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Old 11-20-2019, 04:45 PM   #76
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I shouldn't really hold Helen apart as especially self-absorbed in her treatment of servants as servants; I think being self-absorbed is a condition of her class. My real reason for focusing on Helen and Rachel is only that I think if Anne Brontë had meant this book as some sort statement about women's rights then the relationship between those two women would have been different, more equal. Instead, I'm inclined to think the book, from Anne's perspective, was probably about the dangers of drink and other excesses; that it wasn't women's rights that had to change, but that men should live responsibly (in the full Christian sense of that word). It is only a modern eye that tends to look at the story from the perspective of women's rights.
I agree with your observations about class and alcohol abuse, but would frame them differently.There is a long history within the women’s movement of linking alcohol abuse with its devastating impact on women and children. The book doesn’t have to be about ’either /or’ - it’s about both. In terms of the class relations, Brontë’s perspective reflects, and is inevitably limited by her class and the religious & social milieu of the day. Even today, many argue that Western feminism misses the central concerns of poor women and women of colour.

I think Brontë’s book is definitely concerned with women’s rights. However, that doesn’t mean contemporary readers, or even Brontë herself (I don’t know) consciously thought in terms of and used the language of women’s rights. But even if people said the book was about alcohol abuse, they recognized that many women were trapped in the situation Brontë was portraying, and that the heroine’s actions defied convention and the law. The book apparently caused a sensation.
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Old 11-20-2019, 05:06 PM   #77
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astrangerhere, thanks for the insights into the behaviour of abused women returning to the abuser. To those not caught up in that terrible situation it seems unbelievable, but I can see that psychologically it could well happen.

Victoria, excellent point about the strong link between the women's movement and the temperance movement, which were clearly linked in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is still very much an issue in Australia, particularly (but certainly not exclusively) in connection with indigenous communities.
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Old 11-20-2019, 07:08 PM   #78
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I know that the book is so didactic as to be unsufferably preachy, but I have to appreciate the early attempt to depict the brutality of some Victorian homes.
I was thinking about this and realized it was another theme Anne shared with her sisters. Especially with Wuthering Heights, and it seems obvious that Wildfell Hall has most in common with that book. Heathcliff physically abused Isabella Linton, who did end up leaving him with their son. As for Jane Eyre, it's not as direct, but I can read abuse into Rochester's treatment of Bertha, keeping her locked in the attic in the care of a drunken woman (notably the woman is the drunkard here).
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Old 11-20-2019, 07:41 PM   #79
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Victoria, that was very well put, thank you.
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Old 11-20-2019, 08:27 PM   #80
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I was thinking about this and realized it was another theme Anne shared with her sisters. Especially with Wuthering Heights, and it seems obvious that Wildfell Hall has most in common with that book. Heathcliff physically abused Isabella Linton, who did end up leaving him with their son. As for Jane Eyre, it's not as direct, but I can read abuse into Rochester's treatment of Bertha, keeping her locked in the attic in the care of a drunken woman (notably the woman is the drunkard here).
I found this interesting essay in the Guardian that contrasts that treatment of male characters by the sisters. I do think they were influenced in different ways by their brother's alcohol and opium abuse. Anne especially was sensitive to the topic because he lived with the same family that she was a governess, and he created a scandal by having an affair with the mother of the family. She more directly saw and was affected by his behavior, and she also spent more time nursing him. I think that it is a plausible explanation for why she chose to be so realistic in her novel.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/bo...harlotte-emily

And, here is some background on Branwell.
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/l...-a7940396.html
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Old 11-20-2019, 11:25 PM   #81
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Thanks for these two articles, Bookworm-Girl. I see in the first one the writer made the same error as I did about the younger Catherine in Wuthering Heights, but at least I had the excuse of not having read it for ages!
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Old 11-20-2019, 11:30 PM   #82
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Interesting article, Bookworm_Girl, thanks. I did notice, however, that the article says: "Gilbert Markham helps Helen flee from her abusive husband", which isn't true. For me one of the most strongly feminist things about this story is that Helen manages it on her own.

She did need Benson to help her sneak the luggage out of the house, and her brother prepared Wildfell Hall for her - but it's not like Lawrence came riding in on his white charger and whisked her away.

There is no falling back helplessly while a man rescues her. No rich uncle loaned her the funds necessary to live. There was no man there urging her forward, and no lover on the side lines inciting her to rebel - indeed such offers were explicitly rejected. Her escape was entirely her own.
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Old 11-21-2019, 02:28 AM   #83
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Yes, you are absolutely right there, gmw. I did notice the comment about Gilbert helping her and thinking "Not in the version I read!", but then forgot to comment on that.

