The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

by

Anne Brontë

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Helen goes down to dinner, resolving to be in good spirits, but when Mr. Huntingdon asks Annabella Wilmot to sing for the company, Helen is overcome with jealousy and bitterness. Annabella is a wonderful   performer, and Helen nearly forgets her envy in the pleasure of listening to her. Annabella asks Lord Lowborough, probably as jealous as Helen, to pick the next song. He selects a piece that, in its themes of unrequited love and unceasing devotion, reminds Helen of her feelings for Mr. Huntingdon. She starts to cry and, worried that Mr. Huntingdon might notice her tears, flees to the library to cry alone.
Helen is a painter but not a performer. Painting is a solitary art, making it a perfect fit for her as a quiet and contemplative person. In contrast, performing is social, which could be one reason Arthur places more value on Annabella’s artistic efforts than he does Helen’s. Either way, he mocks Helen’s drawings while celebrating Annabella’s work as a singer. Helen either does not see or does not want to see this truth.
Themes
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Work and Idleness Theme Icon
Helen isn’t alone for long. Mr. Huntingdon joins her and asks to know what is the matter. She won’t tell him, so he confesses that he loves her. He says that compared to Annabella Wilmot (who is “an ostentatious peony”), she, Helen, is like a dewy rosebud. He asks her to marry him, and she says he must first ask her aunt and uncle. Mr. Huntingdon agrees, but begs her to admit that she loves him. Under protest, she does.
Arthur sees women as flowers. If Annabella is a showy blossom, then Helen is a much more modest bloom. His analogy suggests he thinks of women in terms of their beauty and nothing more, and that he, like other male characters in this story, has a tendency to underestimate women’s essential strength and complexity.
Themes
Gender, Sexism, and Double Standards Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Mr. Huntingdon kisses Helen, and Mrs. Maxwell walks in at that very moment. The two young people leap apart, shocked and embarrassed, but Mr. Huntingdon quickly recovers his equilibrium and explains to Mrs. Maxwell that he has been proposing to Helen, and that she said he would have to seek the permission of Mr. Maxwell and his wife. Mr. Huntingdon goes on to make various hyperbolic statements about what he would do to ensure Helen’s happiness, but Mrs. Maxwell is unmoved by his words. She tells him to rejoin the other guests, and says they will talk about this tomorrow. She says the same to Helen, but in a much more tender tone. Helen retires to her room to write down the events of the evening, hoping the act of recording will calm her down enough for sleep.
Helen has mentioned in other entries that Arthur Huntingdon has a way with words. She finds his charming way of speaking difficult to describe and do justice to—but the older, wiser Mrs. Maxwell is not affected by Arthur’s flights of fancy. It seems that all Mrs. Maxwell feared for her niece is now coming to pass, namely that she would accept the proposal of a man with little to recommend him beyond good looks, charm, and a cheerful manner.
Themes
Love and Marriage Theme Icon