The Tenant of Wildfell Hall


BRONTE,Anne The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

T.C. Newby, 1848.

First edition. Three volumes. Uncut in original publisher's drab boards over green linen spines with title labels to spines. Half title to volume one as called for, with reviews of Jane Eyre ("Mr Bell's first novel") on reverse and terminal. Bookplates of the Earl of Normanton to each pastedown. A little chipping and wear to the title labels and trivial wear to the fore edges of the boards, but a fine, entirely unrepaired set. Leaves C7 and C8 of vol. II badly opened with small marginal chip, otherwise exceptionally clean.

The Normanton-Bradley Martin copy in original boards. Anne Bronte's last and only separate novel, which "reverberated throughout Victorian England" (May Sinclair, Bronte biographer) with its realistic and disturbing portrayal of alcoholism and debauchery.
Born 1820, Anne Bronte was the youngest of the Bronte sisters. Having collaborated with her sisters in their unsuccessful initial literary venture, Poems of 1846, the three sisters each turned their hand to writing a novel. The three results, Charlotte's Professor, Emily's Wuthering Heights and Anne's Agnes Grey were offered to various publishers and, after a number of rejections, the minor London publisher, Thomas Cautley Newby, offered to publish Anne and Emily's novels as two parts of the same work, rejecting The Professor entirely. Agnes Grey, although critically well received, was very much overshadowed by the more dramatic Wuthering Heights. However, sales of the book were brisk and Newby gladly agreed to publish Anne's second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, a year later. Possibly as a product of the success of Wuthering Heights, Anne's writing now combined the pensive perception of Agnes Grey with a new found, almost brutal, realism, which shocked nineteenth century readers. The work certainly had its critics, The Spectator of July 1848 accused it of "a morbid love for the coarse, not to say the brutal" but also praised it for its "power, effect and... nature", and Charles Kingsley described it as "tortured by a defective chord, in which one false note perpetually recurs" (Frazer's Magazine April 1849).
Regardless of this, the book was an astounding success quickly outselling Wuthering Heights, and within six weeks was sold out, requiring a second edition two months after the first. It was here that Bronte wrote her famous preface defending the novel against its critics,
"My object in writing the following pages, was not simply to amuse the Reader, neither was it to gratify my own taste, nor yet to ingratiate myself with Press and the Public: I wished to tell the truth, for truth always conveys its own moral to those who are able to receive it. But as priceless treasure too frequently hides at the bottom of a well, it needs some courage to dive for it, especially as he that does so will be likely to incur more scorn and obloquy for the mud and water into which he has ventured to plunge, than thanks for the jewel he procures; as in like manner, she who undertakes the cleansing of a careless bachelor's apartment will be likely to more abuse for the dust she raises, than commendation for the clearance she effects."
The plight of Anne Bronte's heroine, at the hands of her debased husband at a time where a married woman had no independent legal status has been seen as one of the first feminist novels. In reality, it is more a polemic against the abuses of reason and the injustice of Victorian morality.
Within a year of publication Anne Bronte had died of consumption. In the years following her death, the novel fell into the shadow of her sisters' great works. This is due in no small part to Charlotte Bronte's influence, who after the quick successive deaths of the Anne and Emily, became a literary custodian for her sisters' work. Charlotte never liked the novel and failed to recognise the character and originality of her younger sister's writing, consequently never encouraged its reprinting,
"Wildfell Hall it hardly seems to me desirable to preserve... The choice of subject matter in that work is a mistake" (Letter to W.S. Williams, 1850).
In reality, the novel with its sharp and ironic style, was completely different to the dramatic romanticism of her sisters' work. The themes and techniques are so strikingly modern, that it was not until the twentieth century that the genius of the work began to be appreciated,
"Anne Bronte attacks her problem with a freedom and audacity before which her sisters boldest enterprises seem cowardly and restrainedÂ…her behaviour is revolutionary." - May Sinclair (writing in 1914)
Newby was a very small scale publisher and the first edition of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was issued in a paltry number. Publisher's records suggest 500 sets of sheets were printed but only about 250-300 bound up for the first edition, the remainder being sold as the second edition with a new title page and author's preface. Consequently it is rarely seen in any state. Michael Sadleir, whose collection of nineteenth century literature remains unparalleled among private collections, considered it the scarcest of the Bronte sisters' works and never found an adequate copy for his collection. However in the original publisher's binding it is all but unobtainable. The high retail cost of a triple decker of the time (£1 11s 6d), meant that they were sold mainly to circulating libraries, who bound them in a cloth casing, or affluent subscribers who would have them bound to the style of their library. This is the only copy to be publicly offered for sale in the last thirty-five years.

PROVENANCE: The Earl of Normanton (armorial bookplate to pastedowns);
H. Bradley Martin (his sale 1 May 1990);
Private British collector (sold 2010).

REFERENCES: Smith (Bronte) 4; No copy in Sadleir but listed in comparative scarcities p.375.

Stock ID: 28164


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