The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

by

Anne Brontë

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After four months of neglect, Helen returns to her diary to record the events of the first months of her marriage to Arthur Huntingdon. She admits that they are not what she could wish exactly. Her honeymoon, for instance, was a disappointment. She had hoped to see much more of Europe than they did. Arthur hurried her through Italy and France, saying he was anxious to get her home and have her all to himself. Also, if they met certain ladies out in Paris and Roman society, there was a chance they would be furious to see him with his new wife. Helen is upset at these developments, but maintains she is primarily disappointed in him rather than angry over his treatment of her.
As a wife, Helen’s role is to defer to her husband at all times. He dictates the parameters of their honeymoon and, when it’s not to Helen’s satisfaction, she pardons him, allowing herself to be disappointed but not angry. This pattern of indulgence allows Arthur to hide Helen away in a possessive manner, even as he is also torturing her with tales of his former lovers.
Themes
Gender, Sexism, and Double Standards Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Settled in their new home at Grassdale Manor, though, Helen forgives him everything. The house is perfect, and Arthur is back to his old self. She thinks for a while that perhaps she is too blessed in life. Then, one day when walking home from church, Arthur accuses her of being too religious, of loving her God more than she loves him. Then he places her hand on his head and it sinks into his curls. Arthur laughingly asks how is he to worship God when that same God gave him a misshapen head? Helen replies that that is no excuse for giving in to sin, and that practice makes perfect—he should employ his talents in sincere worship and he’ll find it gets easier with time.
Arthur had promised to become a better Christian for Helen, but it seems at this moment that he would like her to become a less devout Christian for him instead. For Helen, this kind of transaction makes no sense. She can love God and Arthur at the same time. Still convinced she can make Arthur a better man, she advises that he apply himself in the matter of worship, misshapen head or not.
Themes
Gender, Sexism, and Double Standards Theme Icon
Christian Faith and Morality Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Arthur argues that Christianity demands a man forgo pleasure in the present in hopes of obtaining even greater pleasure at some point in the future. That is not a wise way to live, Arthur contends. He prefers to enjoy the metaphorical banquet that he can see, that is laid before him in the now, rather than count on one he cannot see and isn’t sure is ever coming. Helen responds that it’s not necessary to forgo any pleasure, only that moderation is what’s called for. They part, with Arthur insisting that he has been a well-behaved bridegroom, and Helen wishing his thoughts lined up with his actions on a more consistent basis.
One need only consider Arthur’s story about Lord Lowborough’s struggles with addiction and gambling to see that forgoing pleasure is not one of Arthur’s strengths—he enjoys fun and he likes it in excess if possible. Helen, always the patient instructor, offers another lesson in Christian comportment. After all, Arthur claimed in the story of Lowborough to be a moderate person, so now he just needs to be himself.
Themes
Gender, Sexism, and Double Standards Theme Icon
Christian Faith and Morality Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon