Critics of Anne Brontëë's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) have frequently noted the artistic endeavors of the novel's heroine, Helen Graham, yet they have not fully considered the historical and narratological ramifications of Helen's career as a painter. This essay argues that Helen's artworks cannot be considered as mere background to the novel or as simply symbolic reflections of the heroine's (or the author's) emotions. Instead, we must see the scenes of painting in Tenant as indicators of the novel's radical view of women's role as creative producers during a particularly complex moment in art history, one in which early-nineteenth-century female amateurism began its gradual transition from amateur "accomplished" woman to the professional female artist——a historical transition that, as is suggested in readings of various nineteenth-century novels, is in its earliest stages at precisely the moment of the writing and publication of Tenant. At the narrative level, the novel's many scenes of painting provide its readers with detailed, if oblique, guidelines for interpretation; the novel is formally and ideologically impacted by the presence of its painter-heroine. Most particularly, such a reevaluation of the role of painting in the novel resolves a central critical debate over the novel's problematic narrative structure.
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