For the most part I liked this book. There were some parts and themes that I really enjoyed and others that left me scratching my head. I was so impressed with the heroine, Helen Graham. Her ability to leave her terrible husband and seek out and find a better life for herself and her son is something to cheer. And yay for Anne Bronte for developing this woman. Leaving is the one thing that even modern women in bad relationships will find really difficult to undertake. To top it all off, Helen is an artist and can/wants to support herself through these efforts which I find wonderfully endearing.
The format is epistolary which makes for an interesting perspective. As I read more and more of these types of novels, the more I like this way of telling a story. Helen is introduced as a widow with a secret past and some odd behavior (she never lets her son out of her sight and is not too social). Immediately gossip follows the mystery causing all kinds of revelations and situations.
Throughout my reading, I liked Helen *which is important* and gave her credit for showing initiative and leaving a not-so-good-situation. I wondered about her observations around her husband and his behavior (and that of his friends) - her naiveté was equal to that of Gaskell's Ruth. Anyone could see that he was a nut and that he wasn't going off on trips just to relax. He was rather brutal and even downright mean. His behavior towards their son is also very dramatic and almost overly so...Helen did exhibit a few not so bright moments i.e. when she writes down plans that were later easily discovered. FYI: no paper put on a desk or in a drawer is private for goodness sake!!
Gilbert Markham is the gentleman who pursues Helen while she is "independent" and a "widow". I thought that he was a bit immature and did some really stupid things. So I really wasn't a fan. Believing that Helen is seeing someone else, he brutally attacks this individual and causes some pretty serious harm. Later he realizes what a bad call he has made, but by then I have already decided that he is too impulsive and immature for me to fully like. There is some maturation by the end of the book, but I am not sure yet if it is enough for me to decide that I am happy for Helen.
This may be a book that will grow with a second reading in the future.