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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

the-tenant-of-wildfell-hall-inside-cover

Written by Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall goes into uncharted territory for novels of the 19th century, I’ve read.  The story follows Helen, a smart, beautiful heroine who sets her cap for Arthur Huntington, a handsome rake. Despite her aunt’s warnings, Helen insists on marrying this manipulative cad.

Most of the book is narrated by Gilbert Markham a prosperous landowner. I thought this was original as most stories of this sort either have an omniscient or female narrator.

When the story opens there’s a great deal of mystery. Mrs. Graham, an aloof woman moves into the countryside with her young son. She keeps a distance from the people in the community, but attracts Gilbert Markham. As he tries to get closer to Helen, she pulls back though it’s clear she’s attracted. To explain herself, she gives Gilbert her diaries so that he can understand why she tries to live so secretively. It also gets her to take the narrative reins.

We learn that Helen’s husband has been abusive and callous from the start of their marriage. Arthur is an alcoholic, gambler and philanderer. Brontë, who’s brother fought several addictions, shows the darker side of 19th century. It was a time when there was a lot of addiction, gambling, and disrespect towards women, who had little freedom or options.

While the heroine was sometimes too Puritanical and rather icy, it’s an understandable response to her husband’s behavior. I appreciated how different the story was from an Austen or Gaskell book.  For more commentary on The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, you can listen to the Midday Connection Bookclub podcast.

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Posted by on July 23, 2015 in abuse, British literature, domestic violence, hate, jealousy, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

 

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To Marry an English Lord

marrylordIf you like Downton Abbey, you really should read Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace’s  To Marry an English Lord. I got the audio book from the library. The narrator had the perfect voice, elegant and slightly aristocratic.

To Marry an English Lord presents all sorts of facts and vignettes about the American heiresses, and there were dozens if not hundreds, who crossed the ocean to marry well. The focus is on New York socialites, whose fathers had fortunes, but couldn’t break into the elite circle of the Kickerbockers. Kickerbockers were the descendants of the first New York settlers from Holland, these people wore knickerbockers, i.e. pants that stopped at the knees. No amount of money could get you into their social circle so those with new money headed for England where they were welcomed not just for their money (though that was key) but also because American girls were so open, confident and free. British girls were sheltered and shy. They were chaperoned everywhere, but the American parents gave their girls a lot more freedom. And they had much larger clothing allowances. A British girl would make do with 3 new gowns a season, but the American would get 18 or so spending about $500.000 in todays money (plus a 50% tariff). The British men noticed, in droves apparently.

 

The book covers every aspect of the women’s lives from dress, parents, education, hobbies and such to marriage, infidelity and socializing. I found it quite interesting that these girls had the best of all worlds because as was typical in the U.S. at the time they were encouraged to be spirited and confident as debutantes and unlike the women who married in America after they wed they could follow the custom of getting involved in politics or writing, which was normal in England.

The book is a solid and entertaining social history that makes me think a real life Cora had more meaningful work to do, more extravagant parties to give, more friendships and probably more infidelity than we see on Downton Abbey. (Mind you I’m happy Cora did not hop into bed with Bricker, the bounder.) The authors’ style is full of wit and energy.

While I enjoyed being able to listen as I drove, I think I’ll get the actual book, because I can envision wanting to fact check the history and that’s hard to do with a CD.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2015 in history, non-fiction

 

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