I enjoyed The Tenant immensely! It was such a deep, dark novel, yet optimistic in its resolution. Anne Bronte was driven by her belief in universal redemption, examples of which we see in Hattersley’s reform, and in the way Huntingdon died — with Helen by his side.
There were a few things that made the novel stand out and join other books amongst my favourites. First being the main narration. The main story is narrated from Gilbert Markham’s perspective in letters to his brother-in-law, Halford. The idea that Anne wrote from a male perspective, and so well!, made me enjoy her skillful writing more, especially after it shifted to Mrs Graham’s diary, and exposed the difference in character, and thus, narration. It is seldom I encounter a novel written by a Victorian woman narrated by a man.
The novel exposes Helen’s life before, as well as after, the marriage. In most novels of the time period that I’ve encountered, the reader rarely gets past matrimony. But this instance in The Tenant made it a unique experience for me and revealed another aspect of Victorian marriage. As it showed Helen’s life as a wife, the novel also drew the curtain to expose that she lived not-so-happily-ever-after. Huntingdon turned out to be a scoundrel with a strong attachment to liquor. Which brings the point…
Anne touches upon “taboo” topics: alocholism, unhappy union, abandoning husbands, and raising a child as a single mother. The novel itself underlines a woman’s independence by showing how strong Mrs Huntingdon was in her misery, and brave in her escape. Helen’s transformation of character was wonderfully laid out through the novel, how she grows from her innocence to being an experienced and “tough” woman.
The novel scandalized the readers of its time, no doubt. It surprised me in a fragment of dialogue where Huntingdon question God, heaven and hell.
“What is God? — I cannot see Him or hear Him. —God is only an idea.”
“God is Infinite Wisdom, and Power, and Goodness—and Love; but if this idea is too vast for your human faculties — if your mind loses itself in its overwhelming infinitude, fix it on Him who condescended to take our nature upon Him, who was raised to Heaven even in His glorified human body, in whom the fullness of the Godhead shines.”
The people of the past being highly religious, I rarely encountered such notions in Victorian novels before. However, the fact that Anne touched upon that idea makes her more brilliant than many others who dared not do the same, and improves her status as a writer, in my eyes, at least… In his final days, Huntingdon is so afraid of dying and going to hell, that he would even deny God Himself to spare himself (Huntingdon) from the tortures of the idea that he may burn in hell forever. And Helen’s reply is so full of spirit and faith, that the reader questions not whether she will receive eternal bliss.
Finally, I wish to bring up an interesting thing which my observation caught. Perhaps I am reading too much into it, but here it comes. All children, who were christened in the novel, were named after the characters in the circle of whom Helen, Millicent, etc. suffered so: little Arthur, Helen, Ralph, and Annabella. Also! later little Arthur married little Helen. It was as if Anne Bronte had given “them” another chance (remember universal redemption!) and I may venture to say the children had better lives than their older namesakes.
It is needless to praise Anne’s writing, as brilliant as it is! While reading, the Reader falls in love with Helen as Gilbert does, suffers with Mrs Huntingdon, is constantly in nervous excitement as she flees, and rejoices when Mrs Huntingdon becomes Mrs Markham. I know I did!
Read THIS very insightful post about The Tenant. I really liked it!