Recently I asked Messineo about what she was reading. Her reply:
While attending language school in Tuscany last summer, I stumbled across The Tenant of Wildfell Hall in their tiny, English-language lending library and my life was forever changed. Written by the much lesser known sister Anne Bronte (using the male pseudonym of Acton Bell, thus retaining her initials), this book was revolutionary and 100, 150 years before its time. After years of manipulation and misuse, a free-thinking woman escapes from her villainous husband, with her young son in tow. Instead of focusing solely upon this abusive relationship (as other novels from this time period would have done), and far from praising the long-suffering female archetype for remaining in bondage, Wildfell Hall is unique in that it opens ‘after the fact.’ The woman has already escaped, and we know nothing of the mysterious new tenant, Helen Graham, other than that she has moved into a provincial neighborhood and prefers to keep to herself. Only later in the novel - after the townspeople have accepted, rejected, befriended, fallen in love with and ultimately ostracized Helen for refusing to divulge her secrets or her reasons for remaining aloof - do we finally hear of her flight from her husband, her desperate search for sanctuary and her ultimate triumph of spirit, even as her and her child’s physical safety becomes more and more threatened. Divorce and legal separation would not have existed for Helen in the mid-1800’s. She breaks all convention - and loses all contact with the ‘respectable’ - when she makes her final, desperate bid for freedom, both for her and her son’s sake. The results of Helen flying in the face of convention - losing friends, fortune and reputation in the process - are beautifully countered with her utter confidence in her decision. Her moral certitude. Her poise and grace. Her self-reliance, self-assurance and self-respect, even as the world around her screams its condemnation. I have never read a book quite like Wildfell Hall, and recommend it not only to lovers of Bronte, but to anyone looking to transcend the limitations of their own lives.Follow Teresa Messineo on Facebook.
My Book, The Movie: The Fire by Night.
The Page 69 Test: The Fire by Night.