his first night at the Maxwells’, Mr. Huntingdon happens upon a drawing of Helen’s, the back of which contains a likeness of him. Much to Helen’s humiliation, he goes on to discover a number of such likenesses, and he pockets one. Then he goes to sit by Annabella Wilmot the rest of the evening. Helen leaves the drawing room, intending to be alone with her thoughts the rest of the night, but when she returns quickly for a candle, Mr. Huntingdon is there. He takes the opportunity to kiss her.
Arthur’s disrespectful treatment of Helen’s art work suggests a lack of respect for her as a person. He treats her sketches as nothing more than fuel for his own ego. Helen is miserable, though, not because he mocked her work but because the presence of the sketches revealed to him her true feelings and, instead of honoring those feelings, he spends the evening flirting with Annabella Wilmot. Helen is most definitely letting her heart rather than her head steer her at the moment.
Themes
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Work and Idleness Theme Icon
Angered and offended, Helen ignores Mr. Huntingdon at breakfast while showering friendliness on everyone else, including Mr. Wilmot and Mr. Boarham. Later, though, as Mr. Huntingdon treats her to a number of kind speeches and smiles, Helen thaws towards him. All of the men but Boarham go out to shoot. Boarham stays behind, waiting for the grass to dry and giving everyone a lecture on the dangers of wet feet.
Helen’s passive aggressive behavior might earn her what she desires—more shows of affection from Mr. Huntingdon—but it also suggests a dysfunction at the heart of her love for him. At least she can rest assured that she made the right decision in refusing Mr. Boarham.
Themes
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
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Helen takes the morning to work on a new painting. The piece is, in her mind, her most presumptuous. It is of a sunny morning and a pair of turtledoves, who, so absorbed in each other, do not see the little girl in the grass below, looking rapturously up at them. While she is hard at work, Mr. Huntingdon sneaks in the window. He compares the girl in the painting to a young woman hoping to find constancy in love. Helen is enchanted by his pretty words and what she takes to be his sincerity, but she is angered the next moment when he wrenches her portfolio from her hand and finds another likeness of himself among the contents. Helen grabs the likeness and throws it in the fire. Mr. Huntingdon, disgruntled, leaves to rejoin the hunting party.
 Arthur Huntingdon’s assessment of the painting is not far off. It seems in many ways to be a physical manifestation of Helen’s feelings for him and her desires for a perfect union with her future husband. Huntingdon’s teasing ruins the moment and serves (or should serve) as a useful reminder to Helen that he does not value her identity as an artist. Tossing his portrait into the fire is merely a symbolic gesture—she has no real intentions of forgetting him.
Themes
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Work and Idleness Theme Icon
After lunch, Helen, Annabella, and Milicent go on a long walk, meeting up with the hunters near the house. All but Mr. Huntingdon dodge the ladies, being covered in mud and blood. Mr. Huntingdon inserts himself between Helen and Annabella and, after a time, asks Helen why she burned his likeness. Helen tells him she burned it because she wanted to, and Mr. Huntingdon replies that he will save his company for those who value it, namely Annabella Wilmot. Helen is now truly miserable, convinced her needless pride has alienated Mr. Huntingdon forever and, worse, thrown him into the unworthy arms of Annabella. Helen thinks that Annabella would only serve to exacerbate his faults, and worries she is playing Mr. Huntingdon and Lord Lowborough off each other for selfish reasons of her own.
Mr. Huntingdon now has complete power over Helen. If he misbehaves or engages in a casual flirtation with Annabella Wilmot, she blames herself. And, should Annabella end up winning Arthur Huntingdon for herself, Helen will blame herself for that, too. Regardless, Arthur wins and Helen loses. It is a cruel game and a natural result of a system that teaches women that they have no real agency from the moment they reach marriageable age.
Themes
Gender, Sexism, and Double Standards Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Work and Idleness Theme Icon
Meanwhile, both Wilmot and Boarham redouble their efforts to woo Helen, who begins to doubt that Mr. Huntingdon ever had any affection for her. If he loved her, he couldn’t possibly watch those two older, awkward gentlemen vie for her with such composure. His indifference and unkindness are not enough to erase her regard, though. She continues to love him and be tormented by his attentions to Annabella.
As a young woman without agency, Helen can only dodge unwelcome offers and watch helplessly as the man she desires most flirts with another woman. It is not in her power to declare her love for Arthur or refuse Wilmot and Boarham in a forceful enough way that they will leave her alone.
Themes
Gender, Sexism, and Double Standards Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon