Anne Bronte presents two different depictions of fatherhood in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall that correspond to different expressions of masculinity. Anne Bronte comments on masculinity in the Victorian Era by presenting these different examples in the characters of Mr. Markham and Mr. Huntingdon as they interact with Arthur, Helen’s son. Both men display masculine traits as viewed by Victorian Era thought, but these traits vary between manly virtue (dignity and honesty) and manly vice (drinking and swearing). Furthermore, Bronte depicts patterns of abusive masculinity in the character Mr. Huntingdon in his interactions with Arthur as his biological father while also depicting nurturing behavior in Mr. Markham, despite such behavior being regarded as typically feminine. Mr. Markham shares no blood ties with Arthur, but his care for Helen includes his care for her son. Bronte illustrates how Mr. Markham’s relationship with Arthur is much more wholesome and beneficial to the boy than Mr. Huntingdon’s relationship with Arthur, insinuating that healthy fatherhood requires more than just typically masculine traits or biological relations. From all this, I glean that Bronte is commenting on Victorian Era family ideals alongside the ideals of masculinity. In the dynamics she creates between father figures and Arthur, Bronte shows how easy it is for the family structure, so idealized by her contemporary society, to be abused when male authority has free reign. But she also illustrates how it is possible to have a slightly less conventional family structure that, while looking quite different than most lauded family arrangements of the Victorian Era, actually works as well as (if not better than) the typical domestic ideal.
King, Mary Grace
"Father Figures in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall: Bronte's Perspective on Victorian Era Masculinity,"
The Criterion: Vol. 2019
, Article 7.
Available at: https://crossworks.holycross.edu/criterion/vol2019/iss1/7