The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

by

Anne Brontë

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Since Jack has expressed to Gilbert that he wants to hear more, Gilbert continues his story on yet another day in October of 1827, when, out hunting game, he finds only hawks and blackbirds. He leaves the comfort of his own property for the steep and desolate hill that leads to Wildfell Hall. The hill is the wildest in all the neighborhood, and is too cold and windswept to allow for much vegetation beyond stunted trees. The meadows aren’t fit for farming, so cattle and sheep are pastured there.
Like the other villagers, Gilbert is curious about the unconventional inhabitant of Wildfell Hall. Helen is literally on a different level than the rest of Linden-Car. The hill serves as a barrier between her and her neighbors, and the stunted trees hint at her stunted life. Gilbert begins the day hunting game—but he will soon be hunting Helen.
Themes
Work and Idleness Theme Icon
Gilbert ascends the hill and takes in the ghostly majesty of Wildfell Hall, an Elizabethan era mansion of dark gray stone that has been worn away by time. The fences and gardens are in total disrepair and the shrubbery is of particularly odd appearance. The privet hedge and surrounding topiaries (a beheaded swan, a lion that used to guard the door) are otherworldly and ghoulish, reminding Gilbert of the stories his childhood nurse used to tell him about the spirits of dead tenants that haunted Wildfell Hall.
The gothic nature of Wildfell and its surroundings serve to exoticize Helen and reinforce Gilbert’s first impressions of her as stiff, unfriendly, and different from other women. It is an unusual person who would choose to live in such a desolate and seemingly haunted spot. It’s Helen, though, who turns out to be haunted.
Themes
Gender, Sexism, and Double Standards Theme Icon
Having killed two hawks and a crow, Gilbert gets as close as he dares to the house, where he meets a young boy. The boy is roughly five years old and is so enchanted by the antics of Gilbert’s dog that he gets snagged on a cherry tree reaching for him and nearly falls off the garden wall. Gilbert catches him before can hurt himself. Helen Graham rushes out into the garden and, in an angry panic, snatches the boy away from Gilbert. The boy is Helen’s son, Arthur (Jr.). When she learns that Gilbert has saved her son from harm, she calms down, and she and Gilbert have a short, bordering-on-friendly conversation until she remembers the look they exchanged at church. She grows suddenly haughty and cold, and Gilbert leaves, angry and dissatisfied and eager for the company of Eliza Millward.
Despite the fact that he saves her son from harm, Gilbert’s first meeting with Helen is not a positive one, and it in fact hints at the obstacles the couple will face as their relationship grows and deepens. The wall likewise suggests the barriers that exist between Helen and Gilbert and real intimacy. Gilbert’s desire for Eliza Millward’s company is quite obviously a reaction to Helen’s unkind treatment. This is one of the first indications that Gilbert does not take his romance with Eliza very seriously, but mostly uses her attentions to comfort and affirm himself.
Themes
Gender, Sexism, and Double Standards Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Work and Idleness Theme Icon
At the Millward home, Gilbert finds Eliza at work on a piece of embroidery, and her sister Mary mending stockings. Eliza is in a good mood and she and Gilbert flirt with each other while Mary works in the corner. The subject of their flirtation is, at one point, Gilbert’s dislike of cats, which he attributes to jealousy: men do not appreciate the affection women bestow on their cats. Eliza then proceeds to shower her cat with kisses and caresses. Gilbert rises to leave—Mrs. Markham will be expecting him for tea—and Eliza treats him to a soft smile and bewitching glance. He goes home, full of love for her.
Unlike Helen, Eliza and Mary embrace traditional female roles. Sewing is almost certainly one of the many domestic skills Mrs. Markham believes all eligible women should have, and Eliza is nothing if not eligible. She is also, according to Gilbert, cat-like in her manner, adding a layer of subtext to their conversation about cats and female affection. Gilbert thinks he loves Eliza—Eliza, meanwhile, loves herself. 
Themes
Gender, Sexism, and Double Standards Theme Icon
Christian Faith and Morality Theme Icon
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