Critical Reception

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Bronte's second and final novel, is recognized by contemporary critics as a feminist text.  The description of her text as feminist, in modern times, is more favorably and conventionally accepted than in the Victorian era.  Charlotte Bronte's initial criticism and condemnation of certain themes in Anne Bronte's novel reflects to an extent the reaction of the Victorian critic, but Anne Bronte's second novel also gained more critical attention than Agnes Grey.  Interestingly, one of the most poignantly negative criticisms of Tenant comes from Anne's sister Charlotte.  Charlotte Bronte in her preface to the 1850 edition of Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey claims that Anne had made a poor choice of subject in her second novel:
            "She (Anne) had, in the course of her life, been called on to contemplate near at hand, and for a long time, the terrible effects of talents misused                        and faculties abused; hers was a naturally sensitive, reserved and dejected nature; what she saw sank very deeply into her mind: it did her harm.                 She brooded over it till she believed it to be a duty to reproduce every detail (of course, with fictitious characters, incidents and situations), as a                     warning to others."1

The following are both 19th century and contemporary excerpts of critical reviews of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall:

1. "A people's novel of a very different school is The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.  It is, taken altogether, a powerful and an interesting book.  Not that it is a pleasant book to read, not, as we fancy, has it been a pleasant book to write; still less has it been a pleasant training which could teach an author such awful facts, or give courage to write them.  The fault of the book is coarseness--not merely that coarseness of subject which will be the stumbling-block of most readers, and which makes it utterly unfit to be put into the hands of girls...[English] society owes thanks, not sneers, to those who dare to shew her the image of her own ugly, hypocritical visage".
Anonymous review of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, The Examiner, 29 July 1848.

2. "
Margaret Lane, in The Drug-Like Brontë Dream (1952) patronizingly designates Anne as 'a Brontë without genius, but as one who certainly had her share of the Brontë temperament"
-Lane, Margaret. The Drug-Like Brontë Dream. 1952. London: Murray, 1980.

3. "
For her own part, Gérin makes the unconvincing argument that the didactic nature of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall precludes it from having literary merit: 'It was written too obviously as a work of propaganda, a treatise against drunkenness, to be considered a work of art'" (Gérin 39).

    -Gérin, Winifred L. The Brontës: II. The Creative Work. Ed. Ian Scott Kilvert. Burnt Mill: Longman, 1974.

4. "That [Anne Bronte] should have created a memorable heroine in Helen is not so surprising from a woman.  Nevertheless, a memorable creation she is.  We are made to feel her strength of character, her early idealism and ingenuous belief in her power to be an influence for good on her husband, the intensity of her grief over her failure, the sheer noble humanity of the woman.  Here is no idealized vapidly good Victorian heroine as Dickens and Thackery so often give us, but a woman of flesh and blood whom any man could love profoundly".
A. Craig Bell, 'Anne Bronte: A Re-appraisal' The Quarterly Review, 304, July 1966.

1. Downey, Glen. "The Critics of Wildfell Hall". The Victorian Web. 17 March 2000. University of British Columbia.