Bronte strove to reflect the truth of male domination, moral degradation and domestic abuse to the pious and rigid Victorian society. In writing The Tenant of Wildfell Hall she cut through the hypocrisy of the times and her stark description of female relations was unprecedented. Clearly, Bronte shows how females, rather unwittingly further their own subjugation.
Helen Huntingdon, who is the epitome of morality, yet an unconventional woman, is the subject of derision by many of the female inhabitants of Linden-Car. Mrs Markham finds her home-making duties lacking and calls her son a ‘milksop’ – a direct insult to her parenting. At the arrival of the young widow the gossip that ensues in the small farming village shows the scorn in which independent women were treated and also, that ”scandal…is their (the women’s) chief delight.”
However, the idle gossip-mongering is a product of a lack of proper education and family circumstances. Women, being raised as ‘hothouse plant(s)’ found the notion of self assurance and independence foreign; and thus they became outcast qualities. Women were taught to do ‘whatever pleases the man of the house’ and so be completely dependent on their husband and male figures in their life. Women who were raised in a society that celebrated etiquette and coyness would learn to accept and adopt the dominant societal value, which were ironically developed my men. Therefore when Helen appears, who defies Victorian norms, she is branded an adulterer and is ostracised by the women of the community because of her self-empowerment as a female. Tall Poppy Syndrome, fuelled by jealousy and ignorance, affected the women of Linden-Car, to such an extent that Helen lives a cold and isolated life, as seen in Book 1.
There are other women in the novel who are trapped by societal perceptions, such as Rose Markham. Her statement ‘I’m nothing at all’, exudes the futility and resignation of wanting more, of wanting to be an independent women when dependency is the norm.
By women keeping other women trapped by their words, male superiority is essentially strengthened. The idea of a submissive domestic goddess appealed to men; so they propagated that belief until it became so successful that instead of men spreading the belief, it fell onto females to tell other females how to suit the males.
By both males and females embracing a culture of facade and hypocrisy, the cycle of female subjugation, reliant of dependency, is continued, perhaps to this day…