I wrote that Anne Brontë‘s first book, Agnes Grey, was anything but gothic, especially in comparison to her sisters’ novels Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Anne’s second and only other novel, however, could be considered the most gothic tale of all the Brontës’ works because of its frighteningly realistic subject matter. Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights border on the spectral, but in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, the specter comes to life like a waking nightmare.
The real-life monster that haunts Wildfell Hall is an abusive and degenerate husband, and more generally, a corrupt legal system that protects such tyranny (at this time women were not allowed to divorce on the grounds of adultery, so legally Helen is bound to her husband, Arthur Huntingdon). The horrors of Jane Eyre and Wutherings Heights are imaginary creations inspired by an eerie setting (the moor), but Hungtingdon is not a figment of the imagination and will not dissipate like the ghostly vapour off the moor. His haunt is not the wilderness or the gloomy castle, but the English drawing room, and this makes him the most frightening monster of all.
I’ll leave you with a quote from the novel’s devoutly Christian protagonist:
“Then I saw the eternal stars twinkling down on me; I knew their God was mine, and He was strong to save and swift to hear. ‘I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,’ seemed whispered from above their myriad orbs. No, no; I felt He would not leave me comfortless: in spite of earth and Hell I should have strength for all my trials, and win a glorious rest at last!”
Read scripture-based book club discussion questions in “Marriage, Divorce and Universal Salvation in ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ by Anne Brontë.”