The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

by

Anne Brontë

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Chapter 41 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It is now March, and Arthur is on his usual spring trip to London. Helen takes advantage of his absence to break little Arthur of the bad habits he learned from his father. It’s easy to break him of cursing—the consumption of wine is more difficult. She starts putting an expectorant in his brandy and wine, just enough to induce nausea. Eventually, he grows to hate the stuff.
Helen’s method of breaking little Arthur of his drinking habit is dishonest, but she believes that the ends justify the means.
Themes
Christian Faith and Morality Theme Icon
While Arthur is gone, Helen devises another scheme for her freedom. She writes to her brother to see if he might fix up a few rooms in the house where they grew up, so she can live there with little Arthur. She thinks she can tell from her brother’s letters that he knows some of her situation, but he never forces her confidence. She admits she wishes she knew him better, but he is coming to Grassdale soon for a visit and she is excited to become more intimate with him.
Helen mentions her brother only in passing. Helen’s turning to him in her time of need suggests he might serve as a foil to Arthur. One thing is for certain: Helen is a strong woman, but she needs help to free herself from her husband. Her finances do not allow her to act on her own.
Themes
Work and Idleness Theme Icon
In April, Helen writes of her brother’s visit, which was enjoyable and relaxing but too brief. She loved having Frederick’s company and watching him get better acquainted with little Arthur. They talked of her plan for escape, and while Frederick thinks her scheme foolhardy, he understands better now how miserable she is with Mr. Huntingdon and agrees to get his rooms ready in case of emergency.
Helen has an ally in her brother, but his declaring her plan foolhardy is an indication of society’s expectations of women. Women are expected to remain in abusive relationships. That is considered safe, whereas escape is “unwise.”
Themes
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
It is the end of July, and Esther Hargrave has returned from her first season in London. She comes home unengaged, much to her mother’s consternation. Mrs. Hargrave had wanted her to marry Mr. Oldfield, but Esther refused. She thinks him not only old but ugly and tiresome. Helen tells her she was right not to accept him then, but warns her against marrying for love alone. She should also consider the man’s other qualities, and if she doesn’t find such a man, it is best to remain single. Esther disagrees. She fears becoming an old maid and being dependent on her mother and brother for the rest of her life.
Helen’s advice to Esther echoes Mrs. Maxwell’s to her: she is warning the younger woman against marrying only for affection. Instead, Helen suggests, Esther should make sure her chosen partner has other qualities to recommend him. Esther’s fears of becoming an “old maid” show the entrenched nature of the pressures society puts on young women to marry as a way of achieving financial “independence.” But that independence is a lie, and Helen knows this better than anyone.
Themes
Gender, Sexism, and Double Standards Theme Icon
Love and Marriage Theme Icon
Work and Idleness Theme Icon
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Esther asks Helen if she’s happy. She asked Milicent and Milicent said she was, but Esther suspects she was lying. Helen doesn’t answer Esther’s question, and Esther tells her she knows she’s not as happy as she intends to be in matrimony. Esther wants to marry a man who will only take pleasure in being in her company—he will value it above all other things. Helen tells her she had better be very selective then, or else not marry at all.
Esther’s hopes echo the 18-year-old Helen’s. She wants a union that so far Helen has yet to witness between a man and a woman: that of equals who respect and love each other as God intended.
Themes
Love and Marriage Theme Icon