The influence of Christianity

The significance of belief

As the daughter of a clergyman, Emily 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 Emily 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, though often not in very complimentary terms.

Church and Chapel

Dissatisfaction with the church

During 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.

John WesleyWhen 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 travelling 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).


William WilberforceSince 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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