‘Bleak House’, my second literary trip with Charles Dickens

Although I had considered buying Thomas Hardy’s novels I ended up putting ‘Bleak House’ in my bag last Friday. I had really wanted to buy Hardy’s lesser-known novels but when I read the first page of ‘Bleak House’ I somehow loved it. I thought I had to broaden my reading horizon, meaning that I shouldn’t read only romance novels.

Therefore, I bought ‘Bleak House’ instead of Hardy’s ‘Two on A Tower’ or ‘Desperate Remedies’. After all, I had completely enjoyed the love story between Helen Graham and Gilbert Markham in ‘Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ that I thought that day I had to embrace heavier topics. And so my choice was ‘Bleak House’.

I didn’t Google what the novel was all about prior to the purchase. I just once heard the title. And it has turned out the novel is indeed super rich. I even can feel the weight of its content upon my brain at the moment. The thing is Dickens puts so many information within a book. You can find a lot of characters carrying different stories in a novel. And each of it signifies serious problems, deep concerns upon social or legal affairs.

And so is ‘Bleak House’. As I compose this post, I am still far away from the ending of the book but my brain has complained of receiving too many stories. Thankfully, I told myself to be really patient when it comes to read Dickens’ books before buying ‘Bleak House’ so whenever my heart wanted to stop my brain whispered it then said, “hi, be patient”.

Apart from the severe themes in ‘Bleak House’, I am grateful that, at least for now, the book isn’t as heartbreaking as ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’. Hence, I don’t have to deal with a sort of emotional fight while reading the book unlike my experiences with Nell Trent, which is completely sorrowful.

So well, that’s the introduction of my second reading journey with Dickens. I’ll update in this blog what I find, feel and think about ‘Bleak House’. Till then, let’s read again!

 

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Helen Graham and Anne Bronte’s views on marriage and religion

When Arthur Huntingdon is dying at his bed, he asks for Helen’s motives taking care of him. He wishes to know if she does it all to comply with the Bible then for the sake of heaven. Although he conveys his messages when he is furious and frustrated with his deteriorating health, his questions shatter a quite religious person like I.

The questions make me as a reader and a religious person to think what drives people to get married. Is it because of love? Is it because of implementing one of the religion’s teachings? Is it because of wanting to get a heaven in the hereafter?

When the novel comes out, controversy emerges. The traits of Helen Graham are very brave, for a modern reader for me, but probably not for readers in the 19th century. Her decisions to leave her unfaithful, cruel husband prove to have stirred a controversy at that time. In Islam, no matter what happens, either wives or husbands are strongly advised to remain at home. They should talk and solve their problems under the same roofs. But after trying so damn hard to fix things yet to no avail, should Helen stay?

She chooses to leave the house as I and may be some modern readers wish her to do. I am so relieved coming to the part when she eventually gets rid of the mansion and the disgusting husband. But is this step acceptable at that time? In the era when marriage is so strictly-regulated, getting divorce is considered as a social taboo. Husbands are way superior to wives in terms of finance and social status. Thus, Helen’s decision of leaving the house when things get unbearable, baffle public at that time.

Another topic that I like from this book is when Helen has to choose between Arthur and Mr. Boarham. This one is so common. Which reasons that will be your considerations? One who is so attractive yet ill-mannered or another one who is much older than you are, not handsome but very decent and a gentleman.

And again, Helen’s steps resonates my thoughts. If I were her, I’d go for Arthur because it’s impossible to get married without any love at all. Whether the decisions will prove your choice is wrong or right, better put focus on the consequences. And Helen does this wonderfully. She takes full responsibility whatever outcomes are in store for her. Through pain, anger, frustration, she eventually goes through it all. She is a very ideal fictitious character whose story won’t ever age.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Summary of ‘Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ (1848)

A new, mysterious widow becomes the source of talks and gossips among residents living nearby Wildfell Hall, an old, elegant mansion, closed to Linden-Car village. The arrival of Mrs. Helen Graham surprises among others is the family of Markham, who owns and runs the Linden-Car Farm because she is cold, beautiful, young, and quiet person. No one knows much on why she lives there along with her only son, Arthur, and her servant, Rachel. The secluded, vacant life in the mansion that becomes her option raises more questions.

