Snapshot reviews are short book reviews of around 200-250 words.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
✨ Spoiler Free ✨
Author: Anne Brontë
Publication year: 1848
Content warnings: Infidelity, alcoholism and domestic abuse.
Heralded as one of the first feminist novels, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall follows the tale of single mother Helen Graham, the newest tenant at Wildfell Hall. Upon her arrival in at Wildfell Hall, local resident Graham Markham observes the stir that Helen’s presence has caused in the community and is determined to defend her from vicious rumours and uncover her truth.
It’s written in an epistolary format with a combination of letters from Graham to a friend and Helen’s diary. The story is long, slow-paced and heavily thematic, exploring themes such as marriage, domestic abuse, female oppression, alcoholism, religion and motherhood.
Anne Brontë’s writing style is beautiful and honest. She provides a raw examination of what it was to be a woman in 19th century England trapped in a toxic and abusive marriage with limited autonomy or resources. All of this is set against the backdrop of an immersive gothic setting and mood that permeates the story and fantastic characterisation.
Helen is a complex female character that is equal parts likeable and unlikeable, deeply relatable and undeniably the strongest Brontë heroine I’ve read so far.
Overall, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is more than deserving of its acclaim. Thematically, it explores things that are as relevant today as they were two centuries ago. Whilst the pacing is slow, the story told is worth it and for the time in which it was written the power of this book cannot be understated.
I’d recommend The Tenant of Wildfell if:
You’re a fan of the Brontë sisters’ work and are looking for a slow-paced, thematic feminist story with a complex female character.
✨ Spoiler Free ✨
Author: Anne Brontë
Publication year: 1847
Content warnings: Animal abuse/cruelty, death of a parent and abuse.
Agnes Grey follows Lucy, a young woman who seeks employment as a governess to financially support her family. It’s Anne’s first novel and an autobiographical story based on her personal experiences as a governess.
It’s a short, predictable story with a clean and simple writing style. Plot-wise there’s not much going on; it’s mainly focused on the challenges Lucy faces as a governess with the children she cares for and their families. It explores the poor treatment of governesses and issues such as classism and poverty.
One of the issues I had with this book is how moralising it is. Although TTOWH also did this in parts, it was so transparent here because there was little else going on. Lucy spends most of the story passing judgement on others and placing herself on a moral high-ground, preaching to others what they should be and how they should behave.
Unlike Helen who is a flawed and complex heroine, Lucy is a trademark “good girl” with little substance or depth. She’s pure and good of heart and there is no character development for her throughout the book. She can probably be best described as tepid.
Despite these criticisms, it’s a worthwhile read, particularly for Brontë fans. The promise of Anne’s writing can be seen here and the building blocks for what would become The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are apparent. However, Agnes Grey has the unfortunate fate of living in the shadow of the masterpiece that is The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
I’d recommend Agnes Grey if:
You’re a devout fan of the Brontë’s and are curious to see the early days of Anne’s development as a writer and gain a glimpse into her personal struggles.
Have you read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall or Agnes Grey? If so, what did you think? Share your thoughts in the comments!
Stay safe, my lovelies and keep reading.