Comment on Anne Brontë's writing style in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and whether it is likable or not.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Anne Bronte's writing style has been a matter of some contention since the book was published in 1848. On the one hand, it was a best seller from the start, so her reading public enjoyed her writing style. On the other hand, neither of her sisters, Charlotte nor Emily, liked her style. They also criticized her content partly because she used their brother, Branwell, who had drinking and other problems, as a model for the character of Huntingdon. Bronte's contemporaneous critics generally fell on the side of of the sisters in disliking her style calling it "rough" and, as the critic Winifrith says, "obvious and crude."   

One troublesome point of her style is that she creates doubt in a number of places as to whom the first-person narrator is addressing. The first and worst instance is the opening line: "You must go back with me to the autumn of 1827." From this, readers expect they are being directly addressed, yet, we are not. In the very next line, we must adjust our mental image, recognize we are not being addressed and wonder who is being addressed: "My father, as you know, was a sort of gentleman farmer ...." It is not until the fifth paragraph that we learn the narrator is addressing the husband of his sister, Rose.

I need not tell you this was my sister Rose.  She is, I know, a comely matron still, and, doubtless, no less lovely—in your eyes—than on the happy day you first beheld her.  Nothing told me then that she, a few years hence, would be the wife of one entirely unknown to me as yet,

This may not seem a large inconvenience nor a large flaw in style, but skilled writers make these sorts of elements known, through one subtle means or another, in the first paragraph. Another objection is that, through some flaw in authorial voice or tone that seems to remain unanalyzed, we are not sure whether the narrator is a man or a woman: we feel that it is a woman, yet we wonder about whether it must be a man because the father calls the narrator to a life of farming. Yet we don't really believe it is a man--because we hear a woman--until he enters the parlour and is actually engaged in conversation with his mother and called a "brave boy!"

‘I’ve been breaking in the grey colt—no easy business that—directing the ploughing of the last wheat stubble—for the ploughboy has not the sense to direct himself—and carrying out a plan for the extensive and efficient draining of the low meadowlands.’

The most important comment on Bronte's style is that she rejects the Romantic and Gothic styles of her sisters and opts for realism. She says realism is preferable because things must be shown to be as they really are, regardless of the cost of that realism to reader or writer [it is important to note that at the time of its origins, realism was truthfully acknowledged to be a painful and disspiriting experience for both readers and writers].

I will venture to say, [they] have not been more painful for the most fastidious of my critics to read than they were for me to describe.  I may have gone too far; ... but when we have to do with vice and vicious characters, I maintain it is better to depict them as they really are .... (The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Author's Preface to the Second Edition)

Because of these various points, many readers still do not appreciate Anne Bronte's writing style and think of it as poorly crafted and harsh. Nonetheless, readers still find her stories worth reading, even captivating.

helengraham | Student

kplhardison cites an incomplete version of the novel. Original opening line of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is this: To J. Halford, Esq.  Dear Halford,  When we were together last, you gave me a very particular and interesting account of the most remarkable occurrences of your early life, previous to our acquaintance; and then you requested a return of confidence from me.

As you see, The Tenant is an epistolary novel. It's written in a form of letter from Gilbert Markham to his friend Jack Halford.

Incomplete editions with damaged stucture appeared when one publisher after Anne's death dicided to issue a shortened edition of The Tenant in the interest of economy. Unfortunately, incomplete editions are still prevalent today.

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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

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