Review: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

Although Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre have always been two of my favourite Victorian classics, this is the first time I’ve read anything by the youngest Bronte sister, Anne. I feel a bit guilty that it has taken me so long to get round to reading one of Anne’s books, especially as I enjoyed it almost as much as the other two books I’ve just mentioned.

Anne’s writing style is not the same as Charlotte’s or Emily’s – there’s less dramatic romanticism and poetic imagery, although she still writes with a lot of passion. She has quite a sharp style that is probably more similar to Jane Austen than to either of her sisters.

I won’t go into the plot in too much detail but The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is the story of Helen Huntingdon, a young woman who leaves her alcoholic husband and goes into hiding with her five year-old son, Arthur. Not long after arriving at Wildfell Hall she meets local farmer, Gilbert Markham, who falls in love with her. When Gilbert questions her about the rumours circulating about her in the village, she allows him to read her diary in which she had recorded the details of her unhappy marriage.

The book has an interesting structure – it’s told partly in the form of letters from Gilbert Markham to his brother-in-law Jack Halford, and partly as extracts from Helen Huntingdon’s diary. I loved the first section from Gilbert’s point of view, describing the arrival of the mysterious woman at Wildfell Hall with everyone wondering who she was and where she came from. The story probably wouldn’t have worked had it not been set in the 19th century. Today there’s nothing unusual in a single mother living alone with her little boy, but in 1828 when The Tenant of Wildfell Hall takes place, it makes her the target of gossip and scandal.

When Helen’s diary began it took me a while to get used to the change of voice and the change of pace but it soon developed into the most powerful section of the book. I didn’t particularly like Helen as I thought she was just a little bit too saintly and perfect, but she was a very strong person who defied convention to do what she thought was best for herself and her child. Her diary entries are filled with descriptions of some really despicable characters and describe scenes of drunkenness, violence, verbal and physical abuse, and adultery, which I can imagine readers in the 19th century would have been shocked by. Apparently after Anne’s death, re-publication of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was prevented by Charlotte, who considered the choice of subject to be a big mistake. However, I would have no hesitation recommending this book to anyone who has enjoyed Emily and Charlotte’s work, as well as those of you who have never read any other Bronte books.

Note: This book counts towards the Women Unbound Reading Challenge because it portrays a woman who has the strength to leave her abusive husband and build a new life, working as an artist to support herself and her son – almost unheard of in the 19th century.

Highly Recommended

Genre: Classics/Page: 401/Publisher: Wordsworth Classics/Year: 1996 – first published 1848/Source: My own copy bought new

New Book Arrival: Alice I Have Been

I won Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin in a giveaway at The Book Whisperer. Thanks Boof!

[From Goodreads]
“Alice Liddell Hargreaves’s life has been a richly woven tapestry: As a young woman, wife, mother, and widow, she’s experienced intense passion, great privilege, and greater tragedy. But as she nears her eighty-first birthday, she knows that, to the world around her, she is and will always be only “Alice.” Her life was permanently dog-eared at one fateful moment in her tenth year–the golden summer day she urged a grown-up friend to write down one of his fanciful stories.

That story, a wild tale of rabbits, queens, and a precocious young child, becomes a sensation the world over. Its author, a shy, stuttering Oxford professor, does more than immortalize Alice–he changes her life forever. But even he cannot stop time, as much as he might like to. And as Alice’s childhood slips away, a peacetime of glittering balls and royal romances gives way to the urgent tide of war.

For Alice, the stakes could not be higher, for she is the mother of three grown sons, soldiers all. Yet even as she stands to lose everything she treasures, one part of her will always be the determined, undaunted Alice of the story, who discovered that life beyond the rabbit hole was an astonishing journey.

A love story and a literary mystery, Alice I Have Been brilliantly blends fact and fiction to capture the passionate spirit of a woman who was truly worthy of her fictional alter ego, in a world as captivating as the Wonderland only she could inspire.”

Review: The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye

The term ‘sweeping epic’ is used so often it’s become a cliché, but it’s actually an accurate description of The Far Pavilions. M. M. Kaye takes us on a journey across 19th century India and Afghanistan, during which we witness some of the major turning points in the history of those two countries.

Ashton Pelham-Martyn is born in India, the son of British professor Hilary Pelham-Martyn and his wife Isobel. When both of his parents die within a few years of each other, the four year-old Ash is brought up by Sita, the wife of his father’s Hindu groom, unaware that he is not actually Indian. Several years later, after Sita’s death, Ash learns the truth about his birth and is sent to school in England. Eventually he returns to India to serve in the British army, but finds that his loyalties are torn between his Indian friends and the members of his regiment. The Far Pavilions is the story of Ash’s struggle to find his identity.

At the heart of the story is a forbidden romance between Ash and the Hindu princess, Anjuli. However, that’s only one aspect of the book. Non-romance fans will enjoy the action and adventure, descriptions of military life or simply learning more about 19th century British-ruled India. Most of the battles and other historical events mentioned in the book did actually take place and several of the characters, such as Walter Hamilton and Louis Cavagnari, were real historical figures – you may find it interesting to do some research as you read.

