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Thursday, December 01, 2005

Tenant of Wildfell Hall Month!

I am sure I have fallen behind the times, and become neglectful of announcing the LERO Brontë book reading months. I believe Wuthering Heights month has just passed us by- but I am in time to spread the word for Tenant of Wildfell Hall! If you haven't read the novel yet, there is no time like the present. I was introducted to the novel when I enrolled in the Victorian seminar at my university- which happily that year was explusively on the Brontës. We read Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and Shirley in that order. By the end of the course, Tenant had been declared the best of them all by the majority of the class, and a request was made for the instructor to include Agnes Grey as well, and to replace Jane Eyre with Villette the next time the course is taught. I read it with some unfortunate expectations. I was curious to know why Anne is so often treated slightly by academics and critics. She is certainly not the less loved than her sisters are by the readers! It would have been best not to have these ideas at the back of my mind, but I could not help it.

I was baffled. There was nothing lacking, in my opinion, in Tenant. There's a peculiar power which is evidenced in the work of all three sisters. I forget that I am reading sometimes. I intend to read it again as soon as I can find the time (not this month at least. As you have no doubt noticed, I have been quite busy lately). It seems to me that it begins strong, and remains a very engrossing book until near the end. There is something not quite solid about it on first glance. This might not necessarily be a criticism. Often when I stumble over something it more often than not points the way to something deeper happening beneath the surface of the narrative somewhere. A second reading might clear this up. Does anyone else have similar issues with the ending?

Tenant of Wildfell Hall is the only work by Anne Brontë to be adapted for film. In 1996 it was made into a three hour television movie. I believe it is currently out of print, which is a real shame. I have a first edition of 'Charlotte Bronte and her Circle'. The chapter on Anne is really unbelievable in the way it completely discredits her as a writer. I do not have it on hand, but the editor claims, in the introduction (it may even be the first sentence...) that it is a certainly that if it wasn't for her sisters, she and her works would be forgotten. In my humble opinion, an easy test of this claim is to imagine what we truly would have thought of her works if she had not had her sisters' works to compete with. Would they really be so uninteresting, so skilless?

Here is an interesting, although far too brief, article on the Critics of Wildfell Hall by Glen Downey.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! When you look back it's amazing how Anne has been so overlooked by authors and biographers alike. Neither do I see her works any less powerful then her sisters', and Tenant is a very modern book in so many ways too.

There's a trend these last few years to vindicate her and her works. Hopefully she won't be "the other sister" for much longer.

Cristina from BrontëBlog.

rinabeana said...

I quite liked The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and I seem to recall that Charlotte didn't think much of it, which I don't understand. (I may be wrong about that, but I think I reat it in a biography.) I thought Agnes Grey was the abysmally boring one (a point on which many disagree with me).

mysticgypsy said...

I agree with rinabeana. I too did not find Agnes Gray engaging at all..but I also read it a long while ago (and uncritically too) so I guess I might find it more interesting on re-reading :-\

Speaking of Tenent, I LOVED it!!! I think it brings to light Anne Bronte's power to be as equal to her sisters. I certainly found Anne's poems very intense and powerful. I definitly liked them better than Charlotte's. All three of the Bronte sisters are fabulous! ( I haven't read anything by Branwell so I can't vouch for him).

Speaknig of Anne, I chose her poem "The Captive Dove" for my poetry class..(any of you read it/like it/hate it?) And my professor (who is not well-versed in Bronte) said it was one of the most intense poems he has seen.

Brontëana said...

to Christina:

I do hope that the trend picks up stream. It looks like there's still a lot of slighting going on.

One of the articles cited in 'Critics of Wildfell Hall' claims that scholars reject the book as a work of art because it is didactic. This is ridiculous. By that same measure why don't we stop studying Hesiod?

Brontëana said...

to rinabeana:

If I remember correctly, Charlotte's objection to the book was that the subject matter was 'a mistake' at least partly because she felt that it was so contrary to Anne's nature. She was pretty harsh in saying, for that reason alone, that it was 'hardly worth preserving'. It seems to me that the criticism that she could laugh at and shrug off while her sisters were alive really cut her after they were gone. She might have been writing with the view to exonerate Anne by dismissing her book as not being a true memorial of her sister- setting aside, wrongly, the achievement of the novel whether or not it reflected her character.

Brontëana said...

to mysticgypsy:

I don't remember reading that poem! I do like Anne's poetry a lot. She certainly deserves more credit on that account alone.

Many people have told me that Agnes Grey is not the best- but look at the Professor. Both of these books were their first tries at published novels. Who knows, perhaps even Wuthering Heights is NOT- low be it spoken- Emily at her finest. Perhaps she had even more in her.

At the start of Tenant, I was thinking it was probably my third favourite novel among those of the Bronte sisters. It wanned towards the end. But from the start it was engadging, and very provocative. I also liked the lighter vein of humour in it. It was somewhat like Charlotte's only not as ironic or fond of word play. It was very refreshing and enjoyable.

mysticgypsy said...

What is LERO book of the month? Are there links for this?

Thanks

Brontëana said...

to mysticgypsy:

LERO is a club that me, thisbeciel, and our friend Alisa created so that we could share our enthusiasm for Michael Jayston and his portrayal of Mr Rochester. It stands for "League of the Extraordinarily Rochester Obsessed." :D Each month, just for fun, we picked Brontë novels to read and discuss. This month is Tenant, but I've lost track of which novels are for which months!

frankengirl said...
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Susan said...

Bravo for promoting Anne. She is, as you say, most undeservedly neglected. Your class's response to her was quite telling, and not unique in my experience. When I taught a senior Bronte class last winter, my 18 students began the class knowing nothing about her, and ended the class by unanimously agreeing that she was their favourite, and equally as talented as the others (if not more so, in some respects). We read both of her novels and a few of her poems as well (in my view, her introspective lyrics are equally as good as Emily's).

I've always enjoyed reading Anne as much as her sisters. In fact, I've wondered about her neglect from the first time I cracked open Agnes Grey because I'd read it was somewhat Austenesque, and was interested in reading a Bronte who resembled Austen given Charlotte's dislike of her. However, this indifferent attitude seems to be changing, at least in academic circles -- that is, there has been some good recent scholarship on her in Women's Writing and other places.

You might be interested to know that an Anne Bronte group has been started up in England (reported in this month's Bronte Gazette); maybe someone should start a Canadian chapter. By the way, do you know about Mick Armitage's tremendous Anne Bronte site?
http://www.mick-armitage.staff.shef.ac.uk/anne/bronte.html

(Sorry for the long URL!) Anyway, I love your blog -- great job! Keep up the good work.

Susan in Regina