The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

by

Anne Brontë

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Chapter 49 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The chapter begins with a quotation from the Biblical book of Matthew, about rain falling on a house and winds beating it until it comes crashing down with a great roar. Gilbert writes to Halford of his steady friendship with Frederick, which is founded in no small part on Gilbert’s need to hear news of Helen. For a long time, Frederick hears nothing from her, but eventually there is a letter, and he hands it to Gilbert immediately. The news is that Arthur has experienced a serious relapse, due to his inability to abstain from drinking. One night, he orders a servant to bring him the strongest wine in the house, and he downs the whole bottle. His worst symptoms recur instantly, and he is soon in very poor condition.
The quotation seems to be referring to Arthur’s health. It had been declining for years, thanks to his dissipated habits, and now it is in freefall. The suggestion is that a million tiny drops and a constant rough wind will eventually succeed in bringing down even the strongest of houses, and Arthur was never terribly strong to begin with. Now he seems to be inviting calamity.
Themes
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Arthur’s health is so now poor that Helen has to send little Arthur to be watched over by Esther Hargrave. Helen is needed so often in the sick room that she worries about little Arthur being neglected. His father is still annoyed by Helen’s presence by his bedside, and blames her for his relapse. If she weren’t so exacting, he claims, he would not have been tempted to drink the wine that is proving his ruin. Helen feels for him, especially because his tastes for food and drink will not serve him well in Heaven. Arthur dismisses her faith as superstition, but then begs her to make him well. He is terrified of death, and his vulnerability touches Helen’s heart.
Helen’s attempts to nurse Arthur are a torment to him. Despite her best efforts and good intentions, he is always angry with her and mocking her faith. Helen remains patient throughout, and she feels tremendous compassion for Arthur because he does not have a belief in God and heaven to get him through the worst of the suffering. He lives only for present pleasure, and he has those habits to blame for his illness.
Themes
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Arthur’s condition continues to deteriorate. He is not friendless, however. Hattersley comes to see him and is a very attentive friend. Milicent comes with him, and Helen has the pleasure of seeing her and Esther and little Arthur for brief, stolen moments. Arthur insists on having Helen by his side in the sick room at all times. Hattersley attempts to free her for a short stretch, but Arthur won’t allow her to leave. He is terrified of death, and Hattersley suggests he send for a clergyman. Arthur refuses that, too.
Arthur has grown dependent on Helen, but he has still not reformed. He doesn’t want to hear her talk of God or have a clergyman pray over him. He only wants Helen. Again she is thrust into the role of ministering angel, mostly because Arthur, a life-long sinner, worries about what the afterlife has in store for him.
Themes
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Arthur worsens, and Helen fears that his death is imminent. Arthur insists that it is the “crisis,” or the moment when his illness is peaking, and that once it passes he will be cured. He dozes for a bit and wakes up free of pain. He is ecstatic and thinks he is now well. He grabs Helen’s hand and rejoices, but she does not join him in his happiness. He thinks this is because she unkind and cold-hearted, but in fact, she does not rejoice because she knows the truth—he is dying. The end is now very near.
Arthur is as deluded in near-death as he was in life. He cannot see the truth of the matter because it is too awful to think about. He is dying without ever doing any real kindness to another human being. Helen’s example of selfless generosity is therefore a daily affront.
Themes
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Helen stays by Arthur, doing her best to comfort him, but religion provides him with no consolation. If her beliefs prove true, and given the sinful life he has lived up until now, he cannot hope for everlasting life in the kingdom of Heaven. If a sinner like himself were granted permission to enter, it would make a lie of everything. Helen tells him that all he needs to do is repent sincerely, but he cannot or will not do it.
Arthur can admit to his own failings now, but that admission does not help him see any more clearly. This conversation mimics the one Helen had with Mrs. Maxwell about sinners, hell, and Christ’s power to forgive. Arthur was the subject then, too.
Themes
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Gilbert pities Helen and feels almost responsible for her sufferings. He had allowed himself to hope in desperate moments that Arthur might die and free Helen to be with him, and now it seems that that is exactly what is happening. Later Frederick hands him another letter, in which Helen writes of Arthur’s death. Agonizing and drawn out, it ended with Helen fainting from exhaustion. She asks Frederick to come quickly. The funeral will take place soon and she would very much like his help.
Like the other characters in the novel, Arthur is punished according to his just desserts. He dies in agony, without the comfort of Christian faith. Having spent his married life abusing his loving wife and his youth drinking and carousing, it is, Brontë suggests, what he deserves.
Themes
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Love and Marriage Theme Icon