Throughout the novel, Anne Brontë uses tree- and flower-based imagery to underscore men’s tendency to underestimate women. For instance, Gilbert likens Helen’s mothering of little Arthur to the care a gardener might lavish on a sapling, arguing that it is necessary to expose the young to small portions of the world’s cruelty in order to prepare them for an uncertain future. He admits, however, that he would never advocate for exposing a girl to such realities. The book’s female characters are often described as fragile flowers. Arthur compares Helen to a dewy rose, modest and mysterious, and Annabella Wilmot to a flashy peony, all ostentation and empty show. Fergus Markham tells Helen that, as a newcomer to Linden-Car, she is a flower blooming among an uninteresting patch of domesticated plants. In the climatic scene of the novel, when Helen finally declares her love for Gilbert with a Christmas rose, Gilbert nearly loses Helen by bumbling the moment out of sheer conceit. Male characters might equate women with delicate blooms, but the women almost always prove themselves stronger than their male counterparts. The latter half of the novel, told from Helen’s perspective, reveals the accidental wisdom of Gilbert’s sapling theory. Having suffered years of abuse from the libidinous Arthur Huntingdon, Helen is a strong and independent woman, confident enough in her talents and fortitude to try to make a life for herself and her son without any help from a man.
Trees and Flowers Quotes in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
I have not yet said that a boy should be ought to rush into the snares of life—or even willfully to seek temptation for the sake of exercising his virtue by overcoming it; I only say that it is better to arm and strengthen your hero, than to disarm and enfeeble the foe; and if you were to rear an oak sapling in a hothouse, tending it carefully night and day, and shielding it from every breath of wind, you could not expect it to become a hardy tree, like that which has grown up on the mountainside, exposed to all the action of the elements, and not even sheltered from the shock of the tempest.
How little real sympathy there exists between us; how many of my thoughts and feelings are gloomily cloistered within my own mind; how much of my higher and better self is indeed unmarried—doomed either to harden and sour in the sunless shade of solitude, or to quite degenerate and fall away for lack of nutriment in this unwholesome soil!