The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

by

Anne Brontë

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Chapter 40 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
One night, while Helen and Arthur are in the drawing room together, he grabs her diary from her and begins to read it. She tries to get it away from him, but he holds on to it, and, having read the last entry, demands the keys to her room and private storage spaces. Helen says she doesn’t have them, so he goes in search of Rachel. When he returns, he throws all her painting supplies and her canvases into the fire. Helen sits stupefied and aghast. Arthur says it’s much to his advantage that women can’t keep their secrets to themselves. He has read her diary and knows of her plans to leave him, and he refuses to let her disgrace him in such a way. He will give her a small allowance and she will remain at Grassdale for as long as he wants her to.
Arthur never respected Helen as an individual or an artist. This scene mirrors the early ones in which he mocked her sketches of him. This time, though, instead of just making fun of her work, he is trying to destroy it and, with it, her independence. Helen’s reclaiming her identity is her first true act of defiance. She is working not only on her art but on herself as an autonomous being. Arthur, of course, cannot stand for this.
Themes
Christian Faith and Morality Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Work and Idleness Theme Icon
Helen retrieves her diary and goes to bed, now without any hope for the future. She had taken daily consolation in her plan to leave Arthur, but now that is stripped from her as well. She tells Rachel that their plans are now overthrown, and she begins to despair. She even wonders if she is losing her faith in God. But, she takes comfort in a scripture that claims God never willingly gives suffering to His people, and that those who believe in Him will eventually be delivered to Heaven.
Helen’s main comfort during this time of trial, besides little Arthur and her friendship with Rachel, is her faith. It strengthens her when, at moments like these, she nearly surrenders to despair. It’s worth noting, though, that if it weren’t for her religious convictions, she would be free to divorce Arthur.
Themes
Christian Faith and Morality Theme Icon
Work and Idleness Theme Icon