Sunday, 12 February 2017

Anne Bronte

Having watched the recent television play about the Bronte family, I decided to read "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall", by Anne Bronte.
   Anne was the youngest and least-known of the three Bronte sisters. She died of tuberculosis at the age of just 28, but during her tragically short life she wrote two novels; completing this, her second, shortly before her death in 1849. At the time it was considered rather shocking.
   The story is set back in the flamboyant, amoral age of George IV, twenty years before the time it was written. The "tenant" of the title is a mysterious and reclusive lady, apparently a widow, who has rented a tumbledown house in desolate moorland. It turns out she has run away from her abusive husband, and is concealing her identity for fear that he should take away their infant son, whom she has brought with her. Most of the book is her account of an unhappy marriage.
   Her husband, Mr Huntingdon, is nothing like those other memorable Bronte men, Heathcliff and Mr Rochester. Instead he is portrayed as essentially a very weak character; unable to resist the temptations of alcohol and gambling, responding with childish petulance to any setbacks, and forever criticizing his wife and shouting at the servants. Easily bored with country life, he disappears to London for weeks at a time (presumably for a dissipated life of booze, cards and women, though Anne does not tell us), or invites his dissolute friends to stay at his house, despite his wife's disapproval of them. At the same time, we can understand why he gets irritated with her, because she is very "preachy" at times: I'm not sure whether Anne intended to give this impression.
   The structure of the novel is a bit clumsy (at a crucial point of the story three important male characters all have surnames beginning with "H", which is confusing!) and the ending is too sentimental, but even so it's an impressive achievement for such a young writer. One has to wonder, though, how on earth the Bronte sisters - maidenly daughters of the parsonage - ever conceived of such remarkable male characters!

6 comments:

  1. I've just finished your three pieces on George III and Bute and liked them very much. It's very nice to see that period from the English point of view. Of course here in the States we only focus on how it affected us and we get nothing of what English politics in general was like then.
    Never have read anything from the Bronte's, now it looks like I'll have to do that.

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  2. I read the "Dante" piece and being
    Catholic it pricked my curiosity. Perhaps because it may have came later, but there was no mention of Limbo (when Caribbean dancing was first introduced to the Church) and the fact that though seven was a big time number, some Scotsman read Dante and inspired by the circles (nine I believe) of Hell, went out and invented golf with front and back nines.

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    1. Limbo is the first circle of Dante's Hell, where we find the "virtuous pagans". They are excluded from God, but are not in any other way punished. Most of the residents are famous Greeks and Romans, plus, interestingly enough, Saladin. I don't know when this concept was invented. Dante probably did invent the other concept, "Vestibule", outside Hell-gate, which is reserved for the "futile", who lack the courage to be either virtuous or wicked.

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  3. I'm not sure when the Church came up with Limbo either. I think it was their answer to the problem of the virtuous non christian especially jews like Isaac, Moses, etc. It seems it's fell out of theological favor since the 60's.

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  4. You'll have to cut me a little slack on the Church humor, I'm sort of a Guido Sarducci acolyte.

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  5. I may be doing this twice. But I read "Politics; The Idea of Progress" and I thought of the story of the cavemen huddled in the cave afraid to go out because the wise elders had said if you do saber toothed tigers will eat you. Well either through boredom, youth, etc, some went out any way. They found a world, which they explored, populated and so on. A percentage did get eaten by saber toothed tigers though.

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