During the Victorian period marriage proved to be a dominant theme in fiction. Female writers especially focused on the topic of marriage and wrote stories of women whose first marriages were imperfect. Anne Brontë and George Eliot dedicated themselves to portraying in their stories realistic heroines who deal with their own flaws as well as those of the men they marry. Their heroines distance themselves from their expected roles, moving beyond their first failed marriages to wiser second marriages.
Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall follows Helen Huntingdon as she attempts to fulfill the self-appointed role of Savior to her husband. Her rash first marriage opens her eyes to her frank inability to redeem and reform her reprobate husband. Along the same lines George Eliot warns readers in her prelude to Middlemarch that Dorothea Brooke will never fulfill all her saintly capabilities because of the unaccommodating social structure of her time. She marries an elderly scholar in the hopes of being enlightened intellectually and spiritually by the alliance. Instead she finds herself stymied in a claustrophobic marriage. Both women are liberated, in a sense, by the deaths of their husbands and regain their free will at that point.
This thesis explores the psychological pathway from first to second marriage. Marriage serves as the prime educator for Helen and Dorothea. Both women move from blind adoration to despair and hatred at the failure of their first marriages. Both eventually seek a second marriage and wed men who are in turn wiser for their association with these women and who love and respect them. The treatment of marriage in the two novels hinges on the realistic portrayal of life and reflects the era the authors lived in as well as serving as a vehicle for the heroines' character development and growth. Brontë and Eliot create remarkably similar stories beginning with marriage and focusing on heroines who survive the refiner's fire and in the end attain a sense of self as well as a measure of peace.
College and Department
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Thompson, Angela Myers, "Leaving Her Story: The Path to the Second Marriage in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Middlemarch" (2004). All Theses and Dissertations. 200.
second marriage, tenant, Wildfell Hall, Middlemarch, Anne, Bronte, George, Eliot, savior, saint, path, Victorian, heroine, realism