The Brontës and Religion

By Marianne Thormählen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
God and his creation

DIVINE AND HUMAN LOVE

Evangelical Christianity in the nineteenth-century Church of England was a profoundly emotional faith. Its exponents were tireless in exhorting believers to give their hearts to God. 1 Discoursing on Divine love, Isaac Watts – another household name in Haworth Parsonage – had stressed that that one passion 'will influence all the other Affections of the Heart'. 2 God's love for mankind was the fundament on which all religious commitment and activity rested, the first cause in every individual's spiritual peregrination and his/her mainstay to the end. Time and again, an Evangelical divine would remind his readers that 'God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life' (John 3:16).

This insistence on Divine love was not an exclusively Evangelical phenomenon, however. Directly or indirectly influenced by Coleridge's explorations of the connexions between reason, feeling, belief and experience, theologians in various quarters enquired into the ways in which human hearts are won for God through Christ. What strikes a reader of much early-nineteenth-century devotional literature is the sense of a close and living communion with God, a communion which involves the whole human personality. Religious despair and depression are states induced and exacerbated by a loss of that essential nearness.

These features are present in the Brontë novels, too. It is, for instance, significant that Jane Eyre's 'remembrance of God' in her desolation does not manage to inspire her with the strength to pray and hence unleashes the full force of her misery. Her collapse under that misery is aptly foreshadowed in words borrowed from David's 22nd Psalm, 'Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help' (v. 11) – the Psalm which begins, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?'

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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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