Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Classics Club: about heroes...

For April, the Classic Club came up with a question that requires some thinking before answering: 

“Who is hands-down the best literary hero, in your opinion? Likewise, who is the best heroine?”

I had to think about this not because I didn't know which character I would look up to, but because it was not obvious why I feel that way.

Anne Brontë
My heroine is Helen Graham from The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë.   Heralded by many as the first feminist work of literature, The Tenant has many elements that shocked society at the time and introduced "realism" into a world that was thought pampered and harmless until then.

Helen is a woman on the run - from her husband but also from society at large.  She needs to take care of her son, so that he does not end up like his father.  She turns her back on her house, her family and her social circle and flees somewhere where she can, once again, be the mistress of herself.  She will support herself and her son with her paintings and will remain reclusive, on the lookout for "well-wishers".

Helen of course is not a proper heroine.  On the contrary, I really regard her as an anti-heroine.  She has no grand vision when she undertakes all these major steps:  she is just a character of great spirit, and once she becomes disillusioned with her marriage, she revalues her autonomy, and she sees the vice all around her and she sees how her son is slowly sinking in it.  While she knows she's breaking English Law, she just wants to escape all this.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1996)
Helen caused quite a stir  when she was first published.  Women until that time (ok, for a bit longer) were the property of their husbands and through the domestic bliss that everyone preached, they would very often find themselves "slaves" in their own houses.  Men had all the advantages they wanted, while women had no say in any decision made.  For the first time did a major character shine the light on what was really happening in life; had the courage to talk about the immorality witnessed in society, under pretence of virtue.  Helen was the first to take control of her life, and live to be happy again.  She has such passionate character, the only way to make her point properly made is to shut the door against her husband! (oh dear...)

Another trait I liked about her is that, despite the turbulence and the blows she receives from everywhere, she retains her humanity.  Even when her husband, who has caused all the pain she's experiencing is lying in his deathbed, she feels it's her moral duty to return to their house look after him and make him realise his sins. (Not to worry:  Arthur is so delusional, he actually wishes Helen could "come with him" and pray for his salvation...)

What I pick up from her character:  the strength to say no and not accept what I don't want -and to move on.  It's more than "when life throws you lemons, make lemonade" - I don't want the lemons in the first place.  However overwhelming a situation before me is, I have to find the strength to move ahead, and bypass the obstacles.  Should I collapse in the process,  I have to find the courage to get up, dust myself off and keep on walking...


  1. Anonymous25/4/13

    What an awesome response! I thought about doing one on Helen, but went for a more contemporary option. Honestly, I'm just glad to see so many people reading (and appreciating) Anne's works :)

    1. thank you so much Geoff! I'm also glad there are (slowly but surely) more of us appreciating Anne's work!

  2. I couldn't agree with you more! This is one of my favorite books ever and Helen is such a great character.

    1. much appreciated Melissa - thanks!

  3. Patty, just letting you know that you are in my Featured Book Blog sidebar for May on Carole's Chatter. Have a great week.

    1. that's great - thanks Carole!




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