The influence of Christianity

The significance of belief

As the daughter of a clergyman, Charlotte Brontë inevitably grew up in a deeply religious atmosphere. Rev. Brontë was extremely devout, as was his wife, Maria Branwell, who also brought to the household the influence of her Methodist upbringing. The latter was intensified when Elizabeth Branwell went to live at Haworth after her sister's death in 1821.

Social contact

Many of the men Charlotte and her sisters met would have been clergymen like their father, either his curates or ministers visiting from neighbouring parishes. This no doubt accounts for the fact that clergymen or those who hold strong religious views appear in almost every one of the Brontë novels.

Linguistic influence

Charlotte Brontë was strongly influenced by the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. Hearing readings and sermons week by week in church, she absorbed the language and rhythms of the Bible and of Anglican worship, to which there are many direct references in her fiction.

Physical presence

Outward signs of religion were more obvious in Charlotte Brontë's lifetime than today. Churches were built in the new industrial cities and about half the population attended regularly. In villages and older towns and cities, parishes continued to be centres of the life of the community, as they had been for centuries. Moreover, even those who were not Christians or did not hold traditional beliefs would have recognized the Christian origins of the moral and ethical standards of the day.

Church and Chapel

Dissatisfaction with the church

John WesleyDuring the eighteenth century, there had been great dissatisfaction with the Anglican Church and new religious movements grew up, including Methodism, whilst the Baptist Church which had started in 1612 also flourished. The Congregationalist churches had developed from the Independent churches that seceded from the Church of England at the time of the English Civil War. Collectively, these became known as Dissenting or Nonconformist churches.

When he was a young man, Rev. Patrick Brontë had friends who were Methodists and had been affected by their beliefs. In fact, Haworth was an appropriate parish for Rev. Brontë because it had a long connection with Methodism. John Wesley himself had preached there in 1748, speaking to 4000 people in the churchyard; and William Grimshaw, whose ministry was from 1742-63, made a practice of traveling round the parish, holding services in cottages, on the model of Wesley and the early Methodists.

Religious practice and class

These secessions and new sects had arisen because people wanted a simpler, more direct religion and forms of worship without priests or ritual. These new congregations, particularly the Methodists and the Baptists, were predominantly lower class and a social distinction was indicated by describing people as either ‘church' (i.e. Anglican) or ‘chapel' (i.e. Nonconformist).


Since 1783 a powerful movement known as Evangelicalism had been formed within the Church of England, in part influenced by some Nonconformist sects. Evangelicals believed that human beings are profoundly affected by sin and therefore unable to achieve a close relationship with God by their own efforts, however hard they might try. William Wilberforce (1759-1833, the great social reformer who was one of the leaders of the campaign to end slavery in Britain) and Lord Shaftesbury (1801-85, who worked to end poverty and the exploitation of children) were both Evangelicals.

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