As women of today's modern world, have we not all met an Arthur Huntington during our lifetimes... at least once... or someone fearfully like him? The date who cannot bear for someone else to make us laugh? The boyfriend who enjoys our devotion while glancing about the room for a prettier face?
While nightly television and the films of our age parade Huntington-esque male villains and heartbreakers past us with a tiresome frequency, making them begin to be commonplace, I asked myself throughout this read of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall where the young Anne Brontë found the inspiration for Helen’s husband and his reckless, immoral friends? As the sheltered, motherless daughter of a curate, or humble governess – what did she see? What did she hear from her quiet corner?
It is as important today to recognize the valuable and honorable men that walk through our lives and avoid the dangerous Arthurs as it was over 160 years ago in Anne's day, but today we have the ability to support ourselves and can therefore make independent decisions. How much more vulnerable did the women of the Brontë's day find themselves when their only protection was from a man and their choices may have been few due to their range of acquaintances?
But was Helen's ultimate error the misguided belief that she could change Huntington? Redeem him herself? Her eyes were certainly blinded by her initial love for him but how willfully dangerous to choose to marry someone with the firm belief that you could turn him away from folly and evil and bring him into goodness. This is certainly not a pitfall limited to the Victorian Age but is one that has ruined many a life.
"When I tell you not to marry without love, I do not advise you to marry for love alone - there are many, many other things to be considered. Keep both heart and hand in your own possession, till you see good reason to part with them; and if such an occasion should never present itself, comfort your mind with this reflection: that, though in single life your joys may not be very many, your sorrows at least will not be more than you can bear."
At times this book was a bit melodramatic and I found myself uncomfortable with misguided actions by both hero and heroine in addition to various characters filling out the story, but the study of the time period and recognizable actions and motives that were familiar to my own era were deeply interesting.
Did you feel the same way? Whether or not you will be someone joining us in our book tea this next weekend or not, let me know what you think and I'll read your comments as The Jane Austen Tea Society meets to discuss The Tenant of Wildfell Hall on April 9th, 2011.
If you are not finished - KEEP READING!