The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Anne Bronte’s second novel, published in 1848, which is now celebrated alongside those of her sisters but which Charlotte Bronte tried to suppress as a ‘mistake’. It examines the life of Helen, who has escaped her abusive husband Arthur Huntingdon with their son to live at Wildfell Hall as a widow under the alias ‘Mrs Graham’, and it exposes the men in her husband’s circle who gave her no choice but to flee. Early critics attacked the novel as coarse, as misrepresenting male behaviour, and as something no woman or girl should ever read; soon after Anne’s death, Charlotte suggested the publisher should lose it for good. In recent decades, though, its reputation has climbed and it now sits with Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights as one of the great novels by the Bronte sisters.

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  • Alexandra Lewis 2 episodes
    Lecturer in English and Creative Writing at the University of Newcastle (Australia)
  • Marianne Thormahlen No other episodes
    Professor Emerita in English Studies, Lund University
  • John Bowen 6 episodes
    Professor of Nineteenth Century Literature at the University of York

Reading list

  • The Oxford Companion to the Brontes
    Christine Alexander and Margaret Smith (Oxford University Press, 2006) Google Books →
  • The Brontes
    Juliet Barker (Abacus, 2010) Google Books →
  • Take Courage: Anne Bronte and the Art of Life
    Samantha Ellis (Chatto & Windus, 2017) Google Books →
  • Anne Bronte Reimagined: A View from the Twenty-First Century
    Adelle Hay (Saraband, 2020) Google Books →
  • Anne Bronte
    Maria Frawley (Twayne Publishers, 1996) Google Books →
  • Anne Bronte
    Betty Jay (Northcote House, 2000) Google Books →
  • The Oxford History of the Novel in English, Volume 3: the Nineteenth-Century Novel 1820-1880
    John Kucich and Jenny Bourne Taylor (eds.) (Oxford University Press, 2011) Google Books →
  • Anne Bronte: The Other One
    Elizabeth Langland (Palgrave Macmillan, 1989) Google Books →
  • Why Anne Bronte wrote as she did
    Elizabeth Leaver
  • Satisfied With Such a Life
    Alexandra Lewis (Victorians: A Journal of Culture and Literature, 2020)
  • The Brontes and the Idea of the Human: Science, Ethics and the Victorian Imagination
    Alexandra Lewis (ed.) (Cambridge University Press, 2019) Google Books →
  • "Imbecile Laughter" and "Desperate Earnest" in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
    Juliet McMaster
  • The Bronte Myth
    Lucasta Miller (Vintage, 2002) Google Books →
  • The Brontes in Context
    Marianne Thormahlen (ed.) (Cambridge University Press, 2012) Google Books →
  • "Horror and disgust": Reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
    Marianne Thormahlen

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Auto-category: 823.8 (English fiction)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. When The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was published in 1848, critics condemned its portrayal of male violence and alcoholic abuse, recommending that no woman should read it.