Possibly the most famous moment in the book, revolves around Helen's metaphorical 'slamming of the door' on her husband, an image that could perhaps have 'echoed throughout the length and breadth of middle England'21. However upon consultation of the text, is this a glorification adapted by feminists designed to empower their cause. 'Without another word, I left the room, and locked myself up in my own chamber. In about half an hour, he came to the door; and first he tried the handle then he knocked'22.
He subsequently when 'uncertain how to answer such a speech, turned and walked away'23, this apparent act of resistance although seemingly exaggerated did however strike fear in the hearts of contemporary reviewers, who feared that with the readership of the book being those associated with the title character that it could pose a threat to middle class Victorian living. This could consequently have legal and jurisprudential claims, with positivist laws seemingly lacking in morality, preventing women rights in marriage being ignored and violated with cases such as Caroline Norton acting as a source of encouragement, for these wronged women.
Upon reading Helen's diary it does not become clear that she would revoke the law, until the arrival of her son, Arthur. Arthur consequently alters Helen's mindset, providing her with an even greater determination to escape the tyrannies of Mr Huntingdon, as her maternal instincts kick in, as ultimately Helen's maternal bond is the "strongest tie of love", whereas the paternal bond, pale in comparison, was fabricated by the law, which according to Norton, rendered the mother 'little more than a surrogate, a prostitute even'24.
Consequently finding herself a slave in a loveless marriage, confined by a husband who takes great pleasure in inflicting humiliation and psychological pain as he nonchalantly digresses into stories about previous amours. The psychological sours of her marriage, can be seen worsen as these experiences seemingly compound on one another, as the marriage progresses. As a result of her maternal instincts for the protection of Arthur she consequently applies her moral vice, denying Mr Huntingdon his conjugal rights, and upon discovering his affair with Annabella, she claims the freedom to 'do anything but offend God and [her] conscience'25.
Effectively dismissing the legal status of the wife in Victorian England. Throughout the text, Helen can be seen to be acting as a heroine to the wives during the Victorian period. She contradicts the general consensus of what a wife should be, she is described as more than just the slave of the marriage. The novel constructs parallels between beaten women and animals, however Helen is dismissed by Hattersley as ultimately 'he must have somebody that will let me have my own way in everything not like your wife, Huntingdon, she is a charming creature, but she looks as if she had a will of her own, and could play the vixen upon occasion.
'26 This presented an aspiration to the reader, especially those who could associate within themselves a degree of Helen's, it allowed them to see that they do not need to simply suffer they need not be merely a slave within the home, confined by their husband's wants and needs, although their legal status was contrary, this should not be a reason to lose personal identity and integrity. This furthers the feminist role model, as it is clear Helen will stand up to the males who 'possess' her.
Although jurisprudential and legal charging may be very loosely intertwined with the Tenant of Wildfell Hall, it is undoubtedly ever present. Anne's intention to expose the misgivings of society and to tell the truth are obvious, as a reviewer in the Rambler confirms it to be 'one of the coarsest books to which we have ever perused'27, and by doing so, empowered by Dicken's famous allusion, has blown the roof of houses and successfully revealed what actually lay within.
This novel's jurisprudential implications are probably best of understood as 'subterranean, [providing] foundational support for the broader argument'28, acting as a the baseline for the rise of the feminist movement, and bringing the possibilities and the irregularities of law, as Anne understood them to a greater number of female receivers, helping to communicate the plight of the wife, and consequently 'playing a critical role in transforming the public perception of the female condition'.
The Tenant, although not explicitly legally charged, cannot be read without reference to Blackstone's definition of coverture, and with its obvious legal centrality in the modern time, it must have been ever more potent in the mid-nineteenth century. 'It is a novel that spoke, and continues to speak, to issues of burning immediacy to generations of wives and mothers, and husbands to fathers, to the laws that frame their supposedly private lives and the various tyrannies it perpetuates'29.
Legally, it was twenty-two years after that the Married Women's Property Act, that allowed women to take free their earnings and to inherit property, and further in the 1853 Act for the Better Prevention and Punishment of Aggravated Assaults on Women and Children to the House of Commons on 10 March, Mr Fitzroy argued that "[he] was only asking [MP's] to extend the same protection to defenceless women, as they already extended to poodle dogs and donkeys… under the Cruelty to Animals Act"30. Undoubtedly, such developments would not have occurred without the aid of novels to ignite feminism.
Bronte, Anne, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Penguin Books, Published 1996
Chitham, Edward, The Poems of Anne Bronte: A New Text and Commentary, London: Macmillian, 1979
Cobbe, F,P, Wife-Torture in England, accessed online, http://www.lib.uoguelph.ca/resources/archival_&_special_collections/th e_collections/women_theorists, 1878
Perkins, Jane-Grey, Women and Marriage in the 19th Century, (1989)
Poovey, Mary. Uneven Developments: The Ideological Work of Gender in Mid- Victorian England, London : Virago, 1989
Surridge, Lisa, Bleak Houses: Marital Violence in Victorian Fiction, Athens: Ohio University Press, 2005
Ward, Ian, The Case of Helen Huntingdon, Criticism, p151-182, (2008)
Ward, Ian, On Literary Jurisprudence, Journal of Law and Interdisciplinary Studies, Perspectives (2011)
Yalom, Marilyn, A History of the Wife, (2002)