Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte: A Review

Last year about this time I read Anne Bronte’s novel, Agnes Grey, but no, it was one of those books I never got around to blogging about. Sorry. Anyhow, as I would have said if I had blogged, I like the work of the Bronte sisters even though the sobriety and sadness of their personal lives often dominates the atmosphere of their novels as well. But even when they’re gloomy, they’re good. And their stories are all rich in character, emotion and intricacy of plot.

Nevertheless, my recent reading of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall has promoted that particular novel to the very top of my Bronte list. Also written by Anne (1848), The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a very engaging love story, mystery and novel of manners all in one – and all fashioned with Anne’s truly splendid writing talent.

Set in a familiar Bronte landscape of lonely moors and genteel families, Anne’s novel goes deeper to show the ugly, decadent (even violent) natures that can hide beneath the Victorian veneer. And yet, there is hope and brightness, occasional comedy and eventually the triumph of justice and mercy for Helen, the beautiful and long-suffering tenant of Wildfell Hall.

The novel also makes my list of recent favorites because it sets an ideal for Christian novels; that is, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall carefully weaves plot, fascinating characters, moral enlightenment, vivid descriptions, etc., into a novel which unashamedly teaches Christian doctrine. By precept skillfully woven into the narrative (and especially the dialogue) and by inference in the novel’s actions, Anne extols the biblical teachings of love, marriage, courage, sacrifice, fidelity and even speaks convincingly of heaven, Christ’s Incarnation, and the atonement.

True, Miss Bronte’s protagonist (and presumably Anne herself) holds out a firm hope of universal salvation, but besides a couple of brief passages entertaining this heterodox opinion, the theological themes are well argued, realistic and remarkably relevant to even a 21st Century audience. The proof of this last point was the lively and lengthy discussion the novel promoted at last Saturday night’s monthly meeting of the Notting Hill Napoleons.

For experience in seeing just how high a mark of literary excellence an overtly Christian novel can achieve, I strongly suggest Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.