They were perfectly explicable, I mean, in the sense that she was raised in a super anti-Catholic, anti-Dissenter environment; she lived during the age of Hypatia, which I guess is reason enough. But also, for someone who flirted with universalism as much as she did (“Surely [the soul] will never be suffered to degenerate from man to fiend. No; I cannot believe that: I hold another creed, which no one ever taught me, and which I seldom mention; but in which I delight, and to which I cling; for it extends hope to all; it makes Eternity a rest—a mighty home, not a terror and an abyss”) and also fell massively in love with official Catholic Person Constantin Heger, she was super addicted to saying the most outrageous shit about various Christian denominations this side of a Jack Chick tract!
And I sort of love it? Obviously I personally disagree with her about denominational yelling, but her constant flitting from all-shall-be-reconciled-by-the-hand-of-the-Father thoughts to get-that-foul-popery-away-from-me is weirdly precious to me. She was so judgmental, and there are few things I love more than a judgmental prude who is too dead to disapprove of me personally.
There’s a scene in Jane Eyre where Jane goes back to visit the cousins who alternately abused and neglected her as a child, and she’s somehow super-serene about this past trauma but can’t resist firing off a few shots when Eliza announces she’s converting to Catholicism:
“To-morrow,” she continued, “I set out for the Continent. I shall take up my abode in a religious house near Lisle – a nunnery you would call it; there I shall be quiet and unmolested. I shall devote myself for a time to the examination of the Roman Catholic dogmas, and to a careful study of the workings of their system: if I find it to be, as I half suspect it is, the one best calculated to ensure the doing of all things decently and in order, I shall embrace the tenets of Rome and probably take the veil.”
I neither expressed surprise at this resolution nor attempted to dissuade her from it. “The vocation will fit you to a hair,” I thought: “much good may it do you!”
When we parted, she said: “Good-bye, cousin Jane Eyre; I wish you well: you have some sense.”
I then returned: “You are not without sense, cousin Eliza; but what you have, I suppose, in another year will be walled up alive in a French convent. However, it is not my business, and so it suits you, I don’t much care.”
WALLED UP ALIVE, I mean!
“And again, when of moonlight nights, on waking, I beheld her figure, white and conspicuous in its night-dress, kneeling upright in bed, and praying like some Catholic or Methodist.”
like some CATHOLIC
wait how did Anglicans pray, did they not kneel?
“One night a thunder-storm broke; a sort of hurricane shook us in our beds: the Catholics rose in panic and prayed to their saints. As for me, the tempest took hold of me with tyranny: I was roughly roused and obliged to live.”
This is the most magnificently bitchy thing Lucy Snowe ever said, and she said a great many magnificently bitchy things. “Yes, the Catholics were thrown into a panic by a bit of a hurricane, and clutched their inert icons to their fervent chests. I – the sole Protestant, the beacon of individualism – I chose to live.”
“A strange, frolicsome, noisy little world was this school: great pains were taken to hide chains with flowers: a subtle essence of Romanism pervaded every arrangement: large sensual indulgence (so to speak) was permitted by way of counterpoise to jealous spiritual restraint. Each mind was being reared in slavery; but, to prevent reflection from dwelling on this fact, every pretext for physical recreation was seized and made the most of. There, as elsewhere, the CHURCH strove to bring up her children robust in body, feeble in soul, fat, ruddy, hale, joyous, ignorant, unthinking, unquestioning. “Eat, