“Which argument made by an author do you most support or agree with (or disagree with).”
With her 1848 novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall Anne Bronte was clearly saying that women so long having had their lives, happiness and very safety placed into the hands of the men in their lives, should; like her heroine Helen Graham, where possible, take that responsibility upon themselves. Her feminist stance is certainly something I agree with, and has made Helen Graham, one of my favourite heroines in classic English literature.
“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. Marriage may change your circumstances for the better, but, in my private opinion, it is far more likely to produce a contrary result.”
Anne Bronte allowed the character of Helen to be outspoken, independent and strong, and as such it was claimed by critics of the day that she was unfeminine. What Helen did, was to take charge of her own life, and in doing so find a way to be happy, and safe. She removed her son from his father, and for some time lived independently of her husband.
“You may think it all very fine, Mr. Huntingdon, to amuse yourself with rousing my jealousy; but take care you don’t rouse my hate instead. And when you have once extinguished my love, you will find it no easy matter to kindle it again.”
That a woman should take charge of her own life, walk away from an abusive partner, remove her son from the malign influence of a violent and drunken father, is perhaps a less shocking idea to us today, than it was in 1848. At the time of its publication, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was met by a wave of controversy, although it was at the same time an enormous success. Critics called it “coarse” and thought the subject matter unsuitable for women to read. In one particularly famous scene Helen slams her bedroom door against her husband, following his continued abuse of her, this, going against the sexual politics of the times. Helen’s escape of her husband, supporting herself under an assumed name was also contravening English law. A married woman at this time had no independent legal rights, she was unable to sue for divorce, own her own property or have sole custody of her children. In 1913 the writer May Sinclair said:
“the slamming of Helen Huntingdon’s bedroom door against her husband reverberated throughout Victorian England.”
There are many people who claim the Tenant of Wildfell Hall to be one of the first truly feminist novels. It is also incidentally, an absolutely brilliant one, every bit as powerful and compelling as those Victorian readers found it to be.