Number of pages: 535
Gilbert Markham, who narrates most of this story, discovers that there is a new tenant at nearby Wildfell Hall, the mysterious and reclusive Helen Graham. Although she is suspicious of him at first, she soon lets him into her life, but after he falls in love with her, she rejects his advances.
Eventually she gives him a diary, and the narrative switches to a story-within-a-story, as Helen's diary reveals her past. The rest of the review is behind the spoiler cut.
[Spoiler (click to open)]
It turns out that she previously fell in love with a man called Arthur Huntingdon, despite her parents wanting her to marry another man. She eventually marries Huntingdon, but it soon turns into a loveless affair, with Huntingdon often absent, and it becomes gradually obvious that Helen wanted to escape from the marriage, while receiving advances from a man called Mr. Hargreave. I found myself imagining them as the sort of married couple who would sleep in separate beds at night, and it seemed that she was only staying with him because she felt it was the right thing to do.
As you can probably guess, she eventually leaves Huntingdon, changing her second name to conceal her identity, and the story switches back to Markham's narrative. After Mr. Huntingdon dies later on in the book, Markham continues to pursue Helen, and the reader ends up rooting for them and hoping that they can live happily together.
I found this book to be less shocking or harrowing than books by Anne's sisters Emily and Charlotte (particularly Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights), though of course there were some moments of real drama within the story. At times the narrative, particularly the middle section with Helen's diary felt a bit too long-winded and slow-moving, but I found myself enjoying the book towards the end, and was pleased to see that things did end happily.
Next book: What We Talk About When We Talk About the Tube (John Lanchester)