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Old 11-18-2019, 09:48 PM   #46
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Issybird, what about the G names too? I wonder if her assumed mother’s name of Graham shows the freedom of a future with Gilbert but also binds her to the past with Arthur at Grassdale!
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Old 11-18-2019, 10:03 PM   #47
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Issybird, what about the G names too? I wonder if her assumed mother’s name of Graham shows the freedom of a future with Gilbert but also binds her to the past with Arthur at Grassdale!
LOL! I also wondered about the name of "Helen," if in the Brontė juvenalia it was always applied to a saintly character. I kept thinking of the saintly Helen Burns in Jane Eyre. It is obvious that Anne didn't have a lot of originality when it came to names!
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Old 11-19-2019, 12:15 AM   #48
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Of course Arthur found her sanctimonious and oppressive because he was a degenerate and was not going to reform. He also had to blame someone besides himself for his bad behavior.
Oh dear. Since I also find her sanctimonious and oppressive ... !!!
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Old 11-19-2019, 03:13 AM   #49
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The world is conspiring to prevent me from finishing this book, but it will happen. In the meantime...

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I believed Helen to be a sincere character, striving to be saintly. She started out naive and learned life lessons through hard experience. I thought that her actions were driven genuinely by her Christian faith and perhaps was reflective of Anne’s own religious upbringing. When you read annotated versions you see many Biblical references in the Brontė works of all sisters. I don’t think Helen flaunted her moral superiority. I just think she was very pious and serious. She was trapped in a bad situation and was trying to rectify it within her Christian code of conduct in addition to society’s expectations. Of course Arthur found her sanctimonious and oppressive because he was a degenerate and was not going to reform. He also had to blame someone besides himself for his bad behavior.
I agree that the religious aspect is very important to this story. Anne/Helen would know that any (intrinsically male) interpretation of the Bible would (at its most mild) frown on Helen's behaviour. Her designated role is to be submissive to her husband - no extenuating circumstances, no ifs, buts or maybes. So the conflict that the oh-so-pious Helen faces is not just the mores of society in that time, but her own very strong religious beliefs.

That she finds a way to make her desires fit with her religious belief is not a surprise, but the struggle to get there feels realistic to me. (Even the long-windedness of it is realistic ).

As Catlady observes, and I agree, Arthur is not the only one to find Helen sanctimonious and oppressive. But, while it may not have been Anne's intention (if we presume she held beliefs similar to Helen's), I think this still works for the story. If anything it works better: Helen is an active participant in her own downfall. From the pride of:
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‘Is he a man of principle?’
‘Perhaps not, exactly; but it is only for want of thought. If he had some one to advise him, and remind him of what is right—’
she not only discovers she is inadequate to the task, but that the reverse has happened and she has brought about traits in herself that, as pious as she is, she must find galling. I find it a predictable, but quite well managed, transition from:
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‘Nor do I, aunt; but if I hate the sins, I love the sinner, and would do much for his salvation, even supposing your suspicions to be mainly true, which I do not and will not believe.’
to
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it is not enough to say that I no longer love my husband—I hate him! The word stares me in the face like a guilty confession, but it is true: I hate him—I hate him! But God have mercy on his miserable soul! and make him see and feel his guilt—I ask no other vengeance!
A very restrained vengeance it may be, but desire for vengeance it remains.

The religious constraints she is under - that she holds herself under - make her return to nurse Arthur (Snr) quite understandable. To be able to live with herself she must make amends for the sin of abandoning him in the first place; her own nature leaves her no other recourse.

I seriously doubt if this book was ever intentionally feminist - not if Anne's beliefs resemble Helen's in an way - but it does remain remarkable for what it elucidates about the situation for (upper class) women of the time, including the implicit prejudices that they hold for themselves: if there is any woman that is truly a "nonentity" (claimed for Miss Millward) in this story, it would have to be Rachel; such loyalty and devotion, but does Helen ever really notice her as a person?

Last edited by gmw; 11-19-2019 at 03:15 AM.
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Old 11-19-2019, 07:47 AM   #50
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Terrific post, gmw. I think I've been harshing overmuch. I still think the book is a failure technically (and a change in the narration to simple third person would have worked wonders, as Bookpossum noted), but I think the story is more successful and has more depth than I credited it (as Victoria said in regard to how it held our interest despite its flaws).

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That she finds a way to make her desires fit with her religious belief is not a surprise, but the struggle to get there feels realistic to me. (Even the long-windedness of it is realistic ).
This gibes with my reaction when I thought Helen was terribly gullible for far too long, but I also acknowledged how realistic that was, where the victim of abuse makes excuses and hopes against hope beyond any realistic expectation that things, or the abuser, will change, the more so in the face of the lack of alternatives. It's something people don't necessarily understand even now, "Why didn't she just leave?" they'll say, when the answer is, "It's complicated."

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A very restrained vengeance it may be, but desire for vengeance it remains.

