The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

by

Anne Brontë

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Chapter 20 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Helen wakes the next morning completely happy and goes for a solitary walk. The weather mimics her mood. It is fine and dewy, and a robin is singing in the field. Again, she is not alone for long. Mr. Huntingdon joins her and, arm around her waist, rejoices in the fact that she is “his” Helen. Not yet, she warns—He still needs to acquire her aunt and uncle’s permission, and her aunt is prejudiced against him. Mr. Huntingdon asks Helen for help in winning over Mrs. Maxwell. If she’s worried about his lack of worldly wealth, it’s true that he is not as rich as some, and after his father’s death, he did become somewhat of a spendthrift, but he would reverse that course if Helen were to become his wife, he says—he would become more responsible and live like a Christian.
As was often the case with Gilbert, Helen finds the weather completely suited to her mood: it is a beautiful day and she is in a state of complete bliss. She had wanted to be alone, but Arthur’s intrusion is not unwelcome. He acknowledges that, thanks to his own irresponsible spending habits, he is not as rich as some of Helen’s suitors, but he’s confident that marriage to her will reform him. His vow aligns neatly with Helen’s wish to “save” him and allows her the comfort of thinking it is already half done.
Themes
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
It’s not money that worries her aunt, Helen insists; it’s her doubts about Mr. Huntingdon’s virtues. Mrs. Maxwell wants Helen to marry a good man. Mr. Huntingdon says if it’s piety that’s required, he’ll go to church as often as he can. Helen is put off by his excesses—she wants him to be sincere. He wants her to call him Arthur. They walk on, and Arthur asks about Helen’s father, who is still living but who gave Helen up when her mother died many years ago. Helen admits that, unlike Annabella Wilmot, who is a very rich young woman, she is no heiress. Arthurs insists he doesn’t care about such things.
As was the case when he promised Mrs. Maxwell to make her niece very happy, Arthur again indulges in a number of verbal excesses, vowing to become a pious and god-fearing man if that is what Helen and her aunt require. Arthur’s overly casual inquiry about Helen’s financial situation suggests that he might indeed care about money more than he lets on.
Themes
Christian Faith and Morality Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Later, Arthur requests a conference with Mr. Maxwell, and Helen and her aunt have a talk about her future. Mrs. Maxwell is still very much against Helen’s marrying Mr. Huntingdon, but Helen insists that her aunt has the wrong idea about him. His friends are not all bad—Lord Lowborough, for instance, is not a terrible man. No, her aunt admits, he is a desperate man in need of a fortune because he already spent his, and that is why he courts Annabella. Mrs. Maxwell has tried to warn that young woman as well, but, like Helen, she refuses to see Mrs. Maxwell’s point. Helen feels very little for Annabella. If Lord Lowborough is a fortune hunter, she thinks, then they deserve each other.
Helen’s lack of pity for Annabella seems primarily motivated by jealousy. In light of that, it is ungenerous and unchristian of her to not to care about the young woman’s prospects for happiness in marriage. Then again, it is becoming clear to her that many people do not marry for love. Rather, they enter the state for more material reasons.
Themes
Christian Faith and Morality Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
What faults Arthur Huntingdon has, Helen says, she will do her best to alleviate. In Helen’s estimation, they’re mostly due to his miserly father and over-indulgent mother. As his wife, she will be a model of moderation for him, and she will provide him another service: getting him out of the clutches of his worst friends. Mrs. Maxwell is deeply disappointed in Helen’s judgment. She says she thought Helen would be wiser than this when it came time to choosing a partner for herself.
According to Arthur, his miserly father kept such careful track of the family finances that he never let Arthur have any fun. His mother, on the other hand, let him do what he liked, especially after his father died. Helen is unwittingly inserting herself into the role of mother to Arthur. Charging herself with remaking his character, she is, in effect, hatching plans to raise him.
Themes
Work and Idleness Theme Icon
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She and Helen then trade Bible verses. Mrs. Maxwell’s verses support her point that Arthur’s sin of thoughtlessness will land him in hell. Helen’s support her own argument—that Jesus died on the cross so that all sins would be forgiven.
Both women’s verses comport well with Christian teachings, but Mrs. Maxwell’s speaks to the sufferings of experience, while Helen’s is colored by the optimism of youth.
Themes
Christian Faith and Morality Theme Icon
Their talk ends because it is time for church. Most of the party attends the morning service, but Lord Lowborough and Annabella Wilmot stay behind from afternoon prayers. Arthur Huntingdon accompanies Helen and Mrs. Maxwell both, but his behavior mortifies Helen, who catches him drawing a satirical caricature of the Pastor on the pages of his Bible. After the service, though, he is respectful and reverent.
Arthur clearly does not take Helen’s faith seriously. In that way, it is similar to how he treats her artistic endeavors: with light-hearted ridicule. The caricature he draws of the minister mocks both her faith and her art at the same time.
Themes
Christian Faith and Morality Theme Icon
Back at Staningley, Mr. Maxwell calls Helen into the library to discuss Arthur Huntingdon’s marriage offer. Mr. Maxwell asks Helen if she is ready to accept Arthur’s hand. She says yes without hesitation. Her uncle then asks her if she knows anything about her future husband’s finances. Mr. Maxwell understands that Arthur’s father’s fortune has been squandered somewhat, but that there is some left. Helen replies that she has no interest in that. Whatever is his will be hers, and vice versa. Her uncle says he will appeal to Helen’s father for some money for the couple, and he might be able to spare some as well. Helen is very grateful. Mr. Maxwell then asks when they want to have the ceremony—Arthur is anxious for it to happen right away. Helen wants to consult her aunt.
Even when one is determined, as Helen is, to marry for love and love alone, material considerations creep in. The couple must have something to live on. Her uncle is proving himself more serious than he seemed at first—he wants her to be able to marry the man she loves, but understands the need for financial security more than she does. Helen, of course, has no money of her own. As an aristocratic woman, she is expected to marry into a very precarious form of independence.
Themes
Gender, Sexism, and Double Standards Theme Icon
Work and Idleness Theme Icon