NOTE: If you’d like to read and/or discuss (if you have already read) The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, there is a discussion thread for it at the Rory’s Book Club website. If you click here, it will take you there. It’s never too late to join in 🙂
I really enjoyed this beginning. I especially liked the first chapter, in which Markham describes the residents of the village and how Bronte wrote it. Markham was supposed to have been writing the descriptions to a friend of his in a letter, but yet it didn’t exactly feel like a letter when reading it. The beginning was typical of the Bronte sisters. It was slower moving, but still sort of building up something that lets you know it’s going to get interesting if you can stick through it.
Question #3 asks “Chapter 3 deals with the question of how to raise a young boy. What do you make of this debate, and does the novel come down on one side or the other?” And I kept this question in mind when I was reading. And, quite frankly, I love the little debate that comes from Mrs. Graham’s treatment of Arthur. I think it deserves some direct quotes to illustrate the debate:
“What is it that constitutes virtue, Mrs. Graham? Is it the circumstance of being able and willing to resist temptation; or that of having no temptations to resist?…If you would have your son to walk honorably through the world, you must not attempt to clear the stones from his path, but teach him to walk firmly over them–not insist upon leading him by the hand, but let him learn to go alone.”
p22, Markham’s side
“It must be either that you think she [women in general] is essentially so vicious, or so feeble-minded, that she cannot withstand temptation, and though she may be pure and innocent as long as she is kept in ignorance and restraint, yet, being destitute of real virtue, to teach her how to sin is at once to make her a sinner, and the greater her knowledge, the wider her liberty, the deeper will be her depravity…”
p25, Mrs. Graham’s side
Essentially, there is some hypocritical line of logic in Markham. What you might not get from the quotes is that Markham says young boys shouldn’t be brought up to have no temptations but to know how to resist them–they can’t be virtuous if they’re brought up in ignorance. And Mrs. Graham says, “Well, what about girls? Can’t they have virtue even though they aren’t brought up to know temptation, but to be completely concealed from it?” And basically Markham is befuddled at this–he doesn’t really come up with a great answer as to how virtue applies to the sexes. Since they’re brought up in different ways, perhaps they have different definitions of “virtue” for boys and girls??
I don’t know what to think of Mrs. Graham. Towards the end of this section, she is seen in private with Mr. Lawrence. They’re just talking…and touching intimately (for the time). But Markham is in love with Mrs. Graham and at times it appears she is trying not to feel anything for him. So, does she love Markham or is there really something going on between herself and Mr. L?
And what of the fact that Markham assaulted Mr. L in Chapter 14?! What was that? I mean, Markham technically had no incentive to whip Mr. L. Yes, he believes Mrs. Graham might be loving Mr. L, but that’s not Mr. L’s problem. Maybe this physical fight is the male version of what might happen between women if they were fighting for the same man–which, I imagine, would’ve been just talking/gossiping about each other, etc.
But I can’t wait to hear Mrs. Graham’s history! I want to know what happened to what I’m assuming is a sleaze-ball of a husband. He has to be pretty bad if she’s so smothering of Arthur, in my opinion.