The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

by

Anne Brontë

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Tenant of Wildfell Hall can help.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Chapter 31 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Spring arrives, and Arthur takes his usual trip to London. The plan was for Helen and little Arthur to accompany him, but first Arthur convinced Helen to visit her ailing father and brother for a bit, since she hadn’t seen them since little Arthur’s christening. When she returns to Grassdale, Arthur is gone, having left her a note saying he wouldn’t be in London long—he had some business to attend to and would be home soon. Helen feels tricked, but she takes consolation in the hope that Arthur really does seem to want to moderate his drinking now, mostly because he’s worried about ruining his looks.
Even when taking a trip to see her brother and sick father, Helen is preoccupied with thoughts of Arthur and his misbehavior. She is clinging now to whatever shreds of hope she can find. The young woman who promised her aunt never to marry for something as shallow as good looks is now hoping her husband will quit drinking to save his appearance. It is a far cry from what she’d wanted out of life.
Themes
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Arthur returns home from his spring London escapades in better health and worse humor than the previous two times. Maybe, Helen surmises, his ill humor is due to her own. She doesn’t feel like indulging him anymore. She’s tired of tending him and pretending his dissipated habits don’t bother her. She is particularly disturbed by his selfish response to the news of Helen’s father’s death: he hopes she won’t go into mourning for too long (he hates black), and he doesn’t even want her to attend the funeral because he can’t be home in the country alone without growing bored.
As a man concerned primarily with appearance, it comes as no real shock that Arthur would react to the news of Helen’s father’s death with a wish she not wear black for long—but it’s still an extremely callous thing to say. Further, it doesn’t matter what color Helen wears at this point in the marriage; she is always in mourning now, grieving the death of love and her chances at happiness in marriage and even motherhood. 
Themes
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Nearly a month passes, and Helen finds herself again in the position of trying to curb the worst of her husband’s habits. She lives in the present, letting his moods dictate her behavior, and she’s planning a house party for a month hence, hoping Milicent and her new daughter will be good company for her and little Arthur.
This is yet another example of Helen’s surrender of self. She’s planning a house party she’d rather not host and spending all her time trying to decipher Arthur’s many moods. She has no time left for herself.
Themes
Gender, Sexism, and Double Standards Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
It’s now August, and the guests have been at Grassdale for two weeks. Helen writes of how she cannot make herself like Lady Lowborough (Annabella). She compares interacting with her to crushing a rose in one’s hand and getting cut on the thorns. At first, Annabella clearly tried flirting with Arthur, but gave up when she got very little encouragement from him. Arthur’s main goal during his friends’ visit seems to be getting drunk with them. Lord Lowborough is the only male guest who doesn’t participate in the drunkenness, and while Helen congratulates him on his moderate habits, Annabella only rewards him with contempt. Helen pities him, and wishes Annabella would treat him better, but Annabella obviously doesn’t care.
Helen’s likening her attempts at befriending Annabella to crushing a rose is significant. Female characters are compared to flowers throughout the text, and the comparisons typically reference women’s beauty or their fragile natures. Here Helen is suggesting that, while on the surface her relationship with Annabella might seem harmless enough, any attempt to get close to the woman or even be pleasant with her is painful. It’s a pain, though, that only Helen seems to see.
Themes
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Work and Idleness Theme Icon
Get the entire The Tenant of Wildfell Hall LitChart as a printable PDF.
The tenant of wildfell hall.pdf.medium
What follows is for Helen and Milicent a mortifying scene. Arthur, Hattersley, and Grimsby grow increasingly drunk and unruly. They attempt to force Lord Lowborough to drink, but he escapes them. Then Hattersley grabs Milicent and demands to know why she’s been crying. When Helen tells him that her tears are a result of her humiliation at his behavior, Hattersley throws Milicent to the ground. Annabella seems amused by the scene, but Helen flees to her room, where she paces in anger and frustration until Hattersley and Grimsby bring Arthur up to her. He is sick and stupid, and she ends her diary saying no more on the subject. But she notes that after that night, Annabella is kinder to Lord Lowborough, perhaps because she sees that Arthur is now indifferent to her.
Helen gets a first-hand glimpse of how Arthur most likely spends his nights away in London: in drunken and idiotic debauchery with his friends, all of whom egg each other on. Hattersley’s treatment of Milicent is particularly shameful, but neither she nor Helen has any real power to put a stop to such behavior. Instead, they are forced by circumstance and societal expectations to stand by and tolerate the awful displays of immaturity and decadence because the men are, after all, pleasing themselves as society tells them to.
Themes
Gender, Sexism, and Double Standards Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Work and Idleness Theme Icon