We had our final discussion of Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall last night, and it was so fun! You can read the entire thing by looking at the hashtag #TOWH, but the topics covered included:
- Why don’t we get much of Helen’s POV after she leaves Huntingdon? She sends letters to Frederick, but they’re not very psychologically revealing. Is Bronte saying that women’s voices disappear when they fall in love?
- What similarities are there between Hartley and Gilbert? (They both seem confused by no, they both seek to exploit Helen’s vulnerabilities, they even use identical arguments re: her (illegitimate) marriage to make their propositions.) Is the only difference between them that Helen is receptive to Gilbert’s advances?
- Was there chemistry/affection between Helen/Huntingdon (prior to their marriage) and, later, Helen/Gilbert? Cat smartly argued that the book only works if you assume off-the-charts levels of attraction, and I agree.
- Related, do we buy Helen and Gilbert’s happily ever after? Is it a conservative end to Helen’s otherwise proto-feminist story? Is it necessary for her to marry again to provide a father for Arthur?
- Should Toby Stephens star in every Bronte film/television adaptation? (Yes.)
- Why did every damn character have an H in his/her name?
- Why was there so much plot (and out-of-character behavior) in volume 3, when volume 2 had been relatively staid? (Also, I looked it up and Tenant wasn’t serialized first, so I don’t think that explains all the craziness in volume 3.)
- What was up with Lawrence and Esther’s seemingly abrupt marriage? Did Helen attend? Why didn’t Lawrence’s servants know he was getting married? Etc.
We also talked a lot about what if anything to read next. There seems to be enough enthusiasm for me to say yes we should schedule another read along. I was thinking March to give us time to recover.
The general consensus seems to be to do another “classic,” and one that would be of interest to romance readers (though not necessarily one with a happily ever after). Here are a few of the suggestions:
- George Eliot’s Adam Bede (1859): the blurb on this sounds insane in the best way. It’s a seduction novel wrapped in a murder plot and includes independent women, women preaching, and out of wedlock birth. The downside? It’s 500 pages. If we’re going to commit to a huge Eliot novel, should we just say screw it and go with Middlemarch (my edition of which is 800 pages)?
- Helen Webster Foster’s The Coquette (1797): it’s an early American epistolary seduction novel, and essentially a right suitor/wrong suitor book that touches on what women achieved in the American revolution and what should happen to fallen women. It comes with a bonus (maybe) appearance by Aaron Burr as one of the suitors. The end is definitely a downer, but it’s only 160 pages.
- George Gissing’s The Odd Women (1892): this sounds fascinating. It’s a double romance set in the late Victorian period and includes meditations on independent women and love in the lower classes. It’s 370 pages.
I would happily read any of these books, or whatever else people might be up for. The poll that I set up on Twitter last night ended up as a three-way tie. So let me know in the comments/via email/on Twitter/through a carrier pigeon what you’d like to do.
Thank you so much for joining us, and I’m looking forward to round two!