The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

by

Anne Brontë

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Chapter 25 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
London proves exhausting for Helen. Arthur, keen to show her off to his friends, insists that she reject her modest style of dress for something showier, and she is constantly being put in the role of hostess, another social obligation that saps her energy. After a week, Arthur suggests that she go home to Grassdale Manor to recover her spirits, and she readily agrees, assuming he will come with her. He informs her that he intends to stay for another week or two to conduct a few business matters, and when she says she can stay on to keep him company at meal times at least, he refuses. She must go home now and take the country air, he says, both for herself and for the child she is now carrying.
Helen and Arthur’s temperaments are polar opposites. She draws energy and fulfillment from quiet contemplation, while he enjoys himself most in the middle of a noisy crowd. Arthur tries to remake his wife in a more fashionable mold, but the results of such an effort are unsuccessful. Both want the other to be something they are not. As for the child Helen is carrying, the timeline for this is muddled in the novel—it will be another year before she actually gives birth.
Themes
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Work and Idleness Theme Icon
Helen wonders what sort of business it is to keep him in town for several weeks, and Arthur explains that he needs to sell a piece of property to pay some debts on the estate. The details are fuzzy, but Helen assumes it’s just her ignorance hindering her understanding. But later, at home in Grassdale, she begins to suspect that it’s not business keeping him in London but his old friends. A month passes and still he does not return, even though he promises in every letter to be home soon.
Helen is still quick to blame herself for anything amiss in her relationship with Arthur. The fact that she expected him home sooner and has no idea about the details of his business in town must be, she supposes, due to her own stupidity.
Themes
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Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Arthur’s letters continue to come, but they’ve gotten shorter and they’re less satisfying to Helen who, ever hopeful, still devours them, having no one to talk to besides Rachel. Milicent is in London, leaving only Milicent’s little sister Esther and their brother Walter, but Esther is too young for a companion and Walter is always away. Helen finally met Milicent’s brother when she was in London with Arthur, and while she found him superior to Arthur’s other acquaintances, that’s not really saying much.
Helen understandably begins to doubt Arthur’s sincerity about coming home soon. With each day and week and month that goes by, it seems to her more likely that he is not conducting business at all but rather cavorting with his friends. Meanwhile, she is virtually friendless, having given up everything else for Arthur’s sake.
Themes
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Helen finds herself wishing Arthur would come home to find her good looks destroyed by anxiety and worry. That would serve him right, she thinks. In the meantime, she is consumed with disturbing thoughts about how and with whom he is spending his time.
Helen is as idle as Arthur during this period, leaving her plenty of time to miss him and feel sorry for herself.
Themes
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It is now the beginning of July, and Helen has a new letter from Arthur in which he makes a number of excuses for his extended absences. She has no idea how busy he is, he writes, and if she sends him another bitter letter like the last he will have to do his best to forget her. He also passes along some gossip about Milicent. His friend Hattersley is determined to marry within the year, but he needs a woman who will let him do whatever he wants. Arthur volunteers to introduce him to Milicent, who, he says, will suit him perfectly. Helen worries about her friend, but trusts that Milicent’s superior powers of judgment will not permit her to attach herself to such a man.
Helen does not include the text of her letter to Arthur in her diary entry, but the reader can guess at the contents, given his defensive reaction. Helen is presuming that Milicent will make a better choice than she herself did in becoming engaged to a life partner. In making this assumption, Helen is holding Milicent to an unfairly high standard.
Themes
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But Helen is mistaken. She soon receives a letter from Milicent informing her that she is indeed engaged to Mr. Hattersley. Milicent can’t really believe the situation herself. She thought she’d given her potential suitor a kind no, only to be informed by her mother that she as good as accepted him, and that to reverse course now would cause a great deal of offense. So Milicent goes along with the engagement, mostly because she knows it pleases her mother, who had no idea how she was going to marry off her two daughters with no fortune to offer, and who is overjoyed at the thought of her daughter marrying the son of a rich banker. Milicent is not excited about her beau. In fact, she doesn’t think she can ever love him. He’s the opposite of her ideal, but everyone approves of the match, including Walter.
Like Helen, Milicent does not have the option of earning her own living, and her family views her single status as a burden on them. They must pay for her room and board, but if she marries, those expenses will be her husband’s. Selfless and timid, Milicent is reluctant to upset her mother or brother, so she sacrifices her own happiness for theirs. The fact that Mrs. Hargrave and Walter both view the match as advantageous says a great deal about their characters. The blustering Hattersley is obviously completely wrong for Milicent, but they’d rather she be off their hands than satisfied in life.
Themes
