Short summary - The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
In his letters to a friend, the main character talks about his meeting with his future wife, who comes to his region in order to hide with his son from his cruel first husband.
The first part of the epistolary novel, told in the form of letters from the protagonist, Gilbert Markham, to his friend Jack Holford, tells about the arrival of a mysterious woman dressed in mourning in the long-empty Wildfell Hall mansion. Her appearance arouses serious interest among the inhabitants of the nearby village, they take turns visiting her, but, unfortunately, the stranger who appears to be Mrs. Graham gives them a very cold welcome. They only manage to find out that she is a widow, and the company is her maid. Soon Gilbert meets Mrs. Graham on Sunday service. He finds the woman beautiful, but her manner of holding herself is repulsive.
Two days later, hunting near Wildfell Hall, Gilbert rescues a boy of about five, who, seeing his dog and deciding to meet him, tried to climb over the fence of the mansion, but clung to a tree branch and hung on it. The scared Mrs. Graham soon runs out to the cries of her son, she coldly thanks Gilbert and does not hide her distrust of him.
A couple of days later, Mrs. Graham comes with her son to a Markham dinner party. Her views on raising her son and her unwillingness to give the child even a drop of alcohol amaze the guests. Between Mrs. Graham and Gilbert, a dispute ensues over the upbringing of children, which further spoils their relationship. But little Arthur, the son of Mrs. Graham, who, on the contrary, is imbued with trust in Gilbert, forces them to reconcile.
Despite the fact that Mrs. Graham's views provoke indignation in the village, the flow of visitors to her does not stop. Having once arrived at her home with her sister Rosa, Gilbert learns that Mrs. Graham earns a living by selling paintings. Only now she signs the view of Wildfell Hall with the coined name of Fearnley-Manor, and she doesn’t put her initials in the picture. From whom is she hiding?
Over time, Gilbert realizes that the mysterious Mrs. Graham is causing him more and more interest. He stops caring for Eliza Millward, who had been sweet to him until now, and switches his attention to the beautiful inhabitant of Wildfell Hall. In revenge, Eliza, along with her friend Jane Wilson, begins to spread scandalous rumors about Mrs. Graham. Jane's hatred is also not groundless - the owner of Wildfell Hall, Mr. Lawrence, to whom she is not indifferent, pays too much attention to Mrs. Graham.
Nevertheless, Helen (the name of Mrs. Graham Gilbert learns only after a long acquaintance with her) resolutely rejects all his courtship. Messy gossip about Mrs. Graham will soon turn into bullying. Gilbert resolutely refuses to believe any rumors and, wishing to protect her from libel, Helen confesses her feelings and offers to marry him. She refuses, but promises to reveal to him the secret of her past if they meet the next day on a moorland. However, Gilbert decides not to leave her depressed - he returns to Wildfell Hall, and here, unfortunately, sees Helen walking in the garden with Mr. Lawrence. During the conversation, part of which he heard, it becomes clear that they are dear to each other. Gilbert decides that the dirty rumors turned out to be true, and they are truly lovers.
A few days later, Gilbert meets Lawrence during a trip to a neighboring city and, exchanging barbs with him, hits him with a whip, from which he falls from his horse. From Helen, he tries to stay away, even the attempts of little Arthur to reconcile them do not bring results. Soon, Gilbert notices that his behavior brings Helen suffering and yet goes to Wildfell Hall. After hearing the reason for his alienation, Mrs. Graham gives him her diary, which, according to her, should make Gilbert understand that his conclusions are incorrect.
The next part of the novel consists of diary entries narrated on behalf of Helen, and begins with the fact that she, a young eighteen-year-old girl, returns from her first trip to London. All her impressions of the trip are overshadowed by the nascent feeling for Arthur Huntingdon, a handsome and charming, but immoral young man. Despite her aunt trying to reason with her, Helen is confident that she can fix Arthur for the better if she marries him.
Mr. Huntingdon shares Helen’s feelings, but his courtship is rude and selfish. Without asking, he takes a folder with Helen's drawings, where, to his delight, he finds his portrait painted by a girl in love, and when she takes offense at such behavior and begins to communicate coldly with him, Arthur begins to flirt revealingly with Annabella Wilmot, who is not indifferent to him. Despite this, Helen’s feelings for him do not fade away, and she responds to his proposal with consent.
