The Tenant of Wildfell Hall


Anne Brontë

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Similes 5 key examples

Definition of Simile
A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often use the connecting words "like" or "as," but can also... read full definition
A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often use the connecting words "like... read full definition
A simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two unlike things. To make the comparison, similes most often... read full definition
Chapter 15. An Encounter and Its Consequences
Explanation and Analysis—Like a Cat:

When Helen summons Gilbert to Wildfell Hall to share the secrets about her past with him, Gilbert thinks that he already knows them, believing her to be in a secret romantic relationship with Frederick (who is actually her brother) and judging her harshly for it. Gilbert uses a simile to capture his angry, vindictive state while talking to Helen, as seen in the following passage:

“Tell me,” resumed [Helen], “on what grounds you believe these things against me; who told you; and what did they say?”

I paused a moment. She met my eye as unflinchingly as if her bosom had been steeled with conscious innocence. She was resolved to know the worst, and determined to dare it too.

“I can crush that bold spirit,” thought I. But while I secretly exulted in my power, I felt disposed to dally with my victim like a cat.

In comparing himself to a cat and Helen to his “victim” who he wants to “dally with,” Gilbert shows that his initial tenderness toward Helen transformed into anger and cruelty as soon as he believed her to be romantically involved with someone else. Though Gilbert is, in many ways, different from Arthur and the other manipulative men in Helen’s life, here he shows that he can perpetuate gendered power dynamics as well.

Chapter 19. An Incident
Explanation and Analysis—Rose Vs. Peony:

Before Helen and Arthur are officially engaged, Helen notices Arthur paying special attention to Annabella and hides from the pair to cry. When Arthur finds her, he assures her that he loves her and not Annabella, using a simile and a metaphor to communicate the difference in his feelings for the two women:

“Annabella Wilmot, in comparison with you, is like a flaunting peony compared with a sweet, wild rosebud gemmed with dew – and I love you to distraction!”

In comparing Annabella to a “flaunting peony” (via a simile) and Helen to a “sweet, wild rosebud” (via a metaphor), Arthur indicates that he believes Annabella is ostentatious and showy while Helen is beautiful in a more natural and refined way. Beneath this comparison is the implication that Arthur respects and loves Helen much more deeply than he does Annabella. As becomes clear later in the novel, however, Arthur is using these words to manipulate Helen—he is actually very attracted to Annabella and goes on to have an affair with her over the course of several years.

This moment also subtly foreshadows the interaction between Helen and Gilbert at the end of the novel in which she gives him a rose as a symbol for her heart. While Arthur compares Helen to a rose in an attempt to manipulate and control her, Helen takes back her power by comparing her own heart to a rose and giving it to the man who is truly deserving of it.

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Chapter 20. Persistence
Explanation and Analysis—Pious Arthur:

When Helen tells Arthur during their courtship that her aunt Mrs. Maxwell does not approve of him because she wants Helen to marry “a really good man,” Arthur understands that she means a man more devoted to his Christian faith. In his response to Helen, Arthur sarcastically commits to becoming more like a man Mrs. Maxwell would approve of, using verbal irony and a simile in the process:

“She wishes me to – to marry none but a really good man.”

“What, a man of ‘decided piety?’ – ahem! – Well, come, I’ll manage that too! It’s Sunday today, isn’t it? I’ll go to church morning, afternoon, and evening, and comport myself in such a godly sort that she shall regard me with admiration and sisterly love […] I’ll come home sighing like a furnace, and full of the savour and unction of dear Mr Blatant’s discourse –”

Arthur’s declaration that he will go to church “morning, afternoon, and evening” is clearly an exaggeration, as is his statement that he will be “full of the savour and unction of dear Mr Blatant’s discourse.” Arthur even gets the preacher’s name wrong on purpose, calling him “Mr. Blatant” rather than “Mr. Leighton,” likely as a nod to how uninteresting he finds church services. The simile Arthur uses—that he will be “sighing like a furnace” after attending church—is also meant to mock the type of people who feel pleasure and satisfaction from church.

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Chapter 24. First Quarrel
Explanation and Analysis—Like a Tigress:

During Helen and Arthur’s first argument—in which she tells him she would never have married him had she known about all of his previous affairs and dalliances—Arthur uses a simile to describe Helen’s angry state, as seen in the following passage:

“Helen,” said he, more gravely, “do you know that if I believed you now, I should be very angry? – but thank Heaven I don’t. Though you stand there with your white face and flashing eyes, looking at me like a very tigress, I know the heart within you, perhaps a trifle better than you know it yourself.” Without another word, I left the room, and locked myself up in my own chamber.

By telling Helen that she may look like a “tigress” but he knows the gentle heart within her (even better than she knows it herself), Arthur attempts to undermine her anger and power in this moment.

As the passage shows, however, Helen doesn’t soften to Arthur despite his best attempts to undermine her. In fact, she leaves him and locks herself in her bedroom—proving that, perhaps, she is indeed like a fiery tigress. Helen’s decision to lock Arthur out of her room was a very scandalous move at the time, possibly even considered to be illegal since husbands had legal claim over their wives whenever they wanted them. Helen asserting her autonomy here is one way that she challenges the sexism and unjust double standards of her time.

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Chapter 27. A Misdemeanor
Explanation and Analysis—Arthur and Anabella:

Early in Arthur and Helen’s marriage, Helen witnesses Arthur sitting with Annabella and kissing her hand and later confronts him about it. In an example of situational irony, Arthur denies that he is interested in Annabella and—going even further—says that he will never be seriously interested in anyone else:

“Will you never learn?” he continued more boldly, "that you have nothing to fear from me? that I love you wholly and entirely? – or if,” he added with a lurking smile, “I ever give a thought to another, you may well spare it, for those fancies are here and gone like a flash of lightning, while my love for you burns on steadily, and for ever like the sun.”

Here Arthur uses weather-related similes to try to convince Helen that, even if he does have feelings for other women, they are brief “like a flash of lightning” while his love for Helen is steady “like the sun.” This moment is ironic—and also an example of foreshadowing—because Arthur ends up having a full-fledged affair with Annabella for years and also has dalliances with many other women. In other words, his feelings for other women are much more than a simple lightning flash.

Arthur’s inability to remain faithful to Helen—along with the ease with which he lies to her—shows his lack of morality. Unlike Helen, he does not adhere to Christian principles of honoring a marriage.

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