Becky’s Two Hundred and Eighty-Fourth Book Review: “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” by Anne Brontë

There is something about the Brontë sisters and their writing that I simply cannot get enough of, so when the Wall Street Journal Book Club chose “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” by Anne Brontë several months ago, I jumped at the chance to read it. It’s a longer book, but highly enjoyable with two main characters – Helen, the tenant, and Gilbert, one of the people that lives in the village near Wildfell Hall.

In a town where everyone knows everyone, a new arrival at Wildfell Hall cannot pass unnoticed. When Helen comes to this quiet place, she initially pushes everyone away. In general, she ignores all typical manners and expectations and is generally thought to be rude. Gilbert meets her and finds himself fascinated. Not just by the woman, but the story he knows she is hiding, and so he pursues her relentlessly until she makes him promise that he is after no more than her friendship, only adding to her mystery. The interactions between these two characters are quite entertaining. He of course knows nothing of who she really is and that makes him all the more determined to befriend her and gain her trust. This interaction happens in the first part of “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall”. In the second half, we learn a great deal more about Helen and how and why she came to Wildfell hall. It is a very intriguing story and it only adds to the strength of Helen as a character.

Part of what makes this a good read is the depth of Helen as a character. On the surface, she seems to be a very rude woman that wants simply to keep to herself, and indeed that is how she comes off to many of the villagers. But as the story unfolds and we learn more about why Helen is the way she is, it becomes clear that she is not only a fascinating character, but also a strong one. The general attitude towards women in this novel is from a time when women were expected to serve their husbands and that was that. This was reflected well when Gilbert’s mother was talking to him: “Then, you must fall each into your proper place. You’ll do your business, and she, if she’s worthy of you, will do hers; but it’s your business to please yourself, and hers to please you. I’m sure your poor, dear father was as good a husband as ever lived, and after the first six months or so were over, I should as soon have expected him to fly, as to put himself out of his way to pleasure me. He always said I was a good wife, and did my duty; and he always did his – bless him! – he was steady and punctual, seldom found fault without a reason, always did justice to my good dinners, and hardly ever spoiled my cookery by delay – and that’s as much as any woman can expect of any man.” (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, pg 54). Having that attitude so prominently displayed also allows for the strength of Helen to shine through so much more. A strong female protagonist is what you will often find in the novels of the Brontë sisters.

Would I recommend this book? Not to everyone. There are some readers that do not have the patience for Anne Brontë’s prose. There are times when her writing goes on about a subject and could be difficult to digest. That being said, I think she writes beautifully. Her characters are intriguing and well developed. I would certainly read this again. But her writing is not for everyone. Still, if you’re looking for a book to push yourself I highly recommend “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” by Anne Brontë.

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Becky’s Two Hundred and Forty-Fourth Book Review: “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell

The thing about Scarlett O’Hare is that you love to hate her. She is a royal pain, but at the same time she is one of the strongest female characters ever created. She’s mean and she lacks self-awareness – but at the same time she is unstoppable. “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell follows Scarlett in and around the Civil War. Having grown up in the South, she eventually finds herself on the losing side of the war and experiences quite a lot of collateral damage. She loses friends, beaus, slaves, family, property, and all throughout the novel, she picks herself back up and forces everyone around her to get up too. Scarlett refuses to let the war defeat her.

““Land is the only thing in the world that amounts to anything,” he shouted, his thick, short arms making wide gestures of indignation, “for ‘tis the only thing in this world that lasts, and don’t you be forgetting it! ‘Tis the only thing worth working for, worth fighting for – worth dying for.”” (Gone with the Wind, pg 38/39). I liked this quote for a few reasons, but especially because it demonstrates how passionate Scarlett’s father is about his land. This is an opinion that Scarlett later inherits herself. Gerald O’Hara is a great character and so very different from his wife. The more we learn about Scarlett herself, it is clear that she is more Gerald’s daughter than Ellen’s. Her Irish temper gets her in trouble more than once and she never portrays the quiet dignity that her mother does. But the way that Scarlett finds strength within and carries her burdens and those of family and friends – that is all Ellen.

“Why, she had never had to do a thing for herself in all her life. There had always been someone to do things for her, to look after her, shelter and protect her and spoil her. It was incredible that she could be in such a fix. Not a friend, not a neighbor to help her. There had always been friends, neighbors, the competent hands of willing slaves. And now in this hour of greatest need, there was no one. It was incredible that she could be so completely alone, and frightened, and far from home.” (Gone with the Wind, pg 358). Scarlett was just beginning to learn her strength at this point in the book. Her motto becomes “I’ll think of it tomorrow” when it comes to all the burdens she has to bear, and this dismissal is part of how she copes. In reading “Gone with the Wind” we are privy to the growth and development of Scarlett. The way the she behaves before the war is so strikingly different from how she behaves afterwards. Gone are the pretenses that she once faked. Desperate times call for desperate measures and Scarlett finds strength within herself that was once used to woo as many beaus as she could and instead takes charge to save her family and her land. The real love in this book is the love Scarlett develops for Tara and the strength that Scarlett finds within herself, which make her an amazing character.

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely – I think this is a book that everyone would enjoy and more people should read. Not only does “Gone with the Wind” follow Scarlett, who is a great character, but it gives the readers a better understanding of the devastation of war. It’s not something that is often discussed to the extent that it is covered in this novel. It was interesting to read about how completely shattered the South was after the war – and how it continued to be crippled for years and years. Once they were able to rebuild, they still had to fight for their way of life. Just because the war was over, the fighting hadn’t stopped. That’s part of what is so amazing about Scarlett. She never stops fighting. There’s so much that can be said about this book, so many different parts to dissect and analyze, and so much to enjoy. This is a book that is entertaining and educational. It’s a great read and I’ve already convinced my dad to pick it up and he is really enjoying it. Take it from me – read it!