The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Brontë, is one of the first modern feminist novels. It tells the story of a young wife during the Regency period in England (1800–1830) who runs away from her drunken, adulterous, verbally abusive husband, an act virtually unheard of at this time in history. Brontë is the youngest sister of the famous Charlotte Brontë and Emily Brontë and although her poetry and novels have never received the same attention, she was arguably the pioneer of her family. Brontë’s use of realism—unlike the gothic romances of Charlotte and Emily—was a precursor to the literary traditions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was a wildly popular and controversial novel when it was published in 1848. Critics then and later criticized the uneven characterization, but it was Brontë’s progressive ideas about the rights of women that caused an uproar in the mid-1800s. Some considered the novel unfit for women to read. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall has interest for readers in the early 2000s because of its insight into the historical roles of men and women and for the ways it illustrates how marriage has changed and how some things—such as domestic abuse—have not.