Twenty-four year old Gilbert Markham, who chiefly operates the farm, is intrigued with this woman story told by his sister, Rose, and his mother when they come all together for a family dinner. Curious Gilbert sets a hunting trip with a dog around the mansion. Suddenly, he catches a boy who almost falls down chasing the dog. Gilbert helps this kid from falling down the wall. His mother shouts for him, there Gilbert and Mrs. Graham finally meets. A strange feeling comes upon him after the brief encounter. He can’t tell why.

Before the meeting, Gilbert likes Eliza Millward but a number of occasions pave his way to know Mrs. Graham even more. When his crush on the widow gets bigger and bigger, rumors are up in the air. Eliza, who is already suspicious on the closeness of Gilbert and Mrs. Graham, tells her former beau about the rumor. People suspect that Arthur, the widow’s son, is the child of Mrs. Graham and Frederick Lawrence, a young and rich farmer who owns the mansion, given the facial likeliness between the two.

Driven by his jealousy, Gilbert acts harshly toward Mr. Lawrence until one day he beats him up till he’s dying on the ground. On the other hand, Gilbert continues approaching Mrs. Graham but hasn’t told her about the rumors. Gilbert hasn’t declared his love for her, too, because Mrs. Graham seems trying to take a distance from him and wanting to regard their relation as mere friendship.

Wild Gilbert attempts to clear Mrs. Graham’s good reputation and dash away people’s bad perspectives about her, including from his own family. One night he gets his own battle goes wrongly. At least for the time being. He sees Mrs. Graham looks intimate with Mr. Lawrence on the day when she is about to tell him the truth. Mrs. Graham and Mr. Lawrence speak loving words to each other. Gilbert thinks that’s the end of his feeling.

After that, he moves away from the mansion. Even when they happen to meet on the road, Gilbert chooses not to greet her despite Arthur’s calls. Completely aware of the changes in Gilbert’s behaviors, Mrs. Graham asks for his explanations on why he doesn’t come in the appointed day. To this, Gilbert only says he knows the truth already, adding it may be more awful. Mrs. Graham looks disappointed because she thinks Gilbert is not worthy of her explanations. Gilbert leaves the mansion.

After a few days, he visits her because he is still curious on what would she say had he let her speak on previous meeting. When they meet again despite Mrs. Graham’s initial rejection, Gilbert tells her what he sees that night and what he overhears. To this, Mrs. Graham hands over him a manuscript that reveals all of the truths Gilbert desperately wants to know.

A few years back then, 18 year-old Helen Graham still lives with her uncle and aunt, the Maxwell family, in Staningley Manor. She stays with them after her mother dies. Her brother, Frederick Lawrence, prefers living with her father.

Although Helen is approached by a wealthy, decent gentleman Mr. Boarham, she chooses instead the attractive, young Arthur Huntingdon. Her choice disappoints her aunt who advises to take the proposal from Mr. Boarham instead. But Helen who really loves Arthur opposes the suggestion. Even some critics on the attitudes of Arthur don’t stop her from loving him and so they get married.

It doesn’t take long for Helen to realize the truth. Arthur seems uncomfortable living in Grassdale Manor, away from his circle of friends. He doesn’t have any friends to go for hunting. He is mostly idle for days while Helen is busy with her drawing. Arthur is proven to be less generous, less warm that she expects him to be. He is closer to his friends, Annabella Wilmot who later is married to Lord Lowborough, Ralph Hattersley, Mr. Grimsby. Sometimes, Arthur goes to London to meet them and disappears for some weeks with no information.

His ignorance, playful attitude on the marriage makes Helen wishing she shouldn’t have loved him and married with him. Little by little, Helen learns what is unpleasant about her husband. From his ill-manner, irresponsible attitude until the most shocking one is finding out his affairs with Lady Lowborough with her own eyes around her own mansion!

What makes Helen suffers even more is that Arthur isn’t moved with the fact that his affairs are known. He even loathes Helen. Lady Lowborough defends the affairs, saying that she’s the one who can love Arthur deeply. She even asks for Helen’s helps not telling the secret to her husband.

And so the secret is known to many but not to the poor Lord Lowborough. Arthur gets more and more disgusting. He becomes abusive, gets addicted to alcohol. He doesn’t want to divorce Helen or let her living the Grassdale Manor with little Arthur because he doesn’t want to ruin his reputations. So Helen keeps inhabiting the place while trying to keep his son away from his father as she fears Arthur will teach him bad manners. Lord Lowborough finally knows the truth, making Helen feeling guilty for not telling him at the first hand. He divorces Annabella eventually after almost committing suicide knowing the affairs.