After the wedding, Arthur does not change, he continues to tease his wife - this time with stories about his adventures with women. All this leads to a quarrel, but the young couple soon reconciled and together leave for London. After some time, Arthur forces Helen to leave home alone, as he has important things to do in his city that will only tire her. He returns only after three and a half months, and Helen, by his appearance, understands that he was busy in London not with chores, but with entertainments.
Soon, Helen gives birth to a child, who is also named Arthur in honor of his father. Huntingdon Sr. does not share his wife’s love for her son, on the contrary, his mother’s attention to the child causes jealousy.
Arthur’s trips to London become annual, Helen does not take with him there. Only guests can reconcile him with life at home, with his wife. In the diary, Helen pays a lot of attention to the individual friends of Arthur - Lord Loughborough, Ralph Hattersley and Walter Hargrave. All of them play important roles in Helen's family life.
Arthur’s feelings for his wife are gradually dying away, and Walter Hargrave, secretly in love with Helen, cannot fail to notice this. However, Helen resolutely rejects all his courtship. To dilute the bitterness of family life, she is helped by stubborn hopes for the best and friendship with Millicent Hargrave, the unfortunate wife of Ralph Hattersley, the same revelers as Arthur.
Less than three years after the wedding, Helen finds out that Arthur is cheating on her with Annabella Wilmot, the wife of the melancholy and patient Lord Loughborough, Arthur's longtime friend. Unlike Huntingdon, he managed to overcome the bad addiction to alcohol, opium and gambling. Alas, to build a happy family life, which he so dreamed about, it did not help him.
As soon as Helen finds out about the betrayal, she requires Arthur to let her and her son live separately, but Arthur resolutely refuses, not wanting to spoil his reputation. Helen's life becomes even more unbearable when she realizes that her son is much more attached to his father, who indulges all his whims than to her. When Huntingdon Sr. begins to teach his little son to drink and swear, Helen decides to flee. She plans to make a living by painting and selling paintings, but Arthur finds out about her plans and burns all of her painting supplies.
Lord Loughborough only learns of his wife’s infidelity after two years and, in spite of mental anguish, divorces her. From her, he has two children left - his own son and daughter, whose father, most likely, is Huntingdon. However, the lord raises her as a native. Arthur soon finds himself a new lover - Miss Myers, who hires a governess to her little son.
Helen’s position seems hopeless, but her brother Frederick comes to the rescue, ready to give her sister asylum in Wildfell Hall, the now-empty mansion in which they were born and lived as children.
In the early autumn morning, Helen, along with her son and faithful servant Rachel, flees from her husband's house and safely gets to Wildfell Hall. For the purpose of conspiracy, she decides to use her mother’s maiden name - Graham, but to return to her - Lawrence, she does not dare.
The narrative in the third part of the novel, as in the first, comes on behalf of Gilbert, in letters. In the morning, having finished reading the diary, he leaves for Wildfell Hall. At the meeting, Helen asks Gilbert to leave her, because she, as he knows, is not free, and they cannot be together.
Two months after saying goodbye to Gilbert, Helen leaves Wildfell Hall back to her husband, and the reason for this is his illness. Her attempts to help turn out to be futile - Arthur brings himself to the grave only in that, contrary to the doctor’s instructions, he continues to drink alcohol.
A year passes. Eliza Millward, who never forgave insults, once happily informs Gilbert that his dear Helen is about to marry, and not for anyone, but for her Walter Hargrave, who was repeatedly rejected by her. Gilbert immediately goes to the place of the alleged wedding, but there he finds out that in reality things are somewhat different - Frederick Lawrence will marry another representative of the Hargraves family, Esther.
The fate of sister Esther and girlfriend Helen, Millicent, also develops happily - not wanting to repeat the fate of her friend Huntingdon, her husband decides to stop drinking and drinking and devote himself to a family that has always been dear to him. In his letters, Gilbert also mentions Lord Loughborough, who nevertheless finds himself a faithful wife and a good mother to his children from Annabella.
Realizing that his feelings for Helen for more than a year's separation have not diminished, Gilbert decides to visit her, but on the way to Helen's estate he finds out that now her financial situation is much higher than his. He is tormented by doubts whether she will agree to marry a simple farmer, and he decides that he should return.
However, after a chance meeting on the road, Helen invites Gilbert to his estate with undisguised joy and makes it clear that for her the difference in social status is nothing compared to the union of sincerely loving kindred souls and hearts. Lovers soon marry and live, according to the assurances of Gilbert himself, very happily.