With this book, I think a certain degree of patience is required. It starts off slowly, but little by little, this somewhat shocking (for its time) book reveals its secrets.
Helen Huntingdon has escaped the clutches of her violent alcoholic husband, taking with her her young son who she hopes to save from his father’s influence. This book seems to be following two viewpoints. We have the viewpoint of the main narrator, Gilbert Markham, a gentleman farmer, who falls in love with Helen.
We then have the second viewpoint, of Helen herself told from the point of view of diaries written around the time she got married to her first husband, the violent Arthur Huntingdon, when she was eighteen and her many futile attempts to change him for the better. To be frank, he seems to be a bit of a git. I lost patience many times in the early pages with this book but I think sustained interest and perseverance is needed to appreciate the book as one of the first feminist novels ever written. Anne Bronte clearly showed balls in writing this.
Anne was famously contemtuous of Jane Austen’s work and in this she pulls no punches. The characters do not pay witty compliments and calls. They don’t ask for dance favours and bicker about a man’s fortune. Her book reaches the dark side of human perspective. Even I, as a reader, felt threatened by Arthur Huntingdon’s manner of indifference and cruelty, especially when he threw books at a dog for no other reason than the animal being in his line of fire at the time. I think Anne also wants us to question Helen’s reasons for returning to nurse her ailing husband when he is injured and eventually dies later on in the story.
Obviously, the book ends happily and the characters are total gems. What I love about this book is that it gives the reader some clues about the fates of the characters, dropping enough clues but not telling us outright how a character ends up. If you want to read this book, then push through it despite whatever misgivings you have about the book’s pacing.
MY RATING: 4 / 5.