“…when we have to do with vice and vicious characters, I maintain it is better to depict them as they really are than as they would wish to appear. To represent a bad thing in its least offensive light is, doubtless, the most agreeable course for a writer of fiction to pursue; but is it the most honest, or the safest? Is it better to reveal the snares and pitfalls of life to the young and thoughtless traveller, or to cover them with branches and flowers? Oh, reader! if there were less of this delicate concealment of facts – this whispering, ‘Peace, peace,’ when their is no peace, there would be less of sin and misery to the young of both sexes who are left to wring their bitter knowledge from experience.”
Anne Brontë, preface to the second edition of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
Let me start by saying that The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is an amazing novel. Sadly, Anne Brontë had to defend it from the critics who thought it was overly graphic and disturbing – and her sister Charlotte was one of those critics. Anne Brontë never became as popular as her sisters during her lifetime and only lately was her novel re-discovered and given the attention it deserved.
So, what was so disturbing about The Tenant of Wildfell Hall? It is a story about a woman who escapes from her abusive, alcoholic husband and in the end finds happiness. The husband, Arthur Huntington, and his lifestyle are presented in a realistic, honest manner. And that was what bothered Anne’s contemporaries. Today, no one would find the novel too graphic. However, this opens some questions about many books that get banned today for similar reasons.
I have to say I agree with Anne Brontë completely. Life can be gruesome and horrible, and literature should be allowed to present it as it is. I know some people are sensitive to graphic imagery, and that is fine, they should be warned about it so that they can avoid the books which disturb them. However, this doesn’t mean that such books should be banned. Literature, and art in general, has the right to question and to provoke.
You can read the entire preface by Anne Brontë HERE, it is great, and short. But I can’t resist to add just one more sentence:
All novels are, or should be, written for both men and women to read, and I am at a loss to conceive how a man should permit himself to write anything that would be really disgraceful to a woman, or why a woman should be censured for writing anything that would be proper and becoming for a man.
Quite opiniated and maybe not as meek as she was usually protrayed, eh?