The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

1848 novel by Anne Brontë

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is the second and final novel by English author Anne Brontë, published in 1848 under the pseudonym Acton Bell. Story framed as a letter from Gilbert Markham to his friend and brother-in-law. He writes about events leading to his meeting his wife. It is a classic of English literature.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Title-page of the first edition, 1848
AuthorAnne Brontë (as "Acton Bell")
CountryUnited Kingdom
PublisherThomas Cautley Newby
Publication date
June 1848
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
Pages3 vols., 492, ?, ?

Plot change

Part One (Chapters 1 to 15)

Gilbert Markham writes about a young widow, Mrs Graham, who arrives at the old mansion, named Wildfell Hall with her small son and a servant. Gilbert is at first interested in Eliza Millward, the vicar's younger daughter. He casually courts her, even though his mother does not like her.

Mrs Graham does not want to talk about her life with her new neighbours, so they decided that she did something wrong in her past. Gilbert then becomes close to her, and falls in love with her. Eliza then spreads rumours about when she realises Gilbert is interested in Mrs Graham. The rumor is that she is having an affair with her landlord, Frederick Lawrence (who is actually her brother). At a chance meeting on a road, Gilbert strikes Lawrence, who was on a horse, with a whip handle, causing him to fall from his horse. Though she is unaware of this attack, Helen Graham still refuses to marry Gilbert, but when he accuses her of loving Lawrence she gives him her diaries.

Part Two (Chapters 16 to 44)

In her diary, Helen writes about a man, Arthur Huntingdon, courting her. Huntingdon is witty and handsome. She falls in love with him. Despite her aunt warning her of his bad character, she still marries him and plans to reform him.

After Helen is married, she realises Huntingdon is an alcoholic and he spends some of his time away in London. He and his friends drink a lot of alcohol and behave themmselves badly. Before marrying Helen, Huntingdon flirts with Annabella Wilmot. After her marriage, Helen once encounters Huntingdon flirting with Annabella, who is married to Lord Lowborough.

After the birth of their son, also named Arthur, he is jealous of their son's claims on Helen's attentions and affections. Walter Hargrave, the brother of Helen's friend Milicent Hargrave, courts Helen. He is an unwelcome admirer. He informs Helen of Arthur's affair with Lady Lowborough. When his friends depart, Arthur is sad openly for his lover's departure and hates his wife, but will not give her a divorce.

When he begins to make their son drink alcohol, and teaches him to say bad words, Helen decides to run away from him. She plans to flee to save her son, but her husband learns of her plans from by reading her diary and burns the artist's tools with which she had hoped to support herself. After support from her brother, Frederick Lawrence, she leaves Grassdale and secretly comes to live at Wildfell Hall.

Part Three (Chapters 45 to 53)

After Gilbert reading the diaries, Helen bids Gilbert to leave her because she is cannot marry. He complies. He learns that Helen had left Wildfell Hall, when she learns that her husband is very sick. She takes care of him, but he still died.

After a year passes, Gilbert hears a rumour of Helen's impending wedding. When he arrived at the wedding, he only found that Mr Lawrence, with whom he has reconciled, is marrying Helen's friend Esther Hargrave. Gilbert goes to Grassdale, and discovers that Helen is now wealthy. He travels there, but is anxious that she is now far above his social position. By chance he sees Helen, her aunt and young Arthur. The two lovers marry. They lead a happy life and have at least two children together.

Characters change

Helen Huntingdon (maiden nameː Helen Lawrence, aliasː Helen Graham)

She is the protagonist of the novel and the tenant of the title. Wildfell Hall is the place where she and her brother were born. After their mother's death she goes to live with their aunt and uncle at Staningley Manor, while her brother, Frederick, remains with their father. Helen has maintained an close relationship with her brother and later he helps her to escape from her abusive husband. The character of Helen Graham was probably inspired by Anna Isabella Milbanke, the wife of Lord Byron. Like Anna, Helen firstly believed that reforming her husband's behaviour was her religious duty. Despite disapointment, both women retained their Universalist faith. [1]

Master Arthur Huntingdon

Five years old at the beginning of the book, the son of Arthur Huntingdon and Helen. He looks like his uncle, Frederick, which gives rise to gossip. He is grown up by the time of Gilbert's letter to Jack Halford, and is lives at Grassdale Manor with his wife, Helen Hattersley (the daughter of Milicent Hargrave and Ralph Hattersley).

