The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
My favorite-ever piece published on The Toast (okay, BESIDES Roxanne Gay’s gif-laden recap of Magic Mike XXL, because, Reasons) is the one where they sort 19th Century British authors into the various Hogwarts houses. Hilarity ensues. I posted this on my Facebook feed, and instantly, my Victorian friends ran to Anne Bronte’s defense. How DARE she be Hufflepuff? She’s the best Bronte!!! Etc. I had never read anything by her, but my own sister said, “There’s a reason Anne is the least famous Bronte.” So I had to find out for myself. And so, I spent a good week plus listening to the audiobook on my commute.
To quote Janice from Friends:
Anne Bronte is so Hufflepuff it hurts. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is peopled with nice characters and mean characters. The nice characters are nice and the mean characters are shallow and mean. Gilbert Markham is the narrator of the frame novel, writing to his brother-in-law about his attraction to Helen Graham, a widow who has taken up residency in the village at Wildfell Hall, an old manor. He grows jealous of the attention she garners from other men, particularly her landlord Mr. Lawrence. A few confrontations ensue, until Mrs. Graham thrusts a journal in his hand and says, “Read it” whilst weeping in front of the fireplace. No, really. So the novel then turns into Mrs. Graham’s Journal of Secrets, in which we find out her true name and past and what she’s run away from. I bet Nicholas Sparks read it and wept in jealousy and rage that Anne Bronte took his carefully-planned tropes and did it better. Like Salieri from Amadeus.
I’m such a terrible person.
In sum, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is an interesting read that posits some real feminist traits and then pairs them with real batshit characterization and plotting. The writing is not great, and the characters are adorably, frustratingly Hufflepuff as f**k, but I would still read this any day over Wuthering Heights.