This book is about a young woman who decides to become a governess and finds the job a lot tougher than she had anticipated. The children refuse to listen to her, their parents blame her for their offspring’s terrible behaviour, and she finds herself increasingly frustrated by the thanklessness of her work.
I’m the same age now as Anne Brontë was when she wrote this book and as an English teacher, a lot of Agnes’s troubles hit home for me. Some struggles are timeless, it seems.
Jane Eyre (2011).
If you were an unmarried young woman in the Victorian age and you didn’t have a fortune of your own, working as a governess would be one of the few ways you could earn your living. They would be hired by a wealthy family to live in a house that wasn’t theirs and look after other people’s children, with no leisure time and few possessions to call their own. It was hard and often thankless work – and many of these women found themselves wishing for a way out, for something more.
[Cue Belle singing about the "great wide somewhere."]
A still from the 1996 mini series.
When we think of the name “Brontë”, Anne is never the first sister to come to mind. Many of us will have read either Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre at some point in our lives, maybe even both, but who among you could name one of Anne’s books (before reading the title of this post)? It seems that that history has delegated her to the position of “the other one,” even though her first novel, Agnes Grey, was well-received and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall had been an instant success; it quickly outsold Emily’s Wuthering Heights and was sold out altogether in only six weeks. Charlotte Brontë, for one, thought Tenant was an immature work. In a letter to W.S. Williams, she wrote:
That it had faults of execution, faults of art, was obvious, but faults of intention of feeling could be suspected by none who knew the writer. For my part, I consider the subject unfortunately chosen – it was one the author was not qualified to handle at once vigorously and truthfully.
After Anne’s death, she prevented the book’s republication, because it seemed to her “hardly … desirable to preserve.” So is this why The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is not read by highschool students all over the world today? Because it’s just not very good? I think not. There are some pacing issues and a few nitpicks here and there, but I would argue that there is a far more influential factor: romanticisation, or, the lack thereof. Read more
Doctor Who still (“Vincent and the Doctor”).
Literature and the visual arts have a long history of inspiring one another, from John Everett Millais painting Shakespeare’s Ophelia in 1852 to the plot of Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer-winning novel revolving around “The Goldfinch” (1654) by Fabritius.
The books on this list either have artist protagonists or centre around art itself.