I always think that writing book reviews is a bit of an unfair and parasitical process. The poor writer has worked hard and put everything into their work. Along comes a critic, who may or may not be qualified to give an opinion and “Pow!”, a lifetime’s work can be destroyed by a single comment.
Who’d be a writer?
Which leads me on to my own book review efforts. And the insanely talented Bronte family. No danger that anything I can say, will do any damage here.
My favourite works from team Bronte will always be Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre (My mother loved them too. So much so, that I’m named after one of the characters), but The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, runs a close second.
Written in 1848, Anne Bronte’s tale of the breakdown of a Victorian marriage and the heroine’s decision to leave her vicious, drunken husband was a bold step. At the time, the book received mixed reviews. Anne refers to this in her preface to the second edition and refutes the criticism, in a forthright way: “While I acknowledge the success of the present work to have been greater than I anticipated, and the praises it has elicited from a few kind critics to have been greater than it deserved, I must also admit that from some other quarters it has been censured with an asperity which I was as little prepared to expect, and which my judgement as well as my feelings, assures me is more bitter than just.”
The book was deemed ‘coarse’ and ‘brutal’ by some. Easy to see why, if you just focus on Arthur Huntingdon Sr. and his hangers-on. However, the book counter balances these awful characters with the Markham family, who epitomise the happy, hard working farming stock of the countryside.
And in fact there are many other ‘opposites’ facing and reflecting each other, throughout the text; Bible citations v. oaths and blasphemy, London life v. rural, disinterestedness v. selfishness. As in real life, some of the characters are ambiguous and cloak evil intent with seeming good manners (Lady Lowborough and Mr. Hargrave). The heroine (Helen Huntingdon), is not exempt from pollution; she becomes gradually immune to the sight, and sound of debauchery.
As with Wuthering Heights, the story’s ‘current’ events are reported by one of the main, male characters, to another individual and, in turn, Helen Huntingdon’s earlier history is reported to him, via her diary.
Subtle pointers and markers throughout the text, help to underline the nature of individual characters and their motives and behaviour e.g. The chess match between Helen and Hargrave, Huntingdon’s obsession with ‘destructive’ outdoor pursuits.
In summary, more complex than you might imagine at first sight and worth a read.
Or possibly even two.
[Public domain image, courtesy of Wikipedia.]