Margaret "Peggy" Maxwell

Helen's aunt, tries to warn her against marrying Huntingdon. She dies several years after Helen's and Gilbert's marriage.

Frederick Lawrence, Helen's brother, helps her to escape from Huntingdon and lends her money. As he and Helen grew up apart and only met in Staningley or Grassdale, no one guessed that the secretive Mrs Graham is actually Frederick's sister. Eventually he marries Esther Hargrave. Being in mourning for her husband, Helen is forced to miss her brother's wedding.

Arthur Huntingdon

Helen's abusive and alcoholic husband, is a Byronic figure. His abusive behaviour makes Helen to run away from him, but when he becomes ill (after the injury from falling from a horse when drunk), Helen returns to Grassdale to take care of him. When he does not want to stop drinking alcohol, Huntingdon eventually dies.

Annabella Wilmot (later Lady Lowborough)

Arthur Huntingdon's lover, is flirtatious, and beautiful. She has an affair with Arthur Huntingdon for a few years. Helen is forced to cope with the affair, but when Annabella's husband finds out about it, he gets a divorce. Gilbert says he hears that after Annabella moves to Europe, she falls into poverty and dies destitute and alone, but says he cannot be sure if this is true or a rumour.

Lord Lowborough

A friend of Huntingdon's. He is also Annabella's devoted husband. Sad and gloomy, he is in contrast to Huntingdon. He used to gamble and drink too much alcohol and developed an addiction to opium, but gradually improves himself. Lowborough truly loves Annabella, and her infidelity brings him such suffering that only his Christian faith and strong will keep him from suicide. Later he divorces her and after some time marries a plain middle-aged woman, who makes a good wife to him and a stepmother to his children.

Ralph Hattersley

A friend of Huntingdon's, marries Milicent because he wants a quiet wife who will let him do what he likes with no word complaint. He mistreats his wife. "I sometimes think she has no feeling at all; and then I go on until she cries – and that satisfies me," he tells Helen. But after he reforms himself he becomes a loving husband and father.

Gilbert Markham

A twenty-four-year-old farmer, is the main narrator in the novel. He shows jealousy and anger, but during the course of the novel he grows morally and proves to be worthy of Helen.

Fergus Markham

Gilbert's seventeen-year-old brother, often tries but fails to be witty.

Rose Markham

A clever and pretty girl of ninteen, is Gilbert's younger sister and a friend of the Millward sisters. She becomes the wife of Jack Halford, to whom Gilbert is writing in letters what happened 20 years ago in his youth.

Jane Wilson

A friend of Eliza Millward and a scandalmonger, tries to marry Frederick Lawrence, but when Gilbert reveals to him her hatred of Frederick's sister Helen, Frederick breaks off their relationship. As no man she meets fits her high standards, she moves to a nearby country town, friendless and, according to Helen, becomes a spinster.

Eliza Millward

The younger daughter of the vicar and friend of Jane Wilson, loves gossip. Gilbert carries on a half-serious flirtation with her before he first meets Helen.

Walter Hargrave

A friend of Arthur Huntingdon's, is a admirer of Helen while she is still living with her husband. He is a cousin of Annabella Wilmot.

Milicent Hargrave

A quiet woman married to Ralph Hattersley against her will. She is Walter's sister and Helen's close friend. Helen leaves Arthur with her beloved son in tow, while Milicent says that she is "really contented" with her husband and "would not exchange [him] for any man on earth". At length, Ralph finally reforms himself and Milicent finds happiness in marriage.

Esther Hargrave

The younger sister of Milicent and Walter, and Helen's friend, is cheerful and independent. She resists an arranged marriage her family tries to force her into and eventually marries Helen's brother, Frederick Lawrence


A servant and friend of Helen and her son, has taken care of Helen since her birth.

Other works by Anne Brontë change

References change

  1. Franklin, Caroline (2012-09-10). The Female Romantics. Routledge. doi:10.4324/9780203103616. ISBN 978-0-203-10361-6.

Other websites change