The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, aka the genderswap, morally preachy version of Pride and Prejudice. )


Another blast from the past entry, this one was initially inspired by this wonderful comic:

I tried reading one of Anne Bronte’s books. She wrote two, so I picked one at random. To save you all the effort of trying to read it yourselves, I am providing you with a recap of this book.

So the main character is this dude of middling social station (like Lizzy Bennet). He’s well-to-do enough that he has read books, but too poor to actually do anything useful with his life or get the hell out of the bumfuck nowhere province where he lives (again, like Lizzy Bennet). At the beginning of the book, he is fine with that.

He tends sheep, he flirts with the pretty (although vapid) neighbor girl, and he gads about with his siblings. Oh and he sits around at parties discussing sensible conversation topics. His mother is very disappointed with this flirting, because (unknown to him) he is a very intelligent and talented young lad who could no doubt Do Things if it wasn’t for the unfortunate details of money and class status. At any rate, he shouldn’t be flirting with the daughters of local reverends when he is clearly meant to be marrying noble ladies (if there’s a female version of Mr. Darcy around, that’d be perfect).

But then this mysterious and antisocial woman shows up and moves into the local castle. She is initially disapproving (OH HEY LOOK A FEMALE MR. DARCY) but then becomes infatuated with the main character, who is likewise infatuated, but rejects her because he sees her talking passionately with ANOTHER MAN.

So they spend several chapters where he’s all wrathful and dejected because she was talking to another man, and any reader who has ever, uh, read another book, seen any play, or, well, HAS A BRAIN, already knows that she’s innocent and the other dude is probably secretly her brother or cousin or something. Anne Bronte, however, assuming that her audience is as dumb as her main character (which is pretty dumb, really), draws the–uh, I’ll be nice and call it suspense–out for several chapters, where he’s all “YOU’RE THE WHORE THAT RUMORS SAY YOU ARE” and she’s all “I’M INNOCENT, BUT SINCE YOU’RE ASSUMING I’M GUILTY YOU’RE NOT THE MAN I THOUGHT YOU WERE SO I’M NOT GOING TO EXPLAIN MYSELF BECAUSE YOU’RE A DOUCHE.” and he goes “WELL IF YOU WERE INNOCENT YOU’D EXPLAIN YOURSELF.” Seriously. This goes on for chapters. My favorite quote is the following, from the main character:

“Yes, you have done me an injury you can never repair – or any other either – you have blighted the freshness and promise of youth, and made my life a wilderness! I might live a hundred years, but I could never recover from the effects of this withering blow – and never forget it!”

His life is a wilderness! His youth is blighted! She has struck him A WITHERING BLOW! Even though she didn’t actually do anything wrong and when she tried to explain her innocence he refused to listen because he was too busy being convinced she was guilty.

Now, if this theme had been written well, we’d be within a few chapters from the end. It would be revealed, with much drama and shock and reclaimed virtue, that she was actually innocent the whole time (which she would reveal in a speech of a chapter, maybe two, in length), and then they’ll deal with the ghosts of her past (in another chapter or two) and then get married in the last three pages.

Unfortunately, the method of revelation which the author chooses is to have the girl give the main character her diary. Read this, it reveals everything. Which would work out, except

it reads like an actual diary.

Most writers know that if you’re including diary entries in your novel, you only include the relevant ones, and leave it assumed that there are hundreds of pages more of diary which aren’t relevant to the story. But no. Anne Bronte, presumably in an attempt to make the story more realistic, writes out the entire diary.

The entire tone of the book changes, the narrator changes, the whole plot of the book (such as it is), is put on hold for the next half of the book, in the interests of writing this diary. We have a point-by-point and party-by-party description of how she is young and naive and wants to marry for love.

Now, I will admit that there are quite a few excellent passages in this section and the previous one, in terms of intelligent, feminist arguments. She makes a very interesting debate on the methods of raising children in that society, and the differences in treatment between male and female children. She makes some great points regarding the intelligent way to select a marriage partner. The main female character forms her own opinions and speaks her mind about them.

Anyway. Despite being a sensible and opinionated young woman, the female lead falls for a handsome and charming young cad. She is aware that he has basically no redeeming qualities whatsoever, but decides that she can save him (despite, it should be mentioned, her earlier arguments that women who think this are DUMB). So, she marries him. He turns out to be an alcoholic, adulterous, abusive husband, and she slowly realizes that she was dumb. Oops.

So she runs away and hides, which is when the book originally began, and she explains to the main character that her secretive and discouraging behavior is because she was already married. We can never be together, oh how I weep. And then she finds out that her husband is grievously ill! So being the righteous, dutiful woman she is (because apparently Anne Bronte wants to establish that even independent and intelligent women should be dutiful and obedient good Christian women), she goes back to nurse him.

A year later, after the husband has died, the main character goes stalking her, but is reluctant to talk to her because she’s now fabulously wealthy. (I hope I don’t need to reiterate the many ways this is creepy: A year later. Stalking. Fabulously wealthy. Oh hey look, now she’s even more like Mr. Darcy…) But she catches him stalking her, and is thrilled, so they get married and live happily ever after. (Seriously, someone give the Bronte sisters a crash course on why stalking is not romantic.)

I must admit to not actually reading the last third of this book. I had to skim the middle third. I kept skipping ahead, thinking “maybe the NEXT chapter will be less vapid and about something other than her being all fluttery and stupid over courtship.” But no, because in this case fluttery and stupid are essential to the plot so that you can learn the moral lessons.

Moral lessons:

1. Women should not be fluttery and stupid. You can’t save/change/improve men if they’re already selfish, evil douchebags. Think for yourself, but respect the advice of your elders, and watch out for handsome and charming dudes.

2. Men should not drink or be generally stupid. Don’t jump to conclusions and make wild accusations to people you care about. Don’t date vapid women, hold out for the smart and morally upright ones who are bound to inherit fortunes.


One Response to “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, aka the genderswap, morally preachy version of Pride and Prejudice. )”

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