Decorative Initial C

harlotte Brontë and Lord Tennyson both explore the British mid-nineteenth-century crisis of religious faith. Brontë, Tennyson, and many of their contemporaries use child characters and imagery to express the pathos created by this schism in religious belief. Despite the angelic characterization of Helen, her self-destructive, grim religiosity strongly contrasts with Jane's own religious ethic. The inquisitive, young Jane questions remonstrances to turn the other check, ad infinitum. Despite their suffering at the hands of the Evangelical hypocrite, Brocklehurst, religious doubt never builds to a climactic, profound crisis of faith. Instead, these doubts function as one of several themes integrated into Jane's quest for belonging.

The crisis of religious faith in In Memoriam, on the other hand, is the central organizing argument of this poem. In section 54 of the poem, Tennyson uses the desolate image of an infant crying to dramatize the depths of his religious despair. The emotional roots of this crisis lay in the sudden death of Hallam. The intellectual source of Tennyson's doubt were precipitated by advances in scientific thinking. Caperton comments, 'scientific discovery, especially evolution, had found explanations of the dynamics of the universe which debunked what the church offered." ( J. Caperton, "The Crisis of Organized Religion") Tennyson uses child imagery, then, as a symbol which does not integrate so much into a web of thematic elements. Instead, it articulates the single-most organizing principle of the poem.

Content last modified May 1994