The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

by

Anne Brontë

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Chapter 39 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Helen decides she must leave Arthur for the benefit of her son—his influence on the boy is too poisonous. He and his friends are teaching little Arthur to drink, curse, and mock his mother. Walter Hargrave does not participate in such shenanigans, however. In fact, one night when the men are being particularly disrespectful, he picks up little Arthur and takes him out of the room, handing him to Helen and returning to Arthur’s company to scold him for his immaturity.
Arthur is attempting to make a man out of his son. Unfortunately, Arthur’s definition of what it means to be a man has been warped by his own upbringing and by a society that teaches boys to prioritize leisure and fun over developing good and selfless habits.
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With little Arthur’s future in mind, Helen begins to form a plan for their independence. Her hope is to begin painting again and find a dealer she can sell her work to. She’ll ask Rachel to act as the go-between and, once she has enough money saved, she will make her escape. She throws herself back into painting, using the library as her studio. On her third morning back at the easel, Walter Hargrave wanders in and tells her he is leaving Grassdale for Paris. He supposes this bit of news will make her happy. She admits it does not—he is now the only one of Arthur’s friends whose company she can stand. Walter then relates to her something that Arthur said to his friends about her. The men were talking about Lady Lowborough’s departure. Arthur said he was tired of her. Did he mean, then, to become a good husband again? Arthur responded that he had no wife.
At long last, Helen makes plans to reclaim her life and to do so through work. Painting has always been her refuge; it will now be her salvation, and she hopes it will prove more immediately effective than prayer has up until this point. Arthur’s statement that he has no wife is true in ways he cannot imagine. On one hand, Helen has ceased to be herself—Arthur has no wife because Helen has shrunk to a non-entity. On the other hand, if Helen follows through with her plan, he will, in reality, have no wife. Helen will be free and Arthur will be alone.
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Walter is furious with Arthur, but Helen is unmoved. She has ceased to care about her husband’s opinions. She tells Walter about her plans for escape, and he grows increasingly more passionate and animated. He vows to be her protector, but Helen wants to free herself and little Arthur on her own. She begs Walter to leave her be, but he grabs her and tells her she is going against Heaven’s decrees that men and women should be one flesh. Grimsby walks in on the heated argument, and Walter informs Helen that he is sure to return to her husband and slander her good name. He’ll paint the scene as darkly as possible, making Helen out to be the criminal.
Helen’s friendship with Walter Hargrave is beginning to resemble the rollercoaster that is her marriage to Arthur. Just when she thinks she is safe from Walter’s passion, he makes another declaration. His doing so at this moment makes her seem the guilty party, even though she has rebuffed him at every turn, and the fact that she as a faithful wife can come under suspicion from her unfaithful husband shows that women are often held to an impossible standard.
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Related Quotes
Helen tells Walter he has insulted her as no one has before, and he is shocked. He says he worships her. Then Arthur, Hattersley, and Grimsby burst in. Arthur has a gun. He sarcastically invites Walter to come hunting with them, and then he treats Helen to such an abusive rant she is desperate to defend herself. She asks Walter to swear that they were up to nothing untoward. Reluctantly, he admits it. It’s an ugly scene, and Helen can’t believe she’s lived to be abused by her husband and is stooping to asking someone like Walter Hargrave to defend her own honor.
Arthur feels completely within his rights to abuse Helen even though she has done nothing wrong because, as her husband, he is also her master. In turn, Helen takes his abuse because she is still his prisoner. Adding insult to injury, her defender is the very man who put her in this position in the first place.
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That evening only redoubles Helen’s determination to leave Grassdale, and she spends the rest of the day hard at work on her painting. Later, she acquaints Rachel with her plan, and Rachel vows to accompany Helen and little Arthur on their journey, whenever they should undertake it and wherever Helen decides to go. Helen is grateful to her nurse for her loyalty, especially when, later, little Arthur asks his mother why she is so wicked. Helen doesn’t understand. What does he mean?
Helen’s applying herself as a painter is a clear indication that she is serious about her scheme to leave Arthur. For the first time in a very long time—since she married Arthur, in fact—she is using her time in a productive manner. She is in effect painting a future for herself and her son.
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Little Arthur explains that he often asks after her when he’s with his father, and Arthur says, “your mother be damned.” When little Arthur asked Rachel what “being damned” meant, she said that it had to with being out of favor with God. Why, little Arthur asks Helen, is she out of favor with God? Helen helps her son to understand the situation as best she can, but cannot wait to get him out from under his father’s sinful thumb.
Arthur’s corrupting influence puts little Arthur in danger of growing up in a way that is antithetical to Helen’s Christian beliefs. Little Arthur’s question is ironic, then—if anyone is out of favor with God, it is his father, not his saintly mother.
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