The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was the second novel written by Anne Brontë, the youngest of the Brontë sisters. First released in 1848 under the pseudonym Acton Bell, it was considered shocking by the standards of the time due to its themes of domestic disharmony, drunkenness and adultery. Perhaps this was why it quickly became a publishing success. However, when Anne died from tuberculosis her sister Charlotte prevented its republication until 1854, perhaps fearing for her sister’s reputation, though some attributed her actions to jealousy.
The story is framed as a series of letters by the protagonist Gilbert Markham to his friend Halford. Markham tells of the arrival of a young widow, Mrs. Graham, in his rural neighborhood. She brings with her her five year old son Arthur and takes up residence in the partly-ruined Wildfell Hall. Gossip soon begins to swirl around her, questioning her mysterious background and the closeness of her relationship with her landlord Frederick Lawrence. Dismissing these concerns, Gilbert Markham becomes deeply enamored of Helen Graham, and she seems to return his affection strongly. He however becomes increasingly suspicious and jealous of Lawrence, who makes frequent visits to the Hall. He secretly espies them walking together one night, apparently in a romantic relationship. After he confronts Helen over this, she gives him her diary of the last few years and tells him to read it to understand everything. Much of the rest of the novel is made up of extracts from Helen’s diary, which tells the story of her unhappy marriage.
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