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The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

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Helen Huntingdon, the leading female role in The Tenant, believes in Universalism, which is the belief that all people can be saved. From her first encounter with Arthur Huntingdon, she believes she can save him from his sins, and convert him into a man worthy of God’s judgement. This portrays to the reader as sense of arrogance, as Helen is clearly guilty of spiritual pride, as she has put herself in the position to judge others. Mrs Maxwell, Helen’s aunt, warns her about the type of man Arthur is, a reckless, debauched man, who only cares for himself, but Helen feels it is her duty to rescue him from his hectic lifestyle.

His natural goodness’ this shows Helen believes deep down Arthur is a good man, and she has the power to save him. The repeated use of the words ‘know’ and ‘knew’ emphasises her certainty that she has to go on and fulfil her duty in his salvation. This sense of responsibility over her son portrays a strong willed character within Helen, implying to the reader that her own spirit is her own salvation. Eight weeks after Helen marries Arthur Huntingdon, she is writing in her journal about her misjudgement of his character.

This indicates to the reader, the reason she judges people so harshly later in life is due to the fact she misjudged her husband. This once again implies a self-imposed position of authority, were she is allowed to judge people in life like God would in death. ‘And do I regret the step I have taken? No’ the rhetorical question involves the reader to create a more personal feeling to the text. This is then followed by a definite answer ‘No’, she then contradicts herself by compiling a list of things she would do differently given the opportunity.

It is as if she is trying to convince herself that she doesn’t regret her life style choices, she is too proud to admit her judgement was wrong, once again creating a foreboding idea that she will be more careful when judging others. She uses words like ‘ought’ and ‘duty now’ to emphasise her obligation to love her husband and save him from damnation. It also portrays an inner conflict she is having between herself and her duty, she realises she has married the wrong man, but it is her duty to stay by his side.

Helen begins to recognise her own faults, she feels she has become bitter and sour due to her failed relationship, and begins to place the blame on herself. She sarcastically implies she has a ‘marble heart’ and ‘brutal insensibility’ to emphasise her share of the blame. This then leads her to reflect upon her marriage, and try to salvage it by saving her husband, which would ultimately make her a better person, and rescue her son from following his father’s footsteps. The quote; ‘save him from that world and those companions’ showing Helen feels it is her duty to save her son from the influences of her debauched husband.

Helen pinpoints time in her journal with dates to represent the endurance of living her life. ‘Another year is passed; and I am weary of this life’, Helen is in despair, which is a sin, and so she turns to her morality to try and improve her situation ‘I cannot wish to leave it’, stating she cannot leave this sin on her conscience. ‘I cannot wish to go and leave my darling in this dark wicked world alone’ this self reflexive statement shows she feels it is her duty to save her son, to endure her life for him.

When Arthur is on his deathbed, his regret for his actions becomes apparent, ‘none of them can benefit me if she can’t’ he wishes he had listened to Helen before, and begins to regret the way he treated her. It is evident that Arthur is seeking her forgiveness; he feels that if Helen can forgive him, so will God. He implies that Helen is like the Virgin Mary, The intercessor between life and death, and Arthur wants her to be with him when God is judging him. Helen writes to her brother in great deal about Arthur’s impending death.

She emphasises the division between the states of life and death with the phrase ‘awful chasm’. ‘awful’ representing a respectful fear of the ‘chasm’, which portrays connotations of darkness and oblivion. ‘Agony of prayers and tears’, similarly to the chasm idea, this quote represents separation in a physical and spiritual sense. This notion is taken from the bible, were Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, representing the agony of God, which deepens the religious concept of the novel.

The repetition of nothing in this paragraph contrasts with the idea of heaven, as nothing could be construed as oblivion, once again relating to the ‘awful chasm’. Arthur is still not sure whether he believes in the afterlife, whether heaven and God exist. ‘If there be really life beyond the tomb and judgement after death, how can I face it? If being the operative word, it implies an uncertainty and is then emphasised by the question to Helen. Arthur feels he cannot face death without her forgiveness; he needs to repent in order to be welcomed by God in death.

This paragraph portrays Arthur’s human will in a very negative way, it shows his lack of strong will, as he feels he can not physically move onto the next life ‘can’t’ this also conveys the contrast to Helen’s persona, who has the motivation to help people in life, and endure her own life for God’s sake as well as her son’s. Huntingdon feels he cannot repent, as his pride will not let him ‘I can’t repent, I can only fear’ this shows he cannot admit he is sorry, for he is scared of death.

Overall the theme of religion is apparent throughout the entire novel, mainly revolving around Helen. Anne Bronte creates a character contrast with regards to Arthur and his wife, she is the salvation and he represents damnation. The religious background is influenced by Bronte’s own religion; universalism, and the idea that everyone can be saved, if they repent and ask for forgiveness of their sins, this belief is portrayed through Helens character and her actions.

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