Seneca Falls. This topic in my opinion closely relates to Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. In 1848, around the same time this novel was published the Seneca Falls women’s rights convention took place in the United States. They fought for the woman’s right to vote and overall equality. It was like men and women lived in different worlds they had to obey different rules and standards. Men basically had little rule, while women were very oppressed. They couldn’t make decisions and own property. Bronte certainly flipped the script with this novel showing the empowered female through her protagonist Helen Graham.
Helen Graham is a young woman who changes her identity when she flees from her alcoholic husband who’s been leading a life of corruption. She enters this nosy town who finds her new face to be quite interesting. Her new neighbor, Gilbert Markham, is terribly fascinated with Helen. At one point I felt that he could be deemed a stalker because she would not give him the time of day and he still persisted. Eventually Helen gives him her diary which pours out the confessions of her previously disastrous life and gives way to hope for a new future and helps both Gilbert and the reader understand the pain of this troubled woman.
Helen passionately challenging ideas such as the extreme sheltering of girls, and the extreme exposure of boys, to the harshness of the world. We especially see this when Gilbert Markham argues with Helen over the differential treatment of boys and girls and the implied outcomes. Helen’s protective treatment of her son Arthur sparks reaction in Gilbert. Gilbert’s response to this is to say that “and by such means … you will never render him virtuous”. His outlook is that based on the society in order to prepare boys to be men it is necessary for them to be exposed to the dangers of the world as a means of developing a strong moral character. It is a double standard for females by the view that girls and women must be protected from the harsh realities of the world in order to protect them from moral distress or tainting. It is this contradiction that Helen addresses, challenging the importance of exposure to use as a strengthening of moral character, and the value of keeping girls in complete ignorance of the world’s vice to prevent their corruption. Helen’s position, very much for a balance, a respect for the moral character of the female and concern for the development of boys.
The way that this novel was written also contributes to the understanding of the reader. If Helen were telling us her story I wouldn’t find it motivating. People tend to view themselves in a better light that what actually exist. By telling the story through a male writing a letter to someone else even though he’s talking about events twenty years prior you get a feel of realness. That is a honesty that would not be found in an autobiographical piece. The diary was also a nice touch, the reader invades the mind of the protagonist Helen and gets to the root of her distress. This is reflected in Bronte’s own thoughts. The preface that we read in class clearly expresses her search for truth and through this novel she submits her ideas of real truth. The truth being that men and women are equal and it is the ignorant people who can not see that. Even her own older sister a female criticized her book. That goes to show that some women were conformed and content with the way things were.
From a twenty first-century perspective women are free and not held down by men unless they chose to be. Today men divorce women, and women divorce men all the time. Both genders are free to choose. People nowadays do not put up with a bad marriages like Helen had to. But in Victorian society women were powerless in marriage. Anne Bronte makes the reader aware of the sheer insincerity and hypocrisy of marriage vows, which required women to comply with their husbands needs and demands. I consider Anne Bronte to a be a subliminal feminist who put forth ideas which her society was not ready for.