Every ounce the creative literary genius that her sisters were, Anne Bronte is too often the unsung Bronte sister. ‘Agnes Grey’ is certainly a solidly written work of Anne’s, full of many interesting details to enjoy; but since I first found and read ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ a number of years ago (in my search for all writings Bronte), I couldn’t understand why that story of the mystery tenant wasn’t every ounce the classic hit that ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’ had become. I don’t mean to diminish the stellar writing styles and heights of either Charlotte or Emily Bronte, it’s just that I simply cannot understand why Anne’s equally marvelous writing has been so very overlooked, over time.
I realize that some of the ‘other’ (what some might call lesser) Bronte works don’t quite have the romantic punch of ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’, but ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ surely does. (And a little tweaking by a good movie maker could make most Bronte works, work as romance dramas anyway.) Anne’s ‘Tenant’ tale is along the same lines as ‘Eyre’ and ‘Wuthering’, though perhaps not quite as melodramatic as those two classic stars by Charlotte and Emily. One thing that I find so compelling about ‘Tenant’ is the realistic look at a substance-addicted selfish cheating abuser, and Anne writes that scenario as if she lived it closely and personally. (yes, her brother lived something like that kind of self-indulgent life and surely she drew from his sad example, and she did work around other people whom she might have drawn bad or good examples from, but she was a spinster who died young) Beyond the ‘gritty for those times’ part of the story, there is enough of the romantic in ‘Tenant’ to make any romantically inclined woman swoon. The ‘Tenant’ has the romantic goods: the lady, her hero, and their true love story. ‘Tenant’ has quickly become one of my top favorite novels, alongside ‘Eyre’ (which has been a cherished favorite of mine for more than forty years) and several Jane Austen novels that are favorites to many women.
There is such amazing writing in most (if not all, as far as I can recall) the Bronte Novels: many sentences that I must stop to read at least twice because they are so perfectly done. Even though I’m much more wired to be focused on the character-driven details rather than anything that remotely approaches purple prose or flowery fiction; the Bronte sisters’ descriptives that paint scenes with skillful choices of words, make me stop and repeat for at least the second read through. But then again, I reread many of the Bronte sisters sentences. I am often thoroughly amazed at their skill with the English language. And then there is French and German in some of their prose as well (perhaps only Charlotte and Emily’s). Yes, beyond their innate creative genius, they were definitely well educated (primed for the higher class governess trade, or to teach in better schools). I can confidently say that all three of the Bronte sisters win my utmost admiration for their highest levels of literature, and Anne Bronte stands as a true equal to her sisters in her winning effort of ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’.
‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ audio book is a wonderful way to read the novel (in particular by Alex Jennings, who reads the first and last parts of the ‘Tenant’ story: the narration of the main man – the hero in the story, as in letters of his ‘love story’ to his friend and brother-in-law). The large mid-section of the story is not my favorite to read over and over again, likely for obvious reasons once you read it for yourself (it can become a bit depressing, you could say), but Jenny Agutter does fine with it. My own personal favorite parts of the audio book are the first and last sections when Alex Jennings is reading. I think that it takes at least a good actor to read fiction well, but from my relatively limited experience, I have found very few actor readers that read well enough that I want to listen over and over again. I have become a recent fan of well-done audio books, because it is an easy way to read favorite books in-between actually reading them yourself. When you can’t read (the old fashioned way – or even an ebook on a tablet) for a variety of reasons (driving, working, exercising, resting your eyes, or, like me all too often: laying awake at night with crazy-making insomnia – too tired to do anything, including focusing for reading), it is great to be read to by a masterful reader. I have gradually chosen a number of favorite audio book readers (amazing actors whom I wish would read more of my favorite books so that I can just kick back and listen), and Alex Jennings is among the very top. His is a soothing voice that is pleasant to listen to anytime (even when on the edge of sleep but not quite crossing the sandman bridge to sleeping). Beyond his pleasing tonality, he possesses a genius for playing the different characters. As far as I have heard thus far, not many men can pull off numerous women convincingly and without distraction or irritation of any kind (and vice versa – it is perhaps even tougher for a woman to read the men characters without coming off sounding weirdly feminine or fake deep voiced). I seldom am able to suspend my disbelief when men read women and women read men, but there are a very few extremely talented readers who have been able to pull that off convincingly, and Alex Jennings is one of them. When Mr. Jennings is speaking for a woman, I tend to forget that a man is narrating, and he does numerous women equally well, while they are each still well differentiated – from the pleasant to the shrill. He also voices many men equally well, from youthful fellows to the love-interest hero, to cranky or daft old men as well. I can imagine that reading a novel with many characters is no small task, even for some of the best actors, and I dare say that it takes a certain genius to pull it off as well as he does.