The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Summary, Characters & Analysis

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  • 0:00 The Tenant of Wildfell…
  • 1:49 Significant Characters
  • 3:58 Analysis of the Novel
  • 6:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Francesca Marinaro

Francesca M. Marinaro has a PhD in English from the University of Florida and has been teaching English composition and Literature since 2007.

This lesson covers Anne Bronte's novel ''The Tenant of Wildfell Hall''. We'll discuss the novel's main plot, identify some of the major characters, and analyze a few of the text's major themes.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Summary

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a novel by English writer Anne Bronte, sister to Emily Bronte and Charlotte Bronte. The novel was published in 1848 and tells the story of central characters Helen Huntington and Gilbert Markham. The story's point of view alternates between that of Gilbert and Helen, told in the form of a letter Gilbert is writing to his brother-in-law and entries from Helen's diary that she entrusts to Gilbert.

In the novel, Helen Huntington arrives in the village where Gilbert Markham, a farmer, lives with his mother, sister, and brother. Helen moves into an abandoned estate, Wildfell Hall, with her small son. She gives her name as Helen Graham because, unknown to the villagers, she has run away from her alcoholic, adulterous husband Arthur Huntington. Her flight is from her fears of his damaging influence on her son's upbringing and her refusal to turn a blind eye to Arthur's infidelity.

Gilbert quickly befriends Helen's son, Little Arthur, and - unaware that Helen is legally married - gradually falls in love with her. Helen, also attracted to Gilbert but unable to commit to him because of her marital status, tells him that they must no longer see each other and, by way of explanation, gives him the pages from her diary that detail her relationship with Arthur and her flight from him because he wishes to keep his heir, Little Arthur, under his roof and refuses to grant Helen a divorce.

When Arthur becomes ill from a fall from his horse and complications related to his alcoholism, Helen returns to their home, Grassdale Manor, to nurse him. After Arthur's death, Helen and her son go to live with her aunt, where Gilbert finds her and pays regular visits to her. Still in love with each other, they eventually marry and start a family of their own.

Significant Characters

  • Helen Graham/Huntington: the novel's heroine. Graham is her mother's maiden name, which she adopts as her alias when she flees her husband, and Wildfell Hall is the abandoned estate of her mother's family.
  • Mr. and Mrs. Maxwell: Helen's uncle and aunt, with whom she goes to live after her mother's death and, later, after her husband's death (though her uncle has died by this time). Helen had been sent to live with them following her mother's death while her brother Frederic remains with their father, also an alcoholic and one of the reasons Helen fears her own son's exposure to the addiction through his own father.
  • Frederic Lawrence: Helen's brother, who helps her to escape her husband and settle at Wildfell Hall. He lives in the village, and Gilbert becomes jealous of him, unaware that they are brother and sister and suspecting them of being lovers.
  • Arthur Huntington: Helen's alcoholic husband, whose nature she discovers largely after their marriage, despite her aunt's warnings. His treatment of her and his alcoholism lead her to leave him, though when he falls from his horse while drunk and injures his leg, she returns to care for him. He refuses to stop drinking, however, and this complication eventually causes his death.
  • Anabella Willmot, a.k.a. Lady Lowborough: an acquaintance of Helen's who marries Arthur's friend, Lord Lowborough, and with whom Arthur has an affair.
  • Lord Lowborough: husband of Anabella. He is a member of Arthur's circle of gentlemen, all gamblers and drinkers. Eventually Lowborough divorces Anabella, gives up drinking and gambling, and marries a middle-aged woman who is a good wife to him and cares for his children.
  • Gilbert Markham: A gentleman farmer of Lindon-Car Farm in the town where Wildfell Hall is located. Gilbert is the hero of the novel and narrates much of the story, but he also has a jealous and petulant nature, even striking Frederic when he believes him to be Helen's lover and causing Frederic to fall from his horse. His jealousy and moodiness make him a sometimes unlikable character despite his love for Helen.

There are many other characters of some significance in the novel, but these are the principals; they truly propel the action.

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