And Helen was the one to manage her own escape. Indeed, I wonder just how abused she was in the sense of being in thrall to Arthur. She seems fiercely independent to me, though of course she could be full of self-doubt and recriminations to which we are not privy.
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Old 11-21-2019, 08:18 AM   #84
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The Guardian article is thought provoking, but really, the author needed to reread the books first - or at least get the article vetted. A lot of errors there, which I won't go into; I've spent too much time talking about Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights already.

Helen was gaslighted by Arthur for a long time and I do think that constitutes abuse. However, I think this is only partially true and isn't just to Helen:

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Many of the character flaws that some of you have pointed out are classic behaviors of abused women. It is wholly believable that she would go back to nurse him. Many women who escape the abuser return to him or her if they believe that the abuser "needs" them or finds themselves in a situation from which "surely they will change."
I think, as others have said, that Helen was motivated by religious fervor. An important aspect of feminism is that we have to take women at their word, and she said firmly that she was done with him emotionally. I think that's in character and I do believe her.

But I know that's individual. For at that, I do not believe that a Helen would have put her son at risk by returning when her freedom had been achieved with such difficulty. The entire legal apparatus was against her; if Arthur had survived, who knows what might have happened? His signed statement was worthless, even if a moral victory of sorts. But what price moral victory if her son was indoctrinated early into a life of dissipation and vice?
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Old 11-21-2019, 06:08 PM   #85
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I don't think Gilbert was despicable. Arthur was truly despicable. I also don't think Gilbert was especially manipulative. He had self-restraint not to ask more about Helen after she left Wildfell Hall. I think that Hargrave was the example of someone who was not so genuine in his love and a contrast to Gilbert's love that was purer. However, I think Gilbert was extremely immature, somewhat of a cad, and overwrought in his sentiments. It was terrible what he did to Mr. Lawrence, and he did go back out of guilt but his apology later was somewhat rude. Also, I thought it was harsh how he treated little Arthur when he was upset with Helen and basically ignored Arthur who was craving for his attentions. There were several times where you just wanted to shake Gilbert and say, "Do you not learn anything?!". Head slap! Also he was to quick to judge Helen like the rest of the neighborhood in their gossip when he sees Helen with Frederick and doesn't meet with her for the big "reveal" of her past when he would have learned of their true relationship and instead he turns into jealous monster. Gilbert was also spoiled by his mother and sister.
I think this is an excellent summary of the Gilbert in Part 1 of the novel. He is certainly very flawed. The attack on poor Lawrence was unjustified and criminal. He eventually succumbs to the attacks on her character by the gossips of the community.

On the other hand Gilbert does have certain virtues. He realises clearly that Helen is a very superior person and shows an affection for little Arthur (though he is rather nasty when he loses faith in Helen). He works hard, is honest, reliable, respectable and respectful.

I am quite far behind most everyone else and have not reached section 3 yet but I suspect that Brontë will in some manner create a method by which Gilbert will redeem himself and be worthy of Helen.

Some other thoughts I have at the moment follow.

Helen, herself, strikes me in section 1 as a well developed character with a strength that has come from the suffering she underwent in part 2. Throughout the latter we see her developing a moral strength even as we see her girlish love change to bitterness.

The young Helen is far too sure of herself and her ability to reform Huntingdon. Thus she rejects the quite sensible advice (given the times) of her aunt in chapter 17.

“Oh, Helen, Helen! You little know the misery of uniting your fortunes to such a man!”

In chapter 23 she gives a religious harangue that would turn anybody off—not least a young husband. Helen may well love Huntingdon but her lack of experience and limited knowledge of basic human nature ensure her failure.

By chapters 31 & 32 Helen has not only become aware of the base qualities of her husband and his companions but she is forced to witness the horrifying degradation of her gentle friend Milicent by her brutal husband Ralph Hattersley. The horror of the scenes come from the way the husband treats his wife—not as a loving fellow adult—but as a property, an infantilised slave whom he can use as he pleases. Throughout thiese episodes Helen bravely asserts Millicent’s human dignity but there is no possibility of making any impact on the mind-set of a man like Hattersley—and his would be the default position.

This powerful proto-feminism conveys anguish and fury and is quite moving. It is the finest section of the book I have so far read and I look forward to more.

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Old 11-22-2019, 01:49 AM   #86
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I think this is an excellent summary of the Gilbert in Part 1 of the novel. He is certainly very flawed. The attack on poor Lawrence was unjustified and criminal. He eventually succumbs to the attacks on her character by the gossips of the community.

