Yesterday, I posted a review on The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which is mainly about its general themes and my feeling about the story. I think I should elaborate more on The Tenant as a feminist novel. Guilt is a central emotion that drives the actions of the characters. The novel reflects how the society uses the feeling of guilt to restrict women's behaviors and suggests how one might try to resist it.
Some of the negative reactions of Linden-car's residents upon the arrival of a solitary widower presupposes that women living independently of men are guilty. It is because women are not supposed to think for themselves. Mrs. Markham tells her daughter, "Rose, in all household matters, we have two things to consider, first, what's proper to be done, and secondly, what's agreeable to the gentlemen of the house-- anything will do for ladies." She also teaches Gilbert to choose a wife who does not attend to her own pleasure but the men's, 'it's your business to please yourself and hers to please you.' If a woman's business is to take care of the 'gentlemen' at home, a woman who has no gentlemen to attend to is a challenge to that inborn duty. She assumes that Mrs. Graham is not a good person simply because she lives on her own and talks about the rumors attempting to shame Mrs.Graham.
In many parts of the novel, the female characters are using this sense of guilt to sanction each others' or even her own behaviors. In addition to spreading rumors, parental authority teaches girls to feel a sense of guilt when they disobey. For instance, Millicent Hargrave reluctantly marries Mr. Hattersley because she is fear of disobeying her mother whose wish is to have a rich son-in-law. She believes that she should love her husband out of duty despite her disapproval of his behavior and she is guilty having said against him in a letter. Esther, Millicent's younger sister, is being pressured by the family as she rejects the arranged marriage by her mother. She is not sure if she should be the guilty one.
The heroine, Helen Huntingdon resists that sense of guilt when she finds out that the marriage is infelicitous. When Helen knows that Huntingdon and Lady Lowburough have an affair, she hesitates to go down for breakfast the next morning. But then she tells herself, 'let me remember it is not that I am guilty: I have no course to fear; and if they scorn me as the victim of their guilt, I can pity their folly and despise their scorn.' In earlier occasions, when Helen and Huntingdon have a quarrel, she refuses to be a submissive 'good girl' but detests the arrogance of her husband. She also helps her young friend Esther by relieving her feeling of guilt for not obeying her mother.
The book gives us a historical picture of women's situations in.the Victorian era. I think the lesson of this book is not to be ashamed of thinking for yourself and making yourself happy even if people judge you unfavorably.