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Synopsis

It is autumn of 1827 when a woman named Helen Graham moves into the deserted, stately moorland manor Wildfell Hall with her young son. The neighbors take immediate notice of this awkward circumstance, and she is subjected to their jealousy and the idle rumor they spread. They discover she is escaping a brutish marriage and has taken an assumed name to prevent her husband finding her. She must unchain herself and her son physically and emotionally from his roguish influence and earn a living. The imaginative power and realism of these characters involved in marital hostilities urge the reader to view the far-reaching aspects of their struggle with a more compassionate understanding. The husband she left, Arthur Huntingdon, was a selfish womanizer who only wanted to satiate his own desires. Even though Helen offered to help him turn his life around, he had no wish to give up his drunkenness or adultery. At last Helen grew to despise him as much as she once loved him. But when she witnessed his attempts to make his son a chip off the old block, her motherly duties overrode her responsibilities as a wife, and with the help of her brother she runs away to the obscurity of a small town. Here she meets Gilbert Markham who falls in love with her and requests her hand in marriage. She refuses him and offers an explanation by supplying him with references to her journals and letters that will eventually convince him of the desperation of her married life. As the plot advances and mysteries unwind, what Gilbert and Helen say--and also what they don't say--gives the reader access to Bronte's scourging accusation of the sexual ambiguities of 19th century Britain. And even though they are often unaware of their insensitive reactions to their own beliefs, they realize they love each other. When Arthur Huntingdon dies, they are finally allowed to marry.

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