Of all the historical fiction books I’ve read, this is one of the most detailed and well researched. Whilst reading this book I’ve learned a huge amount about 19th century British India, from the names of mountains and rivers, details of battles and mutinies, facts about Hindu and Islamic culture, right down to the various types of flora and fauna. We encounter a large number of Indian words and phrases (most are explained either directly in the text or in the glossary at the back of the book) which feels natural and adds to the authenticity of the story. M. M. Kaye spent a lot of time living in India which explains how she was able to write so convincingly about the country and its people. It’s also interesting that although the author was British, she uses various characters in the novel to explore conflicting opinions on whether British rule was a good or a bad thing for India.

At more than 950 pages it does sometimes feel as if the book will never end, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing because it’s one of those books that pulls you into the story so much that you don’t really want to reach the last page and leave behind the characters you’ve spent so much time with. However, the main storyline comes to a natural end at around page 700 and the book could easily have finished at this point in my opinion. The final 200 or so pages deal with the Second Anglo-Afghan War which is still interesting to read about but could have been the subject of a separate book.

The Far Pavilions is one of my all-time favourite historical fiction novels.

Highly Recommended

Genre: Historical Fiction/Pages: 960/Publisher: Penguin/Year: 1978/Source: My own copy bought newThis review is part of my Great Books series.

2010 Blog Improvement Project: Week 1

I’ve decided to take part in the 2010 Blog Improvement Project. I know there are plenty of areas in which my blog needs improving and I’m hoping that participating in the BIP will give me some ideas and inspiration.

How does the BIP work?

On the first and third Monday of every month, a new activity will be posted on the BIP blog. Each participant can then spend the next two weeks working on that task or challenge.

Week 1: Create a Blogging To-Do List

After spending some time thinking about what I would like to achieve this year, in terms of improving the quality of my blog, here is a list of things I want to focus on.

  • Comments – I’ll try to include more questions at the end of posts to encourage people to comment more. I have a few ideas for other ways in which visitors could interact too. I also need to comment on other blogs more often and get more involved in the blogging community.
  • Navigation – Now that Blogger allows us to create permanent pages (in a similar way to WordPress) it means there are more options as far as navigation is concerned, so I could add an About page, Awards page etc.
  • Frequency of posts – One of my biggest problems is finding time, so I want to be better organised and have more posts written in advance. Also, I’d like to be more consistent – there are some weeks where I manage to post almost every day, but other weeks there are three or four days between posts.
  • Quality of posts – At the moment, I have book reviews and the occasional meme or challenge post. I would like to include more original content and other types of posts to add some variety.
  • Labels – This was one of the areas I worked on during Bloggiesta last month, but I will continue to delete labels or add new ones whenever I think it’s necessary.
  • Social Media – I will try to use Twitter for more than just announcing new blog posts (I use twitterfeed which does this automatically). I also want to learn about other social media tools. I’d appreciate any advice on this – which ones are worth using and which aren’t?

As the year progresses I know I’ll probably think of other things I want to improve on, but this list is a good starting point.

Fiendish Fridays #3: Biju Ram

Fiendish Fridays is hosted here at She Reads Novels, profiling some of our favourite literary villains. You can see a complete list of previous Fiends and suggest one of your own here.

This week’s Fiend comes from one of my current reads – The Far Pavilions.

#3 – Friday 5 February 2010: Biju Ram

Name: Biju Ram (also known as Bichchhu-ji – the scorpion)

Appears in: The Far Pavilions by M.M. Kaye

Who is he? Although he is officially an attendant of Lalji, the young heir to the throne of Gulkote, it is believed that Biju Ram is working for Lalji’s stepmother, the scheming Janoo-Rani.

What is he like? He wears a single diamond earring in one ear and has a distinctive giggling laugh.

What makes him a Friday Fiend? He has been an enemy of our hero, Ashton, for many years. As a child Ash was the target of his practical jokes and cruel comments. Biju Ram is also involved in two assassination plots (I won’t tell you if they were successful or not) and probably responsible for at least one murder.

Redeeming features: None. We see Biju Ram only from Ash’s point of view and Ash sees only the bad side of his character.

Teaser Tuesday: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. The rules:

* Grab your current read
* Open to a random page
* Share two teaser sentences from somewhere on that page (avoiding spoilers)

I’m currently reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte and probably won’t be finished until the weekend – so in the meantime, enjoy this teaser!

“The next minute saw me hurrying with rapid strides in the direction of Wildfell Hall – to what intent or purpose I could scarcely tell, but I must be moving somewhere, and no other goal would do – I must see her too, and speak to her – that was certain; but what to say, or how to act, I had no definite idea. Such stormy thoughts – so many different resolutions crowded in upon me, that my mind was little better than a chaos of conflicting passions.”

p.78 “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” by Anne Bronte

NaJuReMoNoMo – Challenge Complete

National Just Read More Novels Month 2010 (also known as NaJuReMoNoMo) ends today. The challenge was hosted by yellojkt of Foma and the idea was to read some novels (as opposed to non-fiction, memoirs etc) during the month of January.

The books I read in January were:

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
Madame Verona Comes Down the Hill by Dimitri Verhulst
The Divine Sacrifice by Tony Hays
The End of the Alphabet by CS Richardson
Spring Bear by Betsy Connor Bowen

That’s 5 books which means I’m a Silver Winner.

Silver Winner