T his is not a Religious age," charges Carlyle in "Signs of the Times" (1829). Yet in ane Eyre's world, this assertion is simply untrue. Although Mr. Brocklehurst might be one of the calculators of the profitable that Carlyle so despised, Miss Temple, Helen Burns, St.John Rivers and his sisters, and even Jane herself all have very strong religious feelings and belief. Bronë accepted that religion was highly personal and very important, as she showed with each of her characters' different approaches to faith and the following of it. St.John is fanatic and totalitarian, Helen frustratingly martyrlike, Miss Temple kind and gentle, Jane troubled but persevering, and the sisters peaceful and good in their attitudes toward religion. The way the inhabitants of Brontë's book deal with theological convictions is closely entwined with their identities.To her, Religion is alive and very influential in people's lives and souls.

She and Carlyle do share a taste for metaphorical foreshadowing, even if their views of contemporary religion clash. Carlyle says, "we are Titans, that strive, by heaping mountain on mountain, to conquer Heaven." Of course, the Titans were defeated by their Father Ouranos, and condemned to dwell forever in exceedingly uncomfortable locales such as Tartarus, or to hold the earth and sky on their shoulders, or to be bound to rock faces by adamantine chains. Are these the ends Carlyle thinks we will meet? His metaphor does not imply that we will succeed in our efforts to conquer Heaven, at any rate. Brontë implies similar failure when the chestnut tree in the garden where Rochester proposes to Jane is split in two on the very night the offer is accepted. This picture, like Carlyle's, brings up distinct images of disaster, and hints of future tragedies as yet unknown to the people who will endure them.

When Carlyle bemoans the death of religion and says that, "Worship . . . is not recognised among us, or is mechanically explained into Fear of pain, or Hope of pleasure," he is mourning a fact that would bring joy to the hearts of some of his contemporaries. August Comte, the French philosopher who created a "secular religion" called Positivism, believed that mankind was progressing toward a state of perfect understanding of the scientific laws which govern all Nature, and therefore eliminate the need to explain natural phenomenon through the medium of imagined entities. He thought that civilisation could be separated into three stages: the theological, in which man "relies on supernatural agencies to explain what he can't otherwise." the metaphysical, during which "man attributes effects to abstract but poorly understood causes," and, at last, the triumphant Positive, "because man now understands the scientific laws which control the world." Unlike Carlyle, a Comtean would rejoice in a nation that thought religion answered only psychological needs.


Victorian Web Overview Thomas Carlyle Charlotte Bronte

Last modified October 1993