The Brontës and Religion

By Marianne Thormählen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
This life and the next

The works, in poetry and fiction, of all three Brontë sisters reflect the conviction that the passion of love is never simply bounded by the span of human life on earth. That passion, variously conceived, 1 lies at the heart of the Brontë novels and resists whatever forces are marshalled against it. Such forces are without exception evil, whether they manifest themselves in the selfish desires of the proud, weak or misguided or in the machinations of the envious and the actively malevolent. Similarly, the power of love is informed and sustained by a goodness whose strength may well be called supra-human. The operations of coincidence may fit into providential patterns, as Thomas Vargish has shown in respect of Jane Eyre. 2 Even in Wuthering Heights, hatred ultimately has to yield to love. 3

But if love draws its power from beyond earthly existence in all the Brontë novels, certain distinctions emerge when the nature of that beyond is placed under scrutiny. The death of the body is never viewed as the end of a person's life; but the conceptions of an afterlife vary considerably, and the three authors explore them from different standpoints.


THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL

Despite the doctrinal audacity of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, that novel is in one sense closer than any other of the Brontë novels to the view of the last things that prevailed among Evangelical clergy and believers in its day. From beginning to end, the main priority of Helen Lawrence/ Huntingdon is the salvation of her soul, and in due course her son's. Death, even his, would be infinitely preferable to imperilling the hope of everlasting glory. Once bitter experience has taught her not to clothe her own wishes in would-be religious garb, she resists every temptation to infringe Divine laws with a passion bordering on ferocity. Her

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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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