Bronteana: Bronte Studies Blog Archives

December 1, 2005

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Tenant of Wildfell Hall Month!

I am sure I have fallen behind the times, and become neglectful of announcing the LERO Brontë book reading months. I believe Wuthering Heights month has just passed us by- but I am in time to spread the word for Tenant of Wildfell Hall! If you haven't read the novel yet, there is no time like the present. I was introducted to the novel when I enrolled in the Victorian seminar at my university- which happily that year was explusively on the Brontës. We read Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and Shirley in that order. By the end of the course, Tenant had been declared the best of them all by the majority of the class, and a request was made for the instructor to include Agnes Grey as well, and to replace Jane Eyre with Villette the next time the course is taught. I read it with some unfortunate expectations. I was curious to know why Anne is so often treated slightly by academics and critics. She is certainly not the less loved than her sisters are by the readers! It would have been best not to have these ideas at the back of my mind, but I could not help it.

I was baffled. There was nothing lacking, in my opinion, in Tenant. There's a peculiar power which is evidenced in the work of all three sisters. I forget that I am reading sometimes. I intend to read it again as soon as I can find the time (not this month at least. As you have no doubt noticed, I have been quite busy lately). It seems to me that it begins strong, and remains a very engrossing book until near the end. There is something not quite solid about it on first glance. This might not necessarily be a criticism. Often when I stumble over something it more often than not points the way to something deeper happening beneath the surface of the narrative somewhere. A second reading might clear this up. Does anyone else have similar issues with the ending?

Tenant of Wildfell Hall is the only work by Anne Brontë to be adapted for film. In 1996 it was made into a three hour television movie. I believe it is currently out of print, which is a real shame. I have a first edition of 'Charlotte Bronte and her Circle'. The chapter on Anne is really unbelievable in the way it completely discredits her as a writer. I do not have it on hand, but the editor claims, in the introduction (it may even be the first sentence…) that it is a certainly that if it wasn't for her sisters, she and her works would be forgotten. In my humble opinion, an easy test of this claim is to imagine what we truly would have thought of her works if she had not had her sisters' works to compete with. Would they really be so uninteresting, so skilless?

Here is an interesting, although far too brief, article on the Critics of Wildfell Hall by Glen Downey.

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October 10, 2005

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Monsieur Heger sighting?

As I updated my blog, looking at the image from the UMaryland production of the Jane Eyre musical, a had a vague sense that I had seen this all somewhere before. It didn't really have time to bother me before I realised what was so familiar about the actor playing Mr Rochester- he looks like Constantin Heger. No really. See?

That's M. Constantin Heger on the left, and James Gardiner on the right (from the photo by Stan Barouh). The image on the left is a detail from a large photocopy a friend sent me of a portrait of the Heger family. M.Heger was Charlotte Brontë's teacher while she was studying abroad in Belgium at the Pensionnat Heger. It's my understanding that she based much of Mr Rochester's character on monsieur. They certainly both have a penchant for cigars and bonbons at any rate 😉 And it goes without saying that he is the model for the fabulous Paul Carlos Emmanuel, of Villette. I've always wanted to know more about him, but the books I have on hand have been printed in the 1890s and it looks like there had been some censorship going on. Over and over again it is asserted that Charlotte was never in love with the married Heger, but obviously many believed this was so. What the current evidence for either case is, I don't know not having any more recent works for comparison!

The 1970s Yorkshire TV mini-series The Brontes of Haworth certainly asserts that she was in love with Heger. So my guess is that the letters she wrote to him have been widely published, and I just haven't come in contact with them yet.

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