The Brontës and Religion

By Marianne Thormählen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9
The Christian life

A much-quoted sentence from Coleridge's Aids to Reflection proclaims that 'Christianity is not a Theory, or a Speculation; but a Life. –Nota Philosophy of Life, but a Life and a living Process. ' 1 An examination of religion in the fiction of the Brontës must address the question of how the authors dealt with Christianity as the very substance of daily life. Interaction with and obligations to one's fellow-creatures form part of everyday existence for any human being, fictive or real, and the functions of the individual in his/her relations with other people are often raised in the following pages. But though many Brontë characters are keenly aware of, and labour to fulfil, duties both to people in their immediate surroundings and to larger communities, their most urgent concern is with their own selves. Consequently, this chapter devotes a good deal of space to the obligation of the individual to assume responsibility for his/her own life.

It is an obligation from which no leading Brontë character, male or female, is excused, no matter how constrained the latter's situation may be. It is significant that not even the Brontë heroine whose predicament comes closest to long-term submission under patriarchal rule, Caroline Helstone in Shirley, exempts herself from the duty to create a meaningful existence for herself. It is not always observed that the pages in which Charlotte Brontë uses Caroline's plight as a point of departure for a rousing call to 'Men of Yorkshire!', 'Men of England!' and 'Fathers!' to deliver their daughters from the shackles of irksome domesticity are at the same time a call for women's freedom to labour, physically and mentally. It is still rarer for a reference to this impassioned plea to acknowledge that Caroline believes herself to speak with God's approval, and that her own concrete efforts are channelled in the direction of an 'imitation of Christ'. This emphasis on responsibility, self-searching and useful endeavour in the service of God is a direct reflection of the Evangelical milieu in which the Brontës grew up. 2

-144-

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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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