Monday, January 04, 2010

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Broadview 2009 Edition). A Review

Our thanks to Broadview Press for sending us an electronic review copy of this edition:

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Written by: Anne Brontë
Edited by: Lee A. Talley
Series: Broadview Editions
Publication Date: August 15, 2009
650pp • Paperback
ISBN: 9781551115085 / 1551115085
Broadview's new edition of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall feels like an old friend. If you have perused their excellent editions of Jane Eyre, Villette or Wuthering Heights (2002 and 2007) before, you will have noticed that Broadview commissions always a new edition (from first sources), a new introduction and the big forte: a juicy selection of contemporary texts that contextualise and/or invite to discuss the main issues of the novel.

And Lee A. Talley's edition of Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is no exception. The excellent selection of texts formulates an estimulating dialogue with the introduction. Lee A. Talley's doesn't approach the novel from a particular theoretical point of view(1) (although new historicism is obviously behind not only this edition but the whole Broadview project), her introduction is conceived as a prologue to the extra material. Therefore, the editor begins with a bit of history on how the novel was written and the animadversion that Charlotte felt for the Tenant(2) and the Appendix A contains the both the Biographical Notice of Ellis and Acton Bell and the introduction to the Poems of Acton Bell from the 1850 new edition revised of Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey.

The Appendix B contains eight lengthy contemporary reviews which serve both to contextualise the reception of the novel and to highlight the more controversial aspects felt by Victorian critics. Lee A. Talley signals several issues that modern readers could feel more bizarre. For some of the reviewers the problem was not the portrayals of alcoholism or male abuse but the fact that this kind of behaviour was associated with the higher social classes. It's curious that several reviewers also felt disgusted by the possibility of Helen associating herself with Gilbert Markham (a social inferior). But, of course, the biggest issues that obsessed all reviewers were the sex of the author and the coarseness of the language used.

Other Appendixes (and sections of the introduction) also include enlightening contemporary writings about women's education, the legal status of wives, the important (and almost exclusive for good and for bad) role of mothers in the education of children, temperance and about Victorian womanhood and art.

A point often overlooked that Lee A. Talley discusses more deeply is Anne Brontë's defence at all costs of the Universal Salvation doctrine. The case is illustrated with Anne Brontë's famous letter to the Reverend David Thom and a couple of Anne's poems.

Lee A. Talley's note on the text takes us briefly by the long, complicated and infamous history of the editions of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall(3). Her edition particularly starts with the so-called second edition of the novel (that is actually a second reprint of the first one, with some corrections). Although the 1992 Clarendon edition takes as starting point the first edition this is not really a great change. Lee A. Talley's two cents on the little history of The Tenant editions is to place particular emphasis on the corrections allegedly made by Anne Brontë in her own copy of the novel (AOC)(4). Nevertheless, her edition - as far as we can see - only introduces a couple of changes not taken into account (or refused) in the Clarendon edition, as footnotes. Taking into account Ms Talley's convincing defence of the authencity of AOC it seems surprising that the corrections have not been taken directly into the text but are included as footnotes instead(5). It is also puzzling that considering the importance given to the AOC in this edition some changes introduced in the AOC are silently modified without even a footnote(6).

This new edition of The Tenant added to the previous Brontë ones published by Broadview Press makes an excellent choice if you are planning to build your own Brontë library. We just can hope that they will commission editions of Shirley, The Professor and Agnes Grey in order to complete it. We know it's complicated but we can dream, can't we?

Notes
(1) Although she summarises several critical approaches particularly related to the narrative structure of the novel. The framing long (very, very long) letter which incorportares Helen's diary.
(2) What of course opens the field to the lynching of Charlotte Brontë which most recent Brontë scholars (beginning with Juliet Barker) have been fond of. Nevertheless, we have to admit that in the case of Anne Brontë's second novel the lynchers have a point.
(3) For a complete history: G.D. Hargreaves, “Incomplete Texts of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall,” Brontë Society Transactions 16.82 (1972): 113-17 ; G.D. Hargreaves, “Further Omissions in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall,” Brontë Society Transactions 17.87 (1977): 115-21.
(4) A document that according to Herbert Rosengarten, editor of the Clarendon edition of the novel, lacks independent confirmation but that, nevertheless, is used
"in support of necessary editorial emendations" (Margaret Smith dixit in the 1993 Oxford World's Classic edition).
(5) For instance, a couple of important changes (significantly discussed in Talley's article in Brontë Studies: The Case for Anne Brontë's Marginalia in the Author's Own Copy of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Volume 32 Part 2 (2007) pp.132-137):
I can feel for any one that is unjustly treated -> I can feel for every one that in unjustly treated (p. 209)
He either has not the sense or the power to follow my example ->He either lacks the sense or the power to follow my example (p. 209)
(6) For instance:
give me --> given me (p. 216)
with vehemence --> with a vehemence (p. 262)
“It is those bishops that trouble me,” said I; --> “It is those bishops that trouble me,” said he; (p 263)
arm looking --> arm and looking (p. 265)
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