Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Vol. 2

This week in our discussion of volume 2, we got Helen’s point-of-view and chewed on questions like:

  • Huntingdon: a big jerk or the biggest jerk?
  • Huntingdon as Branwell stand-in (you’ll have to ask Gen for the details on this).
  • How bad/immoral were the other men in this section (e.g., Hattersley, Hargrave, etc.)? Was Huntingdon leading them astray or were they evil on their own? And if they were all bad, is the novel misandrist? Is it saying Helen had no good choices? Is its central wisdom that once a woman saddles herself to a jerk–and particularly has kids with him–she has no good options?
  • For as bad as Huntingdon is, he isn’t physically violent toward Helen; his abuse is psychological. Why did Bronte frame him in this way?
  • How does volume 2 make you see volume 1 differently (e.g., the town’s meddling in Helen’s parenting)?
  • Is Tenant feminist? Can we project a modern term/concept back in time on a mid-19th century book? And does Tenant have anything to offer us as 21st century feminists?

There was also a long side discussion about the novel’s form. Volume 1 is epistolary, though since we never (or at least haven’t so far) met Halford, the conceit is a bit thin. Volume 2 is presented as series of diary entries. There are loads of 18th and 19th century epistolary novels, but there are fewer diary (or at least all diary examples). Go Ask Alice, Bridget Jones’s Diary, and “The Yellow Wall-paper” (ETA: oh, and the Adrian Mole series by Sue Townsend) were the only ones we could come up with. I’m curious to see what will happen with the narrative in volume 3.

We also talked about whether to do another read-along. I’m a big fan of obscure 18th/19th century American novels, like Fanny Fern’s Ruth Hall, EDEN Southworth’s The Hidden Hand, or Hannah Webster Foster’s The Coquette, but I’d also be happy to stick with European proto-romances–and I would definitely be on-board for a session on Balzac’s Cousin Bette, which I think is under appreciated.  There was also a suggestion to read Edith Wharton (I’m always up for Wharton!) or maybe even some early romances like The Flame and the Flower.

So is there an audience for another read-along? If so, what and when? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter. And join us next week for our final discussion of Tenant volume 3!

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2 thoughts on “Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Vol. 2

  1. I haven’t heard of some of these, but I’d be interested in The Coquette in particular, because the story sounds good and it’s shorter (and I’m kinda lazy). The Hidden Hand and Cousin Bette always intrigued me, but they’re a bit longer. I’d be a little wary of Ruth Hall because of the child-dying aspect, but could be persuaded. January might be tight for me reading-wise, but February/March seem doable at this point, especially if you broke the read-along into chunks like you did with Tenant.

    • I will advocate strongly for The Coquette. It’s not very long (and Tenant isn’t either), I suspect it’ll be available free, and it’s incredibly interesting–plus I feel like no one has read it. Let’s propose this next week during the Tenant discuss and see if we can get people on board for the spring.

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