So much of this story paralleled my experience of marriage that it is hard to believe the author never was married or that it was written in a different age. Of course, the social customs are different in this story, but the human experience doesn't seem to change throughout the generations. Helen Graham and her small son, along with one servant, arrive as tenants in Wildfell Hall and the county's residents are fascinated by her. She is purported to be a widow, but can we be sure? Tongues begin wagging as she is seen in the company of a single man, her landlord. Gilbert Markham, who has fallen in love with Helen, is loath to believe the rumors until he witnesses what he believes is a romantic encounter between Helen and the other man. Helen shares her journal with Gilbert and he learns her true story. The bulk of the book is Helen's journal, which tells of a journey from the innocent, optimistic newlywed to a mature woman who chooses to take her child and flee from an intolerable marriage. Despite her aunt's warnings to keep her eyes open and make sure to marry a man who is upright and stable (and haven't many of us heard that same warning?), Helen believes she has found the ideal mate in Arthur Huntingdon. Although Arthur runs with a wild crowd, Helen is certain he will settle down once they are married and that she will be a positive influence on Arthur. As the years pass, and particularly after their child is born, Helen realizes that Arthur has not changed and may have become even worse. He drinks to excess, has affairs, and is verbally abusive toward his wife. His health begins to deteriorate. In the company of his friends, Helen becomes the butt of jokes, as the men consider her to be too pious and too much of a nag. Helen's main concern, however, is the influence of the men on her son. Apparently early critics of this story found the depiction of the dysfunctional home too unsettling, and many feared the strong feminine character. In her introduction to the second edition, Bronte defends her novel as being true and says that society, women in particular, need to be made aware of the pitfalls of naivete. The character of Arthur Huntingdon does not resort to physical violence against his wife or child, which might have pushed the story over the edge to melodrama; the verbal abuse and mind games he plays are truer to life and so accurately wrought that they may actually be more effective in making the point. Even though this book was written more than a century ago, it spoke to me on a personal level, and I imagine it would have a similar effect on a lot of modern readers. Although women certainly have more freedom and independence today, many of Helen's experiences still ring true. I myself wore rose-colored glasses into my marriage and experienced the disillusionment of finding my husband to be callous and unwilling to compromise. I too struggled with how to raise children to respect their father without becoming like him. I felt the same worries about how to support myself and my children if I should leave. It is likely that many modern readers have had similar experiences, because human nature doesn't change substantially, even if culture does. I found myself marking a lot of passages that had particular resonance for me: Principle is the first thing, after all; and next to that, good sense, respectability, and moderate wealth. If you should marry the handsomest, and most accomplished and superficially agreeable man in the world, you little know the misery that would overwhelm you if, after all, you should find him to be a worthless reprobate, or even an impracticable fool. +++ Arthur is not what is commonly called a bad man: he has many good qualities; but he is a man without self-restraint or lofty aspirations--a lover of pleasure, given up to animal enjoyments: he is not a bad husband, but his notion of matrimonial duties and comforts are not my notions. +++ I had my darling, sinless, inoffensive little one to console me, but even this consolation was embittered by the constantly recurring thought, "How shall I teach him, hereafter, to respect his father, and yet to avoid his example?" +++ Things that formerly shocked and disgusted me, now seem only natural. I know them to be wrong, because reason and God's word delcare them to be so; but I am gradually losing that instinctive horror and repulsion which was given me by nature, or instilled into me by the precepts and example of my aunt. Perhaps, then, I was too severe in my judgments, for I abhorred the sinner as well as the sin; now, I flatter myself I am more charitable and considerate, but am I not becoming more indifferent and insensate too? Fool that I was to dream I had strength and purity enough to save myself and him! +++ ...[H]ow shall I get through the months or years of my future life, in company with that man--my greatest enemy--for none could injure me as he has done? Oh! When I think how fondly, how foolishly I have loved him, how madly I have trusted him, and struggled for his advantage; and how cruelly he has trampled on my love, betrayed my trust, scorned my prayers and tears, and efforts for his preservation--crushed my hopes, destroyed my youth's best feelings, and doomed me to a life of hopeless misery--as far as man can do it--it is not enough to say that I no longer love my husband--I HATE him! +++ ...I have had nine weeks' experience of this new phase of conjugal life--two persons living together, as master and mistress of the house, and father and mother of a winsome, merry little child, with the mutual understanding that there is no love, friendship, or sympathy between them. +++ I do not advise you to marry for love alone--there are many, many other things to be considered. Keep both heart and hand in your own possession, till you see good reason to part with them; and if such an occasion should never present itself, comfort your mind with this reflection: that, though in single life your joys may not be very many, your sorrows at least will not be more than you can bear. The introduction to this volume emphasizes Bronte's theme of raising a child correctly, but my focus on reading was the experience of marriage. I believe this is an excellent portrait of a relationship gone wrong. If the novel has any weaknesses, I think they are in the framing story: the love affair between Gilbert and Helen does not seem as genuine, although Gilbert's relationship with little Arthur is illustrated beautifully, and Helen's return to nurse her sick husband seemed sudden and a little TOO pious. But these facets do allow for the story to have a happy ending, which I found satisfying.Overall, I loved this book and am glad I finally read one of the youngest Bronte sister's novels.