The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a novel written by Anne Bronte. Bronte used her pseudonym Acton Bell when she first published the book in 1848. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was Anne’s second (and last) novel, and even though it was extremely popular right when it was published, Charlotte, Anne’s older sister, did not let the novel be republished when Anne died in 1849. Even though the novel was quite popular, it was also very shocking and controversial.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is narrated through a series of letters that Gilbert Markham wrote to his friend and brother-in-law about his life during the time that he met his wife. Wildfell Hall is a mansion that has been abandoned for many years. However, a young widow, her son, and her servant move into the house and live in almost complete secrecy. The townspeople know nothing about her except that her name is apparently Helen Graham, and so the locals start to gossip about who she is and what she has done.
In the first section, Gilbert becomes more familiar with Helen as the locals keep spreading rumors, and he confronts Mr. Lawrence, who is actually Helen’s brother. However, when Helen refuses to marry Gilbert and denies loving Mr. Lawrence, she gives Gilbert her diaries. The second part comes from Helen’s diaries, where she talks about her life after marrying Arthur Huntingdon, who is a degraded drunkard. The last part begins when Arthur finishes reading the diaries. Though the moral and physical decline emphasize the large scale of evil and debauchery in the world, the social issues presented in the novel are tempered by Anne’s belief in universal salvation. In addition The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a feminist novel, with Helen independently leaving her husband, which breaks social norms but also the law in seventeenth century England.