Book Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Bronte

Release Date: April 1996
Publisher: Penguin Books
Pages: 535.
Find It On: Goodreads. Amazon.


My first outing in the writing of Anne Bronte, a powerful and thought provoking tale about the injustices women faced in the time period.

When Helen Graham moves into the long abandoned Wildfell Hall, everyone is curious about her story and her past. Intensely secretive, she raises her son in relative seclusion, but there is one in the local area who seeks to know more about Helen, and quickly a friendship between Helen and Gilbert arises. Mrs Graham becomes the speculation of much local gossip, and in order to clear her name in the eyes of Gilbert, she permits him to read her diary, and learn the shocking truth of the life she left behind.

Let me start off by saying Jane Eyre is one of my favourite books. Until recently that was the only book by the Bronte sisters I had read. In a recent women’s writing module at University one of the required texts was Wuthering Heights, which I loved (you can see the review here.) I then decided to read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall as a result of some comparisons made between the two novels. All three books achieved greatness for different things, but the thing that struck me most was the bravery it must have taken Anne to write such a book in the 19th century, not only highlighting the abusive nature of her marriage, but also chronicling the story of a woman reaching out on her own and raising her son as a single parent.

It’s an astounding book, especially given the overall happy ending – the majority of texts featuring single mothers tended to end in death and despair, but Anne’s protagonist stays strong throughout her hardship, and ultimately gets the life she deserves. Many feminists claim this to be an early example of a feminist text, and I think it did much in showcasing how little freedoms women had, and how little protection they had in abusive relationships.

There are a whole host of characters – much more than that of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre, and Bronte uses that to expand into many different sub plots as well as exploring different themes and different marriages. She highlights alcohol abuse, unmarried women feeling like a burden on their family and the inability to stand up to your husband in very subtle ways. Much of the text is written through the form of letters and diaries, which puts an interesting perspective on the story.

I feel the Tenant of Wildfell Hall is somewhat overshadowed by the books of her sisters, in fact I had never previously heard of the novel. It is an immensely powerful thought provoking tale and although I felt some chapters were a little long winded for my liking, it is a book that will stay with me for a long time.

Looking for something similar? Try: Ruth or Shirley. 

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – Anne Bronte

  • studyinink

    Read this for a uni course as well and I must say, of all the three Bronte novels you have mentioned, this one was my favourite. Although I remember being a bit irritated at Helen’s behaviour towards Gilbert. She tries so hard to make the perfect choice this time but it’s debatable if she really does (I mean, it is better, but how much, really). But yeah, I really appreciated the uncommon topics this novel broached.
    I recently read her other novel Agnes Grey, which is a bit more autobiographical and loved that one, too. I prefer Agnes Grey as a protagonist to Helen, I found. Just put a review of that one up, incidentally xD

    • The Bibliophile Chronicles

      I think the thing for me was that I was reading it compare it to Wuthering Heights. If I’d maybe just read it in my own time without deadline worries I might have enjoyed it more. It’s such an interesting book though. I had thought about reading Agnes Grey actually, I will definitely have a read of your review. 🙂