With an almost effortless ease Anne Brontë tells her story in the letters of a convincing male narrator, and suddenly switches to a diary form narrated by a strong female character. Her framework for this novel is utterly beautiful, and traps the reader in a tangled cobweb of reoccurring themes and long-lasting influences from the past.
The male narrator, Gilbert Markham, tells of his infatuation with the new tenant of Wildfell Hall, Helen Graham, and the vicious gossip she falls victim to. While the main focus in Gilbert's narrative is small-town gossip and manipulation, the theme in Helen's narrative examines the evils of alcohol, gambling and cheating. The combined morale of their individual stories therefore seems to be the corrupt faults within the Victorian society, along with notes of treachery and ill-fated trust.
Helen Graham is perhaps one of the strongest female characters I have ever read about; she is determined to lead a better life, and to raise her son properly - and she does not want anything to stand in her way. Not even the rules of the society, the law or her drunk and abusing husband.
At first she seems a deep mystery, but as her story unfolds she becomes a true heroine and deeply admirable.
Anne Brontë's novels will always be overshadowed by those of her brilliant sisters, and I do think it's a shame. I am growing quite fond of her simple realism and her complex characters. And of course she also has her moments of brilliance and decadent prose. This metaphor is a perfect example of her ability to create deeply romantic descriptions:
"His heart was like a sensitive plant, that opens for a moment in the sunshine, but curls up and shrinks into itself at the slightest touch of the finger, or the lightest breath of wind.