Religion and the Brontë Family: Pray and Love


Image: Brontë Parsonage Museum, photographer unknown

The nineteenth century and the Victorian period in particular has long been characterized as a time of religious decline and crisis.


Evangelicalism was fundamentally important in Patrick Brontës’ home, which has exerted profound influences on the Brontës’ growth and education.



In the 18th century, Evangelicalism emerged as a reaction against the secularity and spiritual shallowness prevailing in the established Church. In the early nineteenth century, Evangelical Bishops began to be appointed, and Evangelicalism became the predominant religious movement in the Churches in England. After 1830, a decline set in; but it was gradual, and the Brontë sisters grew up at a time when their father’s spiritual orientation contributed to the central force in the Church he served.


Evangelical families were loyal and devoted, and bonds between parents and children were close and powerful. Unlike the majority of Evangelical Christians who were likely to give their children punishment because of their misbehavior, Patrick Brontë believed it was crucial to “enjoy the good things of this life with gusto”. He was not particularly keen on monitoring his young children for early signs of evil tendencies. Instead, to his children, he gave an appreciable amount of liberty to enjoy childhood games and adventures. He was even happy for them to take part in games of enactment and roleplay- theatre was one of the forms of entertainment which even fairly-minded Evangelicals outlawed. This explains why family affection existed in the Brontës from first to last. Emily Brontë was not the only child from an Evangelical home who suffered intense homesickness even to the point of physical ill-health when obliged to spend time away from it.


The Evangelicals insisted that a Christian’s commitment to God was a matter of the heart. Patrick Brontë made the “love of God” rather than the fear of hell the ruling motive of obedience in teaching his children. Anne Brontë discussed the significance of the statement “God is Love” in Agnes Grey, which resonates with the very core values of the Evangelical movement.


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Sources:

Thormählen, Marianne. The Brontës and Religion. Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Hughes, Glyn. Brontë. 1st U.S. ed., St. Martin’s Press, 1996.

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