The Tenant of Windfell Hall
by Anne Brontë
published in 1848
The Tenant of Windfell Hall was Anne Brontës hit. I frankly question the wikipedia claiming it as an instant phenomenon- if you look at a Google Ngram comparing frequency of use between Jane Eyre, Agnes Grey and this book, The Tenant of Windfell Hall does not even get off of a flat line. More likely, The Tenant of Windfell Hall is a favorite of Junior Academics seeking tenure, or...at least the Editors behind Boxall's 1001 Books To Read Before You Die- which contains The Tenant of Windfell Hall, along with Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey in case you DIE WITHOUT HAVING READ ALL THE NOVELS BY EVERY BRONTE SISTER.
There is a clear influence of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre on the histrionic tone of The Tenant of Windfell Hall. Anne Brontës first novel, Agnes Grey, is much milder in terms of emotional content, and it is no wonder that it created a sensation with the frank depiction of drug addiction and what we would today call "domestic violence" although to be fair it's a very 19th century depiction of domestic violence.
The two major stylistic differences between Agnes Grey and The Tenant of Windfell Hall is in the depiction of romantic lead Arthur Huntingdon as a drunken, morose disaster and the use of a framing device to introduce the central narrative of The Tenant of Windfell Hall: A written account of her failed marriage to the wealthy, roguish libertine, Arthur Huntingdon. Arthur Huntingdon is notoriously based on Anne Brontës own brother, Branwell Brontë. Knowledge of that fact gives the reader rather a Freudian perspective when considering the central relationship between Helen and Arthur.
Cleverly, the narrator of the framing narrative which encloses Helen's written account of her marriage is not Helen Huntingdon herself but rather a would-be suitor, Gilbert Markham, to whom Helen Graham (as he knows her) is a bit of a mystery, what with her young son and insistence on anonymity. Such a device was not unknown in the historical romances like those of Sir Walter Scott and his followers, "I found this ancient book and began to read what I now share with you..." but Markham's framing narrative encompasses almost 40% of the book, rather then being a simple introduction to a "found" text.
The initial positive reception of The Tenant of Windfell Hall likely had something to do with Anne Brontë's ability to link the two narratives together in the service of a single story.