The Brontës and Religion

By Marianne Thormählen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
Forgiveness and revenge

When the struggle was over – and a marble calm began to succeed the last dread agony – I felt as I had never felt before that there was peace and forgiveness for him in Heaven. All his errors – to speak plainly – all his vices seemed nothing to me in that moment; every wrong he had done, every pain he had caused, vanished; his sufferings only were remembered; the wrench to the natural affections only was felt. If Man can thus experience total oblivion of his fellow's imperfections – how much more can the Eternal Being who made man, forgive his creature! 1

Charlotte Brontë's hopes that her wretched brother would find forgiveness in Heaven were bolstered by the change she had seen come over him during the last days of his life. As death approached, Branwell Brontë's unquiet mind seems to have left off its pursuit of phantoms and concentrated on the requisite for grace: repentance. 2 As she envisaged God's pardon for the brother who had brought such misery on his family, Charlotte felt able to forgive him too.

The necessity of repentance before God was discussed above; but anyone who hopes for Divine mercy must also make his peace with his fellow creatures. The Lord's Prayer makes God's forgiveness conditional on the penitent's ability to exercise mercy in his turn, and human reconciliation features prominently in the fiction of the Brontës. The opposite of reconciliation is, of course, revenge, and Wuthering Heights is a nineteenth-century Revenger's Tragedy in which the avenger is never reconciled – Heathcliff seeks no forgiveness and grants none – but ultimately disarmed by the one force that is stronger than his hatred.

In view of the close link between human and Divine forgiveness, it is not surprising that the Brontë books in which the last things play particularly prominent roles should also be the ones most concerned with revenge and pardon between human beings: The Tenant of Wildfell

-119-

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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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