The Brontës and Religion

By Marianne Thormählen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Charlotte Brontë and the Church of Rome

Although the Brontës, father and children, took a lively interest in the continuous bickering between and among Church of England representatives and various kinds of Dissent, occasionally contributing to it themselves, the tone of their polemics is comparatively light. Doctrinal disputes are usually conducted with irony rather than heat. As was pointed out above, one often has a feeling that what the Brontë sisters object to in Nonconformists is silly or unseemly behaviour rather than fundamental, and potentially dangerous, errors. But when the focus shifts from fellow Protestants – however personally irksome and religiously misguided – to Roman Catholics, a different note creeps in. Charlotte Brontë's fiction, especially Villette, evinces a degree of hostility to the Church of Rome which has grated on many readers. It was a little hard to stomach even for a few of her contemporaries, especially High-Church Anglicans and free-thinkers; and in modern times (with their readiness to stigmatise anyone who expresses public disapproval of a religious denomination other than the Established Church) she has often been condemned as intolerant and bigoted. It is the purpose of this chapter to clarify the diverse factors which bred and conditioned that hostility, looking at the particularities of its textual manifestations in the process.

First of all, though, it should be observed that simple biographical circumstances made it more natural for Charlotte to engage with 'Romanism' than it would have been for either of her sisters. Anne saw very little of it; 1 and unlike Charlotte, Emily was never exposed to a Roman Catholic environment on her own, and under trying circumstances. In addition to these outward conditions, there were temperamental reasons for the latter's preoccupation with the Church of Rome, and I will return to them by way of conclusion to this discussion.

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The Brontës and Religion
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Abbreviations and Editions ix
  • Introduction 1
  • I - Denominations *
  • Chapter 1 - A Christian Home in Early Nineteenth-Century England: Evangelicalism, Dissent and the Brontë Family 13
  • Chapter 2 - Charlotte Brontë and the Church of Rome 24
  • Chapter 3 - An Undenominational Temper 39
  • II - Doctrines *
  • Chapter 4 - The Brontës in the Theological Landscape of Their Time 47
  • Chapter 5 - God and His Creation 53
  • Chapter 6 - Faith and Redemption 71
  • Chapter 7 - This Life and the Next 90
  • III - Ethics *
  • Chapter 8 - Forgiveness and Revenge 119
  • Chapter 9 - The Christian Life 144
  • IV - Clerics *
  • Chapter 10 - Clergymen in the Brontë Novels 173
  • Chapter 11 - The Enigma of St John Rivers 204
  • Notes 221
  • Select Bibliography 271
  • Index 278
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