A mysterious young widow arrives at Wildfell Hall, an Elizabethan mansion which has been empty for many years, with her young son and servant. She lives there in strict seclusion under the assumed name Helen Graham and very soon finds herself the victim of local slander. Refusing to believe anything scandalous about her, Gilbert Markham, a young farmer, discovers her secrets. May Sinclair, in 1912, said that the slamming of Helen's bedroom door against her husband reverberated throughout Victorian England. In escaping her husband, Helen violates not only social conventions, but also English law.
Anne Brontë, daughter of a poor Irish clergyman in the Church of England, lived most of her life with her family at the parish of Haworth on the Yorkshire moors. For a couple of years she went to a boarding school. At the age of 19 she left Haworth and worked as a governess between 1839 and 1845. After leaving her teaching position, she fulfilled her literary ambitions. She wrote a volume of poetry with her sisters (Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, 1846) and two novels. Agnes Grey, based upon her experiences as a governess, was published in 1847. Her second and last novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which is considered to be one of the first sustained feminist novels, appeared in 1848. Anne's life was cut short when she died of pulmonary tuberculosis at the age of 29.
Sharpe's London Magazine, 1848 — One word as to the authorship of this novel. At the first glance we should say, none but a man could have known so intimately each vile, dark fold of the civilised brute's corrupted nature; none but a man could make so daring an exhibition as this book presents to us. On the other hand, no man, we should imagine, would have written a work in which all the women, even the worst, are so far superior in every quality, moral and intellectual, to all the men; no man would have made his sex appear at once coarse, brutal, and contemptibly weak, at once disgusting and ridiculous.
May Sinclair, The Three Brontës, 1912 - There was, in this smallest and least considerable of the Brontës, an immense, a terrifying audacity. Charlotte was bold, and Emily was bolder; but this audacity of Anne's was greater than Charlotte's boldness or than Emily's, because it was willed, it was deliberate, open-eyed; it had none of the superb unconsciousness of genius. Anne took her courage in both hands when she sat down to write The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
George Moore, Conversations in Ebury Street, 1924 — You were good enough to remind me a few moments age that I read you some lines from a paper I was writing about Miss Austen, and you complimented me even to the extent of remembering my words, that in Sense and Sensibility we find the burning human heart in English prose narrative for the first and the last time. When I read you those few lines The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was a dim memory going back more than fifty years—a child’s appreciation of a book he got from his governess. But on reading it again I said: The farmer goes to the Hall consumed by the same almost animal emotion that consumed Marianne when she went up to London in search of Willoughby.