The religious constraints she is under - that she holds herself under - make her return to nurse Arthur (Snr) quite understandable. To be able to live with herself she must make amends for the sin of abandoning him in the first place; her own nature leaves her no other recourse.

I seriously doubt if this book was ever intentionally feminist - not if Anne's beliefs resemble Helen's in an way - but it does remain remarkable for what it elucidates about the situation for (upper class) women of the time, including the implicit prejudices that they hold for themselves: if there is any woman that is truly a "nonentity" (claimed for Miss Millward) in this story, it would have to be Rachel; such loyalty and devotion, but does Helen ever really notice her as a person?
I had been thinking that there was a class element in this book that I didn't really recognize. The better class men were all reprobates, reformed or pure as the driven. You had to look to what for want of a better word I'll call the middle class to find people who could handle their drink. I wonder if that was a subliminal element for Anne, that of the noble gentleman farmer (Gilbert's father's comments about their calling come to mind). Even as I read it, I found Gilbert's willingness to work with his laborers in the field to be the single most likable thing about him. No false pride there, no matter how he behaved in people's parlors.

There's also the setting of the book, in the 1820s. A time of reaction to the excesses of the Regency era as the Hanover dynasty played out, leading up to the moral and religious revival of the Victorian era, when the book was written and when Gilbert set down to write to Halford. The dissolute gentry were the last gasp of wanton world, as a new order took place, where the noble farmer and family values took sway. Arthur's death was symbolic of that.
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Old 11-19-2019, 12:23 PM   #51
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I noticed last night that Amazon Prime has a three-part version of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, from the BBC; the brief summary for the third part says that Arthur kidnaps his son, precipitating Helen's return to him.

I guess the folks who wrote the screenplay agreed with many of us that it's hard to swallow Helen's voluntary return to her husband.
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Old 11-19-2019, 12:41 PM   #52
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I noticed last night that Amazon Prime has a three-part version of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, from the BBC; the brief summary for the third part says that Arthur kidnaps his son, precipitating Helen's return to him.

I guess the folks who wrote the screenplay agreed with many of us that it's hard to swallow Helen's voluntary return to her husband.
Crikey! That's a material change.

Really, what's the point? If something has to be altered that drastically to make it acceptable, shouldn't they just move on? We didn't need the Amazon Prime Video take on a minor classic. Are they that short of source material?

It's like Beaver and The Three Musketeers.
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Old 11-19-2019, 02:57 PM   #53
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I don't think it was necessarily inconsistent. I think it was a nice & tidy way to resolve the storyline consistent with the expectations of the reading public and morals of the era. It was already scandalous that Anne was writing about a woman who left her husband and that she portrayed the effects of alcohol so vividly and honestly. A women could not just get divorced and move on with life. A women could not just move on with another man in a non-married relationship without creating a scandal and damaging her reputation. Anne needed Arthur to die so that the marriage could be over, and Helen could legitimately move on. Having Helen return to Arthur after his injury allowed her to gain back respectability and fulfill her societal duty as a wife. She did extract from him a written promise that she could leave again with little Arthur in the future, such that she would not be perceived as "running away" and it would be respectable to society. She also couldn't just move on with Gilbert quickly after Arthur's death. She had to adhere to mourning customs.
Excellent points Bookwork_Girl! I was judging some of Helen’s behaviour through a modern lens, and didn’t give enough weight to mourning customs. And honestly, I completely missed the social significance of the agreement she made Arthur sign. I just thought of it in legal terms. Great catch!
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Old 11-19-2019, 03:08 PM   #54
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Crikey! That's a material change.

Really, what's the point? If something has to be altered that drastically to make it acceptable, shouldn't they just move on? We didn't need the Amazon Prime Video take on a minor classic. Are they that short of source material?

It's like Beaver and The Three Musketeers.
Can't blame Amazon, though--it's the BBC, which should have more respect for its own! I think it's from the mid-1990s. I am probably going to watch, just for the heck of it.
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Old 11-19-2019, 03:33 PM   #55
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I think that would be the version I saw way back, with Rupert Graves as Arthur and a very young looking Toby Stephens as Gilbert.
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Old 11-19-2019, 05:03 PM   #56
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I was a bit too brief earlier, as I meant to say more, but it was time to go out with the pooch.

I think the various points made above are good ones, and we understandably but wrongly look at the behaviours and attitudes of the characters through modern eyes.

It does seem to me though that Arthur would have been able to get that agreement he signed overturned by law, had he recovered. It is appalling to think just how unprotected by law women were back then. Saudi Arabia still seems to be like that, to give one modern example, but fortunately for us, things are much improved in our various countries, even though there are still some inequalities.

