One Story, Three Interpretations

The Value Of Writing Groups: Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall – One Story, Three Interpretations

Writing and critique groups develop your writing skills. Let’s look at how one story can have three interpretations.

J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were part of one at Oxford called The Inklings. What does that have to do with Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall? It’s something that has been rolling around in my mind for a while.

The Value Of Writing Groups: Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall – One Story, Three Interpretations

The Brontë sisters and their brother, Branwell, were all lively, imaginative, and highly creative when they were together.

Voraciously reading the books, journals and newspapers their father liberally supplied them with, the girls and their brother had been writing collaboratively since their childhood. Together they invented the imaginary African Kingdom of Glass, the Empire of Angria and Gondal, an island continent in the North Pacific, ruled by a woman.

Was it this collaborative writing that prompted the creation of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, and the lesser-known novel by Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall? I can imagine one of them, during their intense discussions about their works in progress after dinner one night, suggesting a challenge: to each write a book that had to include a number of elements.

Besides the elements described below, my only other ‘evidence’, and it’s extremely tenuous, is the fact that Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall were published in 1847, 1848, and 1849 respectively.

Here Are 6 Elements That All The Novels Have

1. A Dark, Enigmatic, Dangerous Hero.

The poet Byron was a favourite among the girls. His dark looks, wild behaviour, not to mention dissolute morals intrigued them. Outside the family, the girls were often debilitatingly shy. The possibility of being loved by, and saving, someone like Byron must have been fascinating. Especially for daughters of a perpetual curate. All the main male characters in each book seems built along the same lines as Byron, and all have a wildness about them to varying degrees.

  • Jane Eyre has Edward Fairfax Rochester. A man willing to lie to the woman he loves in order to marry her and, when she discovers the truth, tries to persuade her to be his mistress.
  • Wuthering Heights has Heathcliff. As a child, he is described as a brave and independent playmate who encourages Catherine to behave in an unlady-like manner. As an adult, he is a violent, sadistic man whose only motivation is revenge, and is called a ‘demon’ by other characters in the book.
  • The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall has Arthur Huntingdon. A man whose loose morals, longing for his mistress, abuse, and drunkenness forces his wife, Helen, to take their young son and flee.

2. A Wild And Lonely Setting – possibly Norton Conyers and Ponden Hall.

All the books are Gothic in nature, and the settings are the foundation for that.

  • Jane Eyre is set principally in Yorkshire in the north of England, with large, cold, unfriendly homes, deprivation-heavy schools and the moors. While there is only a small amount of evidence to support it, Norton Conyers could easily have been the inspiration for Thornfield Hall.
  • Wuthering Heights is also located in Yorkshire, in a small, isolated, and wild area dominated by two grand estates. It has been said that Wuthering Heights was based on the real-life Ponden Hall, a great country house not far from the Brontë’s parsonage at Haworth.
  • The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall takes place in Yorkshire as well. Wildfell Hall is apparently also based on the real-life Ponden Hall.

3. A Strong Woman Who Leaves and Returns

Each of the main female characters are strong women, albeit in different ways.

  • Jane Eyre’s titular character may seem mousey and lacking in any spirit or fire, but that is not true. She is creative, has strong morals, deep self-respect, knows her own mind, and flees to stay true to her own convictions. In the end, she returns to Rochester rather than enter a loveless marriage with St John.
  • Wuthering Heights’ Catherine is a dominant character who has no respect for societal norms. After her death, she returns as a ghost to Heathcliff. Her return is almost a version of revenge against him as her supernatural presence torments Heathcliff. She is the only main female character of the three who has no morals.
  • The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall’s Helen Huntingdon / Graham is creative, brave, and flees with her son when her abusive husband begins to corrupt her son. She returns to nurse her husband when he is dying.

4. A Problem In Law

Each of the stories have an added complication based on the laws at the time.

  • Jane Eyre and Rochester can’t marry as he’s already married and can’t divorce his wife as she is insane.
  • Wuthering Heights’ revenge plot is made possible by the laws of inheritance at the time.
  • In The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall, Helen Huntingdon / Graham is a proficient enough artist to make a living selling her art. Unfortunately, the law at the time said that everything produced by a wife belonged to her husband, including any money she earned.

5. A Voice On The Wind

  • Jane Eyre – While on the verge of accepting St John’s proposal, Jane hears Rochester’s voice calling her and she returns to Thornfield Hall.
  • Wuthering Heights – Catherine’s ghost calls to Heathcliff.
  • The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall –  I found no evidence for a ‘voice on the wind’. Is there one?

6. Dangerous Place Names That Reflect Location And Characters’ Experience

  • Jane Eyre is set, among other places, at Thornfield Hall. A field full of thorns is a great visual description of all the trials and tribulations Jane has already encountered and will still face once she meets Rochester.
  • Wuthering Heights – ‘Wuthering’ means strong winds. Throughout the book, the characters are blown by the strong winds of cruelty, revenge and hatred.
  • The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall – A ‘fell’ is a high and barren landscape. This paints an honest image of Helen’s empty, barren marriage to Arthur Huntingdon.

The Last Word

I hope this idea of one story with three interpretations gives you some food for thought.

Elaine Dodge

by Elaine Dodge. Elaine is the author of The Harcourts of Canada series. Elaine trained as a graphic designer, then worked in design, advertising, and broadcast television. She now creates content, mostly in written form, for clients across the globe, but would much rather be drafting her books and short stories.

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Posted on: 28th September 2022
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