Religious intellectuals : the poetic gravity of Emily Brontë and Christina Rossetti
This thesis examines the writing of Emily Brontë and Christina Rossetti in terms of its expression of religious culture and belief. It is my argument that Brontë and Rossetti experienced religion as intellectuals, questioning and exploring doctrine and dogma neither as sentimental lady Christians nor dismissive, secular critics. I contend that by close reading their poetry, the genre both women privileged as most appropriate for the consideration of religious matters, the reader may trace the sermons and theological works they read. Moreover, their writing, I suggest, evinces their intellectual response to theological, ecclesiological and ecclesiastical developments that took place in the nineteenth century. I thus label Brontë and Rossetti 'religious intellectuals,' a phrase suggestive of their intense understanding of, rather than their mild acquaintance with, religious debate. Many women writing within the nineteenth century found that religion granted them a field within which to freely read and research, but were denied the professional title of 'theologian.' Brontë and Rossetti are thus examples of a wider phenomenon wherein women encountered religion like scholars, one disregarded by current criticism unable as it is to categorize a female activity simultaneously religious and intellectual. I use Brontë and Rossetti as examples of what I call the 'religious intellectual' because they represent different sides of this classification. Where Brontë struggled away from her Methodist background, serving as a cultural commentator on its enthusiastic belief-system, Rossetti forged a scholarly identity as a late member of the High Church Oxford Movement. Both poets, I contend, wrote about religion in order to signal their intellectual ability. I conclude that Brontë's interest in Methodism and Rossetti's fascination with Tractarianism reveals the poets to be both independent of family pressures and false consciousness, and fully engaged with a subject central to their age.