This is the story of Helen “Graham”, a “widow” who moves into run-down Wildfell Hall with her young son. The town is eager to meet and then criticize her, and only Gilbert Markham really takes the time to get to know her, and in doing so falls in love with her. Preventing their romance however, is her big secret; that she actually ran away from her emotionally abusive, alcoholic husband.
The book was of course a big controversy when it came out. How dare a novel show that men can be so awful, and how dare a novel has a strong female character with the courage to disobey her husband? Shocking, indeed.
We’re first introduced to Helen via Gilbert – the first part of the book is told through Gilbert’s letters to his brother-in-law. Gilbert and Helen become quite good friends. The second part of the book is told through Helen’s diary, in which we learn how she came to marry and eventually turn against her husband. And the third part reverts back to Gilbert’s letters. Some criticize this style of writing and say that Anne was hiding behind letters and diaries instead of telling the story right out. I, however, really appreciate the way it was written. I was able to connect to both Gilbert and Helen, something hard to accomplish if it’s only written from one point of view.
Helen is the most morally strong character I’ve ever seen in a book. She has firm ideas of right and wrong, and sticks to them – when her husband sinks into alcoholism and flirtation, she never sinks with him, and never hurts anyone for revenge. She simply endures the best way she can, because it was her mistake to marry him in the first place. She truly tries to do what’s best for everyone. She also takes her marriage vows seriously – even when the marriage between her and her husband is just a front, she never strays, is never tempted into infidelity. And, more admirably of all, she has the guts to rescue her son from such a bad atmosphere, to get him away from her husband’s bad influence and example. Good for her!
Another thing that I loved about this book is that there’s a strong sense of justice. You reap what you sow. The wicked people led miserable lives, and the good people got happy endings. Life doesn’t always work this way, but we always wish that it did, and it was refreshing to see.
Anne is brilliant. Her characters are infinitely interesting. Her writing is easy to read (I’ve found that her writing is clearer than her sisters’). And she does such a good job of capturing so many things that young women have to face and overcome.
I don’t know that I could ever write a review that would do this book justice. There’s just too much to say. I do, however, plan on writing something comparing all the Bronte sisters to each other… I have a lot to say on that. But that’ll be later.
5 1/2 stars. Incredible.