On the other hand Gilbert does have certain virtues. He realises clearly that Helen is a very superior person and shows an affection for little Arthur (though he is rather nasty when he loses faith in Helen). He works hard, is honest, reliable, respectable and respectful.

I am quite far behind most everyone else and have not reached section 3 yet but I suspect that Brontë will in some manner create a method by which Gilbert will redeem himself and be worthy of Helen.

Some other thoughts I have at the moment follow.

Helen, herself, strikes me in section 1 as a well developed character with a strength that has come from the suffering she underwent in part 2. Throughout the latter we see her developing a moral strength even as we see her girlish love change to bitterness.

The young Helen is far too sure of herself and her ability to reform Huntingdon. Thus she rejects the quite sensible advice (given the times) of her aunt in chapter 17.

“Oh, Helen, Helen! You little know the misery of uniting your fortunes to such a man!”

In chapter 23 she gives a religious harangue that would turn anybody off—not least a young husband. Helen may well love Huntingdon but her lack of experience and limited knowledge of basic human nature ensure her failure.

By chapters 31 & 32 Helen has not only become aware of the base qualities of her husband and his companions but she is forced to witness the horrifying degradation of her gentle friend Milicent by her brutal husband Ralph Hattersley. The horror of the scenes come from the way the husband treats his wife—not as a loving fellow adult—but as a property, an infantilised slave whom he can use as he pleases. Throughout thiese episodes Helen bravely asserts Millicent’s human dignity but there is no possibility of making any impact on the mind-set of a man like Hattersley—and his would be the default position.

This powerful proto-feminism conveys anguish and fury and is quite moving. It is the finest section of the book I have so far read.
Update
WELL! I have gone on to chapter 33 and things have certainly developed. Obviously I am approaching a new section of the book. I’ll comment later when I finish.

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Old 11-22-2019, 06:13 AM   #87
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Helen, herself, strikes me in section 1 as a well developed character with a strength that has come from the suffering she underwent in part 2. Throughout the latter we see her developing a moral strength even as we see her girlish love change to bitterness.

The young Helen is far too sure of herself and her ability to reform Huntingdon. Thus she rejects the quite sensible advice (given the times) of her aunt in chapter 17.
This is an expression of the human condition. People can and do make irrevocable mistakes when they're too young to comprehend the likely consequences. As a society, we've become somewhat better at trying to mitigate the effects; a poor marriage doesn't have to be for life and we no longer hang six-year olds for stealing, but there's no perfect insulation against poor judgment. And certainly, we grow more through adversity than we do through contentment. But some are broken, at that. Hattersley and Lowborough were able to triumph over their failings, but Arthur was not. It makes the attempt to dissipate young Arthur even more evil, as it would have taken away his own agency before he was in a position to exercise it.
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Old 11-22-2019, 12:55 PM   #88
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Thanks for those insights, Issybird. I would agree completely that pain is needed for growth and we can see that in this novel especially in Helen’s religiosity.
She begins with a theoretical type of belief which doesn’t take the practicalities of human nature into account. We see that with her argument with her aunt and in Ch 23 which I referenced above. And as you say “some are broken.”

Helen goes very near to the edge of the cliff of cynical anger after Huntington’s betrayal. And she knows what is happening to her. The love is being replaced by Hate.

“I hate him tenfold more for having brought me to this!— . . . Instead of being humbled and purified by my afflictions, I feel that they are turning my nature into gall.”

Hatred and wrath now consume her and she feels that her future is a “rough dark road.”

This is why Brontë now brings in the Hargrave episode and spends some time on it. It is to be a test for Helen. She is filled with such fury that Hargrave believes her vulnerable to seduction. The chess game is a striking image of his view of her situation and the relationship that he thinks he can achieve. Passing the test strengthens Helen and helps her to focus her energies in a positive way.

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Old 11-22-2019, 01:07 PM   #89
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This is why Brontë now brings in the Hargrave episode and spends some time on it. It is to be a test for Helen. She is filled with such fury that Hargrave believes her vulnerable to seduction. The chess game is a striking image of his view of her situation and the relationship that he thinks he can achieve. Passing the test strengthens Helen and helps her to focus her energies in a positive way.
The chess game was one of my favorite scenes, actually. It is one of the few things that I felt aged well.
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Old 11-22-2019, 09:43 PM   #90
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The chess game was one of my favorite scenes, actually. It is one of the few things that I felt aged well.
Funny the different reactions. I thought the chess scene felt awkward and out of place; tacked on. My thought at the time was something like: I think the scene was inserted because one of Anne's early beta readers complained that Hargrave's villainy at this point was too subtle. To me it felt like a bludgeon when Anne had managed more subtle character evolution everywhere else.
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