Whenever Arthur is away, Helen is joyful but when Arthur is at home and especially bring along his pals, she is so afraid. As days go by, her anxiety proves correct. Little Arthur becomes wild, he says bad words, his manner gets uncontrollable. After a few correspondences with Frederick about preparing the Wildfell Hall, Helen with the help of Rachel runs away from the mansion. Arthur seeks for their whereabouts but definitely not because he misses the poor wife.

Helen, her son and Rachel arrives at the Wildfell Hall safely. The manuscript ends when she is about to write about Gilbert, one of her neighbors. After this, Gilbert feels guilty and one of the things that he does is apologizing to Frederick Lawrence. Though things are clear for him, Gilbert doesn’t immediately get Rachel’s love. She insists on keeping their relationship as mere friendship. She even forbids him writing letters or contacting her for a number of months.

Though it’s hard to bear, Gilbert does what she wants. The only one whom he can rely on for getting information about her is through her brother. Rachel comes back to Grassdale, shocking Gilbert. Arthur gets sick. He gets so addicted to alcohol, his life is miserable. He loses some of his friends. For a few months, Rachel takes care of sick husband all the time. Arthur eventually apologizes. He dies.

Gilbert, who is very jealous suspecting Rachel is getting married with Walter Hargrave, sets a journey. When he gets to the wedding venue, he is surprised to have known that it is Frederick who marries Esther Hargrave. And so Gilbert comes to Grassdale but to no avail. He then goes to Staningley to see Helen but he’s reluctant to enter the house. Just when he leaves the house and sits under a tree, little Arthur catches his face from a carriage.

There, they meet. Things are cleared up; that Helen actually asks for Gilbert’s information to her brother but Gilbert doesn’t bother to inquire Frederick whether or not she wants to know about his life. It doesn’t take long for the love birds to eventually declare their vows to live happily in the future. Gilbert doesn’t find any difficulties to approach Helen’s aunt who finally passes away. Helen’s uncle dies, too, shortly after the death of Arthur. Anyway, Lord Lowborough marries again while Annabelle dies in unknown place.

Gilbert and Helen tie the knot and begin a wonderful chapter with little Arthur.

 

 

 

 

 

This is how ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ strikes me

‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ is a blunt, strong, emotional novel. It’s unlike those written by other writers in the Victorian era who shower readers with so many beautiful phrases, quotable words. Instead, Anne Bronte, the author of the book, strikes me with the fast-moving plot, very powerful dialogues, vivid moral lessons that I can learn throughout the story. This surprisingly makes me feel so shallow, inexperienced reader because I once say only books with third-person narrative that are great. One-person narrative is less appealing.

‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ proves me wrong, so so wrong. Despite a slowing reading pace at the beginning at the book, I am completely absorbed when I come to the parts when Helen Graham and Arthur Huntingdon get married then everything starts becoming very sour and bitter for her.

I am very shocked. The characterizations of Helen, Arthur and Annabella Wilmot (later is named as Lady Lowborough) are superb that they feel so real to me. I can’t stop reading the book after I come to the points when Helen eventually finds out the affairs of Arthur and Annabella.

And when Arthur and Annabella don’t even want to confess their affairs at first let alone ask for apologies from Helen and Lord Lowborough, I get so furious. I am so willing to punch the faces of Arthur and Annabella, haha! That how the book influences me, and that is how Anne Bronte is a very brilliant writer at this thing.

Using the first-person narrative is fruitful to have made the characters sound very close to me. I can totally feel Helen’s emotions when she has to face all of the her problems. I can feel her anger, frustration. And definitely, her dismay on the future of Arthur junior completely makes sense.

One more message that fascinates me is on how Arthur redeems all his sins.

The return of Helen to the Grassdale when Arthur gets sick is such a brave, supreme decision. This conveys a very important message, satisfying step. That refers to Helen’s winning attitude, not only for the sake of obeying orders as a wife in the Bible but also for closing doors, solving the troubles that previously emerge. She remains committed at taking care her sick spouse despite his ill-treatments and curses.

For me, that is the sweetest revenge ever! Nothing can make an unfaithful husband or wife feeling so sorry for him or herself than clinging to the helps of those they have betrayed when he or she is dying.

Such a very pleasant, astonishing reading trip with ‘Tenant of the Wildfell Hall’. Thank you Anne Bronte!