On the first Sunday of every month, a group of us meet in Waterstone’s book shop, in our town, Weston… and I think it’s rather fun that the shop is nick-named Westonstone’s… but anyway, a group of us meet and talk about a book we have read.
Yesterday we were talking about ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ by Anne Brontë; for once we were all but one present, so nine of us sat among the bookshelves and offered our opinions, as well as catching up with each others’ news. Apart from our sole male, all of us enjoyed the book very much and had plenty to say, although we were also critical of it too, so there was plenty of discussion and chat.
The book was published in 1848, and although to modern readers the plot is fairly predictable, mysterious woman and young son move into a semi-abandoned old house on the moors, young local farmer falls in love with her, difficulties are in their path but true love wins through… it has plenty of other themes which are still relevant today, alcoholism and drug dependence within a marriage, abusive relationships, honour and faithfulness, maternal love… and much more.
‘The Tenant’ was Anne’s second book to be published; she was born in 1820, so she must have been about twenty-six or twenty-seven when she wrote it and sadly she died the year after it was published. As I read it, I wondered if Anne knew anything about the poet and writer Caroline Norton; she was born in 1808 and had been virtually forced, or at least obliged, to marry a man who was an abusive husband, a drunk, and a vindictive and cruel man. Through her writings, Caroline brought the plight of women held in such marriages to public attention, and eventually, in 1839, the Custody of Children Act was passed, and nearly twenty years later, in 1857 Matrimonial Causes Act was passed too. I don’t know if Anne knew anything about Caroline, but the sort of marriage described in ‘The Tenant’ was just the sort of abusive relationship which led to these Acts of Parliament.
The novel itself is told through letters and a diary, which some of us found contrived and awkward, and is deeply moralistic and with strong religious themes, which to a modern reader seem very outdated – but a very interesting insight to a woman’s world nearly two hundred years ago. The man in our club found it totally unrealistic, especially the parts which were told through the thoughts of the young farmer – he felt that men would not have thought and behaved like that, especially the occasional bursting into tears. us eight women, however, to a greater or lesser extent were convinced by the narrative – allowing for the fact that Anne was a woman; we felt that what she knew and observed and had lived with because of her brother Branwell, three years older than Anne, who was a disastrous drunk, did inform her writing and give it a sense of reality.
We all enjoyed the meeting and we’re looking forward to August’s get-together where we will be discussing different travel books, and then September when we will be reading an autobiography.
I’m sure Anne must have thought carefully about writing in the voice of a man and worked hard to try and make it realistic. I’m not comparing myself to her, but I too have written as a first person male narrator, in my Radwinter books. If you haven’t yet read any of my e-books, here is a link:
… and if you do read any, I will really appreciate any comments!