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Old 11-16-2019, 08:44 AM   #16
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Anne Brontė seems to me to be lacking much of the talent of her sisters, and I can understand why her books are so much less well known than those of Charlotte and Emily.
Not only that; I thought it obvious how much she relied on her sisters' talents. This struck me as highly derivative. Even the title! Wildfell Hall has exactly the same meaning as Wuthering Heights and the same initials.

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Bookpossum sums up my feelings about Helen & Gilbert perfectly. Apparently they fell in love over long deep soulful talks about a broad range of interesting topics. Unfortunately we weren’t witness to any of that, and it was hard to bond with either of them.
I had exactly the same thought. Show us those conversations and their deep connection, don't just claim it. That was totally unearned.
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Old 11-16-2019, 08:55 AM   #17
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I've said that I prefer to read book club selections rather than listen to them and I started out going back and forth, but I found that it was much easier to take in audio. Overall, I liked both performances; I found that Gilbert's tendency to be overwrought was somewhat excessive as read by Davidson, but then as I've said elsewhere, he was using a voice he's also used in a long-running series I follow, and the whole effect was a little bizarre.

My weak defense of the book is that I was entertained by it. It held my interest and I was happy enough to go on with it. Somewhat in the category of "good trash"; Anne's long apprenticeship with her sisters meant that the prose was serviceable as opposed to awful, although the book itself was a flat failure technically and in terms of characterization. The plotting was decent and certainly the subject matter was arresting.

I have to agree that I found Gilbert dispicable. His sneering contempt for most of his coterie was unforgivable. I can't blame Eliza, in fact. He had led her on; things has got to the point where it was reasonable for her to expect a declaration; instead, she was obviously and publicly dumped.
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Old 11-16-2019, 11:03 AM   #18
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This is the version I listened to as well, and I did not like Frederick Davidson at all, which I guess is heresy here. I did a quick check of my records and discovered that I had apparently never listened to Davidson/Case before, and I don't think I'd seek him out again. I think a lot of my dislike of Gilbert was based on Davidson's performance--he sounded like a foppish jerk and the person who should be the villain of the piece.
Just shows how perceptions can differ! The voice Davidson used was very close to the one he uses for a British Army officer who's risen from the ranks, i.e., not patrician, so it didn't strike me as particularly foppish. But I also listen to Davidson a lot; this was the seventh book narrated by him I've listened to this year alone (he's in second place for me this year) so I went into it with a preconceived favorable opinion. Davidson's a love/hate proposition, though; I know he gets lot of negative reactions.
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Old 11-16-2019, 11:12 AM   #19
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I agree with the comments about Gilbert; yet he is the romantic hero of the piece, the man Helen comes to love and trust. I don't think Anne Bronte wanted the reader to believe that Helen is making another stupid mistake, but it sure seems like another stupid mistake, especially considering the violent attack on Lawrence. Gilbert's main "virtue" seemed to be that he wasn't a drunkard, and I guess that was enough for Helen.

I don't see how this is much of a feminist novel--it is to a point, with Helen defying convention and leaving her husband, but that is undercut by her return. Really? Bronte couldn't have just had mean old Arthur die offstage and free Helen to marry again (or live happily alone)? No, she has to have noble Helen burnish her halo and return to caress the fevered brow of her oppressor. Such saintliness!

But then all the emphasis on religion annoyed me. That's too mild a statement--it made me want to scream.

While I'm hating on Helen--the doctoring of booze to make her son sick was horrifying.
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Old 11-16-2019, 11:22 AM   #20
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I don't see how this is much of a feminist novel--it is to a point, with Helen defying convention and leaving her husband, but that is undercut by her return. Really? Bronte couldn't have just had mean old Arthur die offstage and free Helen to marry again (or live happily alone)? No, she has to have noble Helen burnish her halo and return to caress the fevered brow of her oppressor. Such saintliness!
I thought Helen's return to nurse Arthur was flatly unbelievable. She had escaped from him with such difficulty, and he destroyed her first plan entirely, that I can't imagine she'd risk herself, and her son, by getting within his orbit again. Suppose he refused to let her leave? He could. Suppose he refused to let her take Arthur? He also could do that, legally. And that ridiculous statement she made him sign - he could easily have destroyed that.

And while I'm on the subject, it was flatly unbelievable he didn't destroy her diary after he read it, or even more to the point, keep it under lock and key for evidence.

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While I'm hating on Helen--the doctoring of booze to make her son sick was horrifying.
Yeah, that's not going to fly with a modern reader at all. I suppose the Methodists of the day applauded it as a tactic. But then, it was equally horrifying the way society thought that a five-year old should be drinking wine.

