Thomas Library

Honors Thesis Archive

Author Elizabeth A. Eshelman
Title Best-Seller or "Entire Mistake"? : The Effect of Form on the Receptions of Anne Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Mrs. Henry Wood's East Lynne
Department English
Advisor Robin Inboden
Year 2006
Honors University Honors
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Abstract The best-selling novel of the nineteenth century, Mrs. Henry Wood's East Lynne, is not commonly read today; neither is Brontë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. These books, published only twelve years apart, share strikingly similar sensational elements and common themes. However, they were received very differently; while the early critics disapproved of the subject matter of the both books, they praised East Lynne highly yet criticized The Tenant, setting the stage of each book's fate through the first part of the twentieth century. As I show in this section of my honors thesis, it is first and foremost the form of these books – point of view, style, and structure – that determines their early treatment. Since the Victorian era refused to give voice to the experience of vicious living, The Tenant threatens the Victorian disguise of respectability by allowing the reader to witness – through a first-person narrator and a structure composed of a letter and a diary – scenes of debauchery and immoral behavior. East Lynne, on the other hand, distances the reader from the immorality in the book by using a third-person, storyteller perspective, thus presenting the story as exactly that – a story, rather than a truthful account.

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