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Milicent begs Helen to write to her and tell her something good about her fiancé. Maybe Mr. Hattersley is a diamond in the rough? Helen is distraught. She can offer no encouragement beyond what Milicent would not want to hear, which is that it’s better to disappoint everyone at the outset than live a life of misery and regret.
Helen has learned the hard way the dangers of marrying the wrong person, even if it seems at first to be for the right reasons. Her hard-won knowledge will provide no comfort to her friend, however, so she keeps quiet.
Themes
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It is now July 13, and Arthur is still in London. Helen mourns the passing of summer without her husband. She lists the beauties of nature that surround her daily, the calls of the swallows and sparrows, the noble ash trees bending over the water, wildflowers tossed by the breeze, and laments that Arthur is not there to appreciate them with her. In fact, their beauty cuts her. The prettier the landscape, the more glorious the weather, the sadder she becomes, because she is alone and cannot share such beauty with the person she loves most in the world. The nights are the worst. She wonders where he is and who he is with, and is overcome with unhappiness.
Helen is desperately in need of employment, but she is too depressed to know it or to do anything about her unhappiness. This is a rare instance where the weather acts as a contrast to Helen’s inner state. This would be the perfect time for Helen to begin painting, but her heart and mind are too much occupied with Arthur and missing him for her to see a way out of her rut.
Themes
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Ten more days pass and Arthur is finally home with Helen, but he is very much changed. He is feverish and ill, and his looks are not what they were. Helen does not ask him where he’s been or why he’s returned in the state he has. Instead, she does everything she can to soothe him. She knows he doesn’t deserve such treatment, but she vows to spoil him just this once. With him home and, she hopes, repentant, she plans to finally reform his character. Then she will never let him leave her again.
Like Helen, Arthur is gradually losing parts of himself, but he has less to lose. His looks are one of the key assets he offers the world, and they are suffering under his lifestyle of hard-drinking and carousing. Even after months of loneliness and anxiety, Helen still believes she can reform him. She also believes she can keep him by her side.
Themes
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One night, when Helen is stroking his curls, she finds herself wishing Arthur were worthy of her kindness. The thought makes her cry, and, noticing her tears, he asks her what is wrong. She is loved by him, he says. What else could she possibly want? That he would love himself as much as she loves him, she replies. He goes to sleep in her arms, innocent as a child, and she cries harder, her heart full.
Helen’s love for Arthur, like Milicent’s vow to be a good wife to Ralph Hattersley, is one of self-sacrifice. She is also morphing into his mother figure. She cradles him like she would a child, and has a mother’s hopes that all will be well if she can only keep him home and safe.
Themes
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After a month’s recuperation, Arthur is himself again: restless, irreverent, easily distracted, and just as easily bored. Helen wishes he had something productive to occupy him. If only he would play the role of the gentleman farmer and look after his estate or employ himself in an artistic endeavor of some sort, but he is too idle to apply himself to anything for very long. Helen vows that if she ever becomes a mother, she will make sure to curb the habit of over-indulgence in her child. She blames that evil for the bulk of Arthur’s troubles.
Helen’s wish for Arthur that he work as a gentleman farmer dovetails interestingly with Gilbert’s actual occupation. If Arthur had employment, he would be a happier, more fulfilled man and not have to find so much comfort in drinking. Incidentally, Helen’s pregnancy is alluded to after her first trip to London, but this chapter suggests she is not yet pregnant.
Themes
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They begin to discuss the possibility of a shooting party, but Helen shudders when she thinks of inviting Arthur’s friends. Arthur has hinted that he read her letters to his friends in London and is in agony when she thinks how he probably bragged about the kind of abuse he could inflict on her without shaking her attachment to him. Arthur says they could invite Lord Lowborough, but that he won’t come without Annabella. Perhaps, he ventures, Helen is afraid of her? Helen doesn’t understand him. She asks who else they should invite. Arthur suggests Grimsby, and Helen agrees, even though she hates him. Hattersley, Arthur says, will be too busy with his bride to care about shooting.
This shooting party harkens back to the fateful party at Staningley when Helen engaged herself to Arthur. It throws a melancholy light on that joyful moment in her life, spoiled now by the reality of the man himself. Still, Helen is loyal. It is her only choice, even though Arthur does his best to make her jealous with references to Annabella and broad hints that Helen has reason to despise her again.
Themes
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That reminds Helen that she has received several letters from Milicent since her marriage. In the letters, Milicent insists that she loves her husband now as a wife should, and Helen surmises that her change of heart is all due to her kind nature. If Milicent stopped to consider that she is actually an unfortunate victim of fate or her mother’s greed, she would most likely hate her uncouth husband forever.
Helen cannot imagine that Milicent has actually grown to love her husband, because her relationship with her own husband is so strained. It’s possible that Helen is correct about Milicent. Perhaps she, too, has lost whole parts of herself in loyalty to Ralph.
Themes
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