This story, said by Charlotte Bronte to be "an entire mistake," tells the story of a woman who escapes a horrible husband in order to give her child a better chance at life. Of course, this story resonates with people today as well.
Anne Bronte, however, infuses the idea that it is a more religious thing to do to leave one's husband who is so deeply mired in sin, than to stay with him when he could ruin her son's chances of being a good Christian. In this way, she balances the concept of having a totally outrageous female character who is headstrong and completely independent because of her art work, with a good Christian woman who is unwilling to damage her own soul, or her child's, by living with someone so vile.
Another interesting aspect is the small mindedness of those living in a small village, a theme repeated in Anne's as well as her sister's works. The women of the village, and some of the men, judge Helen based on their conjectures and rumours rather than any substantiated facts.
Helen's good nature is defined by how well she handles these women and their gossip mill. She faces them directly, and plays no games. It makes her an admirable adversary to the gossipmongers, and depicts them as the judgemental and petty people they are.
The local clergyman takes a hit as well, which is interesting given that Helen is such a modicum of Christian conviction. He,too, is judgemental and sometimes even offers up some of the rumours himself, often pressing Gilbert to marry for the sake of "propriety" rather than pursue the mysterious Helen Huntingdon.