Sometimes you can’t beat ’em or join ’em

by Andrea Elizabeth

I just finished the 1997 BBC version of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Who knew Anne Bronte was a radical feminist in her day? The wiki article attributes Anne’s relative obscurity to Charlotte’s squelching the novel for being inappropriate for young girls. The story reminds me a lot of life with my ex, though my circumstances weren’t nearly as extreme. It felt the same though.

The book‘s 1905 introduction by Mrs. Humphry Ward gives more of Anne’s sad biography that provides context for her story. It also sort of harshly compares her style to Emily’s in some early poems from each.

There is a spot, ’mid barren hills,
Where winter howls, and driving rain;
But, if the dreary tempest chills,
There is a light that warms again.

The house is old, the trees are bare,
Moonless above bends twilight’s dome,
But what on earth is half so dear—
So longed for—as the hearth of home?

The mute bird sitting on the stone,
The dank moss dripping from the wall,
The thorn-trees gaunt, the walks o’ergrown,
I love them—how I love them all!

Anne’s verses, written from one of the houses where she was a governess, express precisely the same feeling, and movement of mind.  But notice the instinctive rightness and swiftness of Emily’s, the blurred weakness of Anne’s!—

For yonder garden, fair and wide,
With groves of evergreen,
Long winding walks, and borders trim,
And velvet lawns between—

Restore to me that little spot,
With gray walls compassed round,
Where knotted grass neglected lies,
And weeds usurp the ground.

Though all around this mansion high
Invites the foot to roam,
And though its halls are fair within—
Oh, give me back my Home!

Anne’s supposed to be the realist, but her picture of their home in the desolate moors is rosier than Emily’s, except for the unmown lawn. Emily’s is indeed more “magical” with it’s negative adjectives and personifications. You can almost feel Katherine’s icy, gaunt, thornlike hand grip you suddenly through the broken glass, bidding you welcome.

Some however consider The Tenant of Wildfell Hall superior to her sisters’ works, if shocking. I’m glad for her honesty and her desire to warn others of a dissipated life and of getting entangled with one. I feel badly that she was apparently given such a hard time about it.