The Tenant of Wildfell Hall had been lurking in the shadows of my TBR shelf for a long time. Far too long. It was lying in waiting. And when its chance came, it pounced on me and has not let me go.
Seriously, what a ride!
The first thing that struck me was the structure of the novel: it starts of with a mystery and then the story develops as a retrospective told through letters and a diary.
It is just so captivating. And though the structure has been repeated by authors since, it still reads very fresh.
Apparently, Anne used The Tenant to experiment with style in her writing. The experiment clearly paid off.
The letter format makes it quite lively. I mean the letters are written in a sequential order, but the format allows for the story to jump from one scene to the next without needing much by of explanation. It moves the narrative with quite good pace.
I also loved the characters. There are number of them, but because the narrative is divided into standalone scenes by way of the letter format, each character gets a chance to develop some depth. Even the less likable personalities get to show that there is more to them than meets the eye at first acquaintance.
Central to the book are, of course the rivalry between the idolization of Byronic indulgence and the opposing endeavours of advocating moderation in all things. Both aspects were influences on Anne in her own home – one through her brother’s alcoholism and the other through her father’s involvement with the temperance movement. It is not difficult to discover which one received Anne’s support.
The main character, Mrs Graham, at one point puts forward a long and detailed argument against drinking alcohol, and the following two articles offer some quite interesting insights into this argument:
I was also wondering if there was an element of historical criticsm in Anne’s work that reflected on the various revolutionary efforts of the time. The book was written in 1848 and of the first paragraphs of the book reads as follows:
“My mother had done her utmost to persuade me that I was capable of great achievements; but my father, who thought ambition was the surest road to ruin, and change but another word for destruction, would listen to no scheme for bettering either my own condition, or that of my fellow mortals.”
I thought this statement stood in quite a contrast to the efforts of the main character, Mrs Graham, who seeks to do the opposite and influence people to seek their own betterment or emancipation from ruin. But then of course, such opposites attract, and in this develops another aspect of the book: A romantic entanglement worthy of being set in any Jane Austen novel.
In short, there are a lot off aspects to the book – some funny, some moving, some idealistic – that were outshining even the works of Anne’s sisters.
Well worth reading.