The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

by

Anne Brontë

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Chapter 38 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Helen’s next diary entry is dated December 20, 1826. It is nearing her fifth wedding anniversary, and she has made a plan for herself. First, though, she chronicles the events of the fall, when another party of ladies and gentlemen arrived at Grassdale for the purpose of amusing Arthur. When the guests arrive, Helen is quick to take Lady Lowborough aside and tell her that if she sees evidence of her and Arthur continuing their scandalous relationship, she will not hesitate to inform Lord Lowborough of his wife’s true character. In the end, though, she doesn’t have to—Lord Lowborough discovers the affair himself.
Having survived five years of marriage to Arthur Huntingdon, Helen is now reduced to threatening her husband’s lover. She is also having the play the role of hostess to people she despises and whose presence in her home gives her no end of misery. The deal she makes with Annabella is a morally suspect one. It trades Lord Lowborough’s right to know for her own peace of mind.
Themes
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Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Distraught, Lowborough comes upon Helen in the library, and Helen confesses that she has known about Arthur and Annabella’s attachment for the last two years. Lord Lowborough is angry that she never told him. He feels betrayed by her, and Helen admits she was in the wrong, but she cannot change the past. Lord Lowborough softens toward her. He realizes that she too has suffered in the knowledge of their spouses’ infidelities. Hattersley interrupts them, saying he knows just the thing to make Lowborough feel better: a duel with Arthur. Lowborough refuses, saying he will trust both Arthur’s fate and his own to God. Hattersley declares him a coward.
Helen and Lowborough are, on the surface anyway, in similar circumstances. Both have been deceived by their spouses; both have the misfortune to still be in love with their unfaithful partner. But as a man, Lord Lowborough has more options for relieving his feelings. A duel is obviously a ridiculous and futile approach to dealing with the pain of lost love, but it’s also perfectly consistent with the behavior Hattersley and the rest have exhibited so far.
Themes
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Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Work and Idleness Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Helen, though, presses his hand, and says he is too good for this world. Lowborough is touched but still very grieved. In the hall, Helen finds Arthur laughing at the situation, and Hattersley and Grimsby annoyed that the duel won’t be taking place. She continues to the drawing room, where Annabella is trying to mask her anxiety with a great show of cheerfulness. She lies to the company, saying that Lowborough has received bad news from home, and that’s why they have to leave in a hurry. Helen, of course, knows the truth, and that night she hears Lowborough pacing in the room next to hers. She also finds a knife in the yard and a razor blade in the fireplace the next day, evidence of his overcoming his desire to end his own life.
Generally incorruptible and good, Lord Lowborough is Helen’s male counterpart. His despair, however, is more extreme than hers, partially (the novel suggests) because he does not have her Christian faith to fall back on. Without that comfort, he teeters on the edge of suicide. The knife represents the thin line between life and death and just how close Lowborough got to ending it all.
Themes
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Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Work and Idleness Theme Icon
Lord Lowborough and Annabella leave the next day. Arthur sees them off, joking with his former friend about how perhaps they should trade wives. Lowborough is in a state of barely constrained fury, and Helen’s heart breaks for him. She wishes she could soothe him, but knows it is not in her power. Later, she hears from Milicent that he and Annabella are living completely separate lives. She is in town, enjoying herself to the utmost, and he keeps to his castle in the north, raising their two children.
Annabella may be beautiful and a talented singer, but she is not worth dying for. Soon, the Lowboroughs’ marriage resembles that of Helen and Arthur: they live as strangers. The difference lies in the fact that they actually live apart. Annabella breaks with convention by abandoning her children, and Lowborough breaks with it as well by fathering them on his own.
Themes
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Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Work and Idleness Theme Icon
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After the Lowboroughs’ departure, the rest of the ladies take leave of Glassdale as well, and Arthur and his male companions turn the house into one long, continuous party. All is mayhem and dissipation. Helen hides from them in the library as often as she can. When she does come out, she is gratified to see that Walter Hargrave behaves like a perfect gentleman toward her. Perhaps she finally has nothing to fear from him.
Arthur’s days are entirely wasted on drink and debauchery, and, because Helen no longer has an identity outside of him, her days are wasted as well. Her literal hiding from Arthur and the others represents a more figurative hiding from the truth: that her marriage, and life as she has known it, is over.
Themes
Work and Idleness Theme Icon