I think that Helen did appreciate and value Rachel very much. We see Rachel at first through Gilbert’s eyes, and of course to him she is “just” a servant. Though as issybird pointed out, Gilbert did work alongside his farm labourers, so he was a bit more egalitarian than many at the time.
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Old 11-19-2019, 09:46 PM   #57
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LOL! I also wondered about the name of "Helen," if in the Brontė juvenalia it was always applied to a saintly character. I kept thinking of the saintly Helen Burns in Jane Eyre. It is obvious that Anne didn't have a lot of originality when it came to names!
I wonder if that is why Anne chose the name Helen for little Arthur's wife. Helen is the daughter of friend Millicent (a good person who also made a poor marriage choice) and Mr. Hattersley (the degenerate who made a true reformation from his bad behavior to decent husband and father). The tidy ending means that little Arthur has to marry someone worthy and have the happy and loving marriage that his parents didn't have. (Besides the obvious Millicent selected the name in honor of her friend.)
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Old 11-19-2019, 09:53 PM   #58
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I wonder if that is why Anne chose the name Helen for little Arthur's wife. Helen is the daughter of friend Millicent (a good person who also made a poor marriage choice) and Mr. Hattersley (the degenerate who made a true reformation from his bad behavior to decent husband and father). The tidy ending means that little Arthur has to marry someone worthy and have the happy and loving marriage that his parents didn't have. (Besides the obvious Millicent selected the name in honor of her friend.)
Good point! I had forgotten that the child was another Helen. Mind you, that is a bit reminiscent of Heathcliff's son and Cathy's daughter marrying - I think I am remembering that rightly? - and so resolving the unhappiness of the previous generation. (It's a very long time since I read Wuthering Heights and confess I haven't looked it up to check.)
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Old 11-19-2019, 10:06 PM   #59
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Good point! I had forgotten that the child was another Helen. Mind you, that is a bit reminiscent of Heathcliff's son and Cathy's daughter marrying - I think I am remembering that rightly? - and so resolving the unhappiness of the previous generation. (It's a very long time since I read Wuthering Heights and confess I haven't looked it up to check.)
Not quite. Catherine Linton and Linton Heathcliff married, but only because Heathcliff held young Catherine against her will until she agreed. Young Linton was a miserable fellow and it was an unhappy but fortunately short marriage, as Linton was sickly. It was on Catherine's subsequent union with Hareton Earnshaw, son of Catherine the Elder's brother Hindley, that happiness ensued.

(Don't mind me. I pretty much memorized Wuthering Heights when I was a girl.)
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Old 11-19-2019, 10:11 PM   #60
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I had been thinking that there was a class element in this book that I didn't really recognize. The better class men were all reprobates, reformed or pure as the driven. You had to look to what for want of a better word I'll call the middle class to find people who could handle their drink. I wonder if that was a subliminal element for Anne, that of the noble gentleman farmer (Gilbert's father's comments about their calling come to mind). Even as I read it, I found Gilbert's willingness to work with his laborers in the field to be the single most likable thing about him. No false pride there, no matter how he behaved in people's parlors.

There's also the setting of the book, in the 1820s. A time of reaction to the excesses of the Regency era as the Hanover dynasty played out, leading up to the moral and religious revival of the Victorian era, when the book was written and when Gilbert set down to write to Halford. The dissolute gentry were the last gasp of wanton world, as a new order took place, where the noble farmer and family values took sway. Arthur's death was symbolic of that.
Great insight! Your words have given me some ideas that aren't fully formed yet. I do think there was a class element - not just subliminal but intentional. Perhaps Anne's execution of the narration technique has prevented us from realizing it. Here are my rough thoughts.

Gentleman like Arthur and his friends were perceived to be not just financially but morally superior in this time period compared to middle and lower classes. Anne was criticized for showcasing their terrible behavior so honestly.

Gilbert was not of the same class as Arthur or Helen too. He is concerned that Helen cannot marry him because her friends won't approve. However she believes he is worthy of marriage becaush she is more concerned about his moral character than his social standing.

I've just realized that the book is split roughly equal between Gilbert Letters Part 1 @ 25%, Helen Diary @ 50% and Gilbert Letters Part 2 @ 25%. I have been focused on the book as being about mostly Helen. However, with Gilbert narrating 1/2 of the book maybe his character has a greater significance (besides convenient narrator) than we realized.

When Gilbert starts writing to Halford at the beginning of the book, it's the 1840s and we get the impression that he is a gentleman. The tale that is told in Gilbert Letters Part 1 emphasizes the youth and immaturity of Gilbert, such as succumbing to the gossip of the community to falsely perceive "truth" and his terrible treatment of Lawrence and others. The tale that is told in Gilbert Letters Part 2 is about his growth in maturity and recognizing (mostly) the errors of his ways in Part 1. So, we are witnessing a transformation in Gilbert too between these 2 parts and that's what makes him worthy of marriage to Helen. In Part 1 you wouldn't have been convinced that Helen deserves him as a match, but in Part 2 it is more acceptable has he proves himself changed by developing a friendly relationship with Lawrence and respecting Helen's wishes to let her be. So this middle class farmer has a better character than the noble gentlemen in the stories. In that way he marries Helen and achieves a gentleman status like the impression we get in the beginning of the book.
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