I’m currently reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte and I noticed that one of the characters, when looking out to sea, used the term ‘seamew’ for a sea bird. I instantly made a note of it because I love that word! Writers often refer to the ‘mewing’ of the gulls, and on the whole I much prefer seamew to seagull. I’m assuming it was a generic term in the same way that ‘seagull’ is today, but my admittedly superficial research has thrown little else up.I took this! Aldeburgh, Norfolk 2004
As for the book itself, well my Kindle tells me I’m 35% of the way through and I have mixed feelings. Here are a few of them:
- Anne Bronte didn’t write convincingly from a male perspective, I’m afraid. I’m not sure why she chose that route, though I can think of two reasons. One is just that it’s different. Her contemporaries like her sisters and Jane Austen almost always wrote in the first person from the heroine’s perspective, so maybe she thought ‘I’ll show ’em!’. The other, more likely reason is that it makes Mrs Graham more mysterious. She doesn’t want us to find out too much about her at first, but wants us to be as intrigued as Gilbert Markham. But all in all I wasn’t convinced by her male viewpoint – in fact I didn’t know it was written from his POV before I started reading and was quite sure I was getting a female perspective for quite a few pages till things became clear.
- Wildfell has been described as the most ‘shocking’ of the Bronte sisters’ novels (what, more so than Wuthering Heights?) so I was pleasantly surprised that for a few chapters at least that there was actually more wry humour than in books by her sisters, not that I’ve read all of them.
- My biggest bugbear is not Anne’s fault but of the writing style of that era – just soooo wordy, with long, convoluted sentences containing lots of clauses, both in the narrative and within dialogue. Last night I encountered one sentence that went on for over a page on my Kindle, and I just gave up trying to keep track of its meanderings and skimmed over it. Sadly you can do a lot of that once you get an eye for that in this type of novel without missing anything of importance. I know it was the way they wrote then, but surely even in those days people found it hard to follow an umpteen line sentence with numerous clauses, concepts, asides, and littered with commas, semi-colons, dashes and parentheses???
- Finally, and another generalisation which applies to this whole genre: they are all basically Mills and Boon stories in flowery language. That might seem harsh, and I’m not saying the Brontes and Austens weren’t great writers, but all these stories boil down to the Mills and Boon staple of woman meets man, something happens that puts her off him, fate throws them together anyway and she realises she was wrong and can’t live without him.