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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Anne Bronte on Appreciating What You Have

Wychnor Hall in the English Midlands,
a 19th Century gentleman's manor house 

In Anne Bronte’s novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Helen Lawrence opts for love in marrying Arthur Huntington. And in many ways, he seems to return that love. Certainly he seeks her out at social events. He pays frequent visits to her uncle and aunt’s home. He snatches her portraits of him to his heart. And, as his association with her grows, his inclination to spend more time with her increases.

Their first few months of marriage, alone on his estate, are the happiest of Helen’s life. Arthur seems to cherish their time together. Yet in little ways, he seems thoughtless as to Helen’s feelings and concerns. During their courtship, he stole kisses and portraits she would not have readily given him. He also flirted with the beautiful and accomplished Annabella, the niece of the elderly “scoundrel” Mr. Wilmot. During their engagement, he continued to associate with friends she disapproved of. During their honeymoon in Europe, he rushed her from place to place, never allowing her to explore the exotic ports of call that she has long wished to visit. He wanted to have her to himself, and only for himself.

After their marriage, while he attends church with her, he never shows reverence for the service. Nor does he share Helen’s beliefs. He expects Helen to set him atop a pedestal set higher than God, and place lesser emphasis on any tenets of faith and religious practice that do not revolve around him. This is too far for Helen to go. While she loves him, her faith and convictions remain paramount to her. So when he tells her stories about the revelry and gambling he and his friends have enjoyed in London, and also how they convinced their obviously alcoholic friend Lord Lowborough to continue drinking, she cannot countenance such behavior. Over time, this barrier to full ownership of her soul becomes an obstacle between them, at least in his mind. Any counseling she then offers him only makes his lack of complete lordship over her more painful, and this sends him back to the easy-going camaraderie of his friends.

Arthur Huntington is not an evil man. Had he been one, Helen would never have married him. But he demonstrates insecurities that his love of drinking will later amplify. His tendency to make light of any situation made Helen fall in love with him. Later, his inability to take anything seriously will allow appalling behavior to enter their home. He is an English gentleman of the 19th Century, a rich young man who never had to work or prove himself. Lacking a purpose in life, he allows Helen to manage their books while he spends their money. He has too much time for vice, and lacks the discipline for virtue. He is, in every way, the kind of man that Helen’s aunt warned her against, a handsome man lacking in sense and principle. 

Arthur Huntington has much to appreciate: his wife Helen, his fine manor house and estate, his loyal servants, and his friends. In time, Helen will even give him a son. But because he does not cherish all that he has, and views life as little more than a game, he eventually loses everything. Sadly, that's a fate that can affect anyone at any time, and at any economic level. But then, it's always easier to point out how another person doesn't appreciate all he has, and make the most of his life, than it is to examine one's one shortcomings, isn't it?

Dragon Dave

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