Going back to your first point, I initially thought this had pretensions to feminism, with Mrs. Markham's "all for the man" attitude and Rose's objections. But that was pretty much it.
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Old 11-16-2019, 12:02 PM   #21
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I thought Helen's return to nurse Arthur was flatly unbelievable. She had escaped from him with such difficulty, and he destroyed her first plan entirely, that I can't imagine she'd risk herself, and her son, by getting within his orbit again. Suppose he refused to let her leave? He could. Suppose he refused to let her take Arthur? He also could do that, legally. And that ridiculous statement she made him sign - he could easily have destroyed that.
All of can think of is that perhaps the readers of the time would have been so horrified to learn that Helen had left her husband, despite good reasons, that Bronte needed to rehabilitate her with that over-the-top saintliness at the end. She'd committed the grave "sin" of desertion, so she had to do penance for it by coming back to him.
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Old 11-16-2019, 02:11 PM   #22
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...And while I'm on the subject, it was flatly unbelievable he didn't destroy her diary after he read it, or even more to the point, keep it under lock and key for evidence.
Agreed - it was a stretch. It was also completely unbelievable that Gilbert would send such a deeply private document to his friend twenty years later.

I can see how the book would be considered feminist, judged within the time and culture that produced it. Helen had many flaws, but she was definitely a strong woman. She refused to allow her husband, the law and religious teaching to determine her fate. And it’s telling that Charlotte didn’t want it republished after Anne’s death, because she thought the subject matter unsuitable.

In terms of Helen’s return to her husband, it wasn’t consistent with Helen’s character, or the plot. But Catlady raises an interesting possibility; Bronte may have sent Helen back to stave off objections from readers, or even her sister Charlotte.

Or maybe Brontė’s own pious notions of duty got in the way, and she ‘needed’ Helen to try and save Arthur from damnation. Personally, I found the theological worldview of the book suffocating, and completely lacking in insight.

That said, I still found the book entertaining enough to want to see what happens, and was rooting for them to get together.

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Old 11-16-2019, 02:32 PM   #23
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Agreed - it was a stretch. It was also completely unbelievable that Gilbert would send such a deeply private document to his friend twenty years later.
I think he said he left out a few personal passages in copying it, but even the notion that he copied it strains credulity.

But worse than that, and one of the my major technical issues with the book, is that by her framing device, letters to a brother-in-law, Anne essentially revealed all her major plot points in advance! Halford would have known all the details of Gilbert's personal life. He reads the letters, knowing from the start, that Gilbert would end up married to Helen. And for the reader, that Gilbert has Helen's diary in his possession removes virtually all uncertainty.
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Old 11-16-2019, 04:36 PM   #24
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Yes, the whole thing of the letter-writing was a bad way to tell the story, for all the reasons issybird and others have mentioned.

In the Wikipedia article on the book, there is reference to a Mrs Collins, the wife of a local curate, coming to Haworth in 1840 to appeal for help from the rector, Anne’s father. The husband was an abusive alcoholic. Patrick Brontė advised her to leave her husband, which she did. So the requirements of society and the church might not have had such an influence on Anne in terms of Helen’s return to her husband, unless Anne thought the readership would expect such unbelievable behaviour.
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Old 11-16-2019, 05:24 PM   #25
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The structure was indeed odd. I was much more interested in Helen's diary than in whatever Gilbert was going on about. I can certainly see starting the story with the mysterious newcomer to build a bit of suspense, but Bronte chose a clunky way to do it.

Still, I liked this better than Jane Eyre, which I find atrocious; I hated Jane when it was assigned in high school and could not get through an attempted reread a few years ago.
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Old 11-16-2019, 05:53 PM   #26
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I have lots to say but not much time at the moment. I just got back from more traveling and have to work all weekend. My work schedule is super-stressful leading into the holidays.

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II am about halfway through Anne Bronte”s novel and so far I like it. However, despite the fact that it was enormously popular and outsold Wuthering Heights, I don’t think that (so far) it is in the class of the latter. But it is enjoyable and has flashes of genuine power.
Thanks for the information! I thought the same too. I highlighted a few quotes that I intended to share when I go back through my notes. I especially liked the integration of her nature descriptions into the story.

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Not only that; I thought it obvious how much she relied on her sisters' talents. This struck me as highly derivative. Even the title! Wildfell Hall has exactly the same meaning as Wuthering Heights and the same initials.
Don't forget al those "H" names too! I read a critical review that the work was not so much derivative of her sisters but more likely similar because they grew up writing stories together and that some elements from these fantastical works of childhood are incorporated into the various Brontė works.

Another thing about Anne's work is how much is biographical. I read Agnes Grey which is based on her experiences as a governess. Some of the characters in this book are modeled after her brother Branwell's problems with drugs/alcohol and having an affair with the mother of the family she was the governess at. Some of Helen's saintliness may have been inspired by an illness Anne had when she was young and feared to die and religion became much more important to her.

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My weak defense of the book is that I was entertained by it. It held my interest and I was happy enough to go on with it. Somewhat in the category of "good trash"; Anne's long apprenticeship with her sisters meant that the prose was serviceable as opposed to awful, although the book itself was a flat failure technically and in terms of characterization. The plotting was decent and certainly the subject matter was arresting.
I really enjoyed the book and found it entertaining despite its flaws. I liked the overall plot. It's different than other books from that era that I have read. I really liked how she tackled the effects of alcohol and how it can destroy families. I read that some of the plot and narrative technique was derivative of other works of the time period. I will see if I can find the list of examples and post more later.

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Old 11-17-2019, 11:05 AM   #27
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I found myself bemused by the way Brontė undercut her story by revealing all her plot points in advance, combined with Gilbert's being incredibly obtuse on the uptake. As mentioned upthread, Gilbert's correspondent being his brother-in-law Halford pulled a whole bunch of punches. Even from the start, when Gilbert described Eliza to him, we knew that he couldn't have ended up with her. So much possible tension and surprise was lost by casting the narrative as correspondence. I wonder if it's that the Brontės as a whole didn't feel comfortable writing in the third person? Jane Eyre's first person narration was fine (and Charlotte didn't feel the need to pretend it was a letter). Emily's unreliable narrator within an unreliable narrator was truly masterful and added a lot of dimension to Wuthering Heights. But the espistolary style was a distinct drawback in this book.

Add to that Gilbert's slowness on the uptake. Who didn't know from the start that Helen wasn't really a widow? That the concealed portrait was of her husband? That Frederick Lawrence was her brother? And there was the awkward business of Arthur's addressing Helen by her first name, when "Miss Lawrence" would have given the show away. Except that we knew, anyway, and the awkward device just emphasized this. The whole book I was just waiting for the reveal on various people and events that I knew were going to happen.

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Old 11-17-2019, 03:24 PM   #28
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.....Add to that Gilbert's slowness on the uptake. Who didn't know from the start that Helen wasn't really a widow? That the concealed portrait was of her husband? That Frederick Lawrence was her brother? And there was the awkward business of Arthur's addressing Helen by her first name, when "Miss Lawrence" would have given the show away. Except that we knew, anyway, and the awkward device just emphasized this. The whole book I was just waiting for the reveal on various people and events that I knew were going to happen.
Ditto. So all credit to A.B. that despite that lack of mystery, we enjoyed it and were engaged enough to keep reading and want to see events unfold.

However all the excellent critiques of the book’s structure, the author’s foretelling, etc, have me wondering about Charlotte’s reluctance to have the book republished after Anne’s death. I’ve read it was due to the subject matter, but maybe she was also concerned about the quality of the writing.
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Old 11-17-2019, 03:55 PM   #29
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Ditto. So all credit to A.B. that despite that lack of mystery, we enjoyed it and were engaged enough to keep reading and want to see events unfold.

However all the excellent critiques of the book’s structure, the author’s foretelling, etc, have me wondering about Charlotte’s reluctance to have the book republished after Anne’s death. I’ve read it was due to the subject matter, but maybe she was also concerned about the quality of the writing.
I think that is spot on Victoria. She knew it was a potboiler and thought it better to have it disappear quietly. The trouble was that apparently it was still available in the US.

It’s odd, isn’t it, that AB couldn’t see the value of a slow reveal by an omniscient third person narrator. Apart from anything else, the minute reporting of long conversations in both the letters and the journal were a bit hard to swallow.

Really, this is another of those rare books that are much better on film than on the page.
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Old 11-17-2019, 04:50 PM   #30
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It’s odd, isn’t it, that AB couldn’t see the value of a slow reveal by an omniscient third person narrator. Apart from anything else, the minute reporting of long conversations in both the letters and the journal were a bit hard to swallow.
It also would have saved Gilbert as a romantic hero, since the reader would have been spared his sneering commentary on his friends and his constant self-justification and aggrandizement.

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Really, this is another of those rare books that are much better on film than on the page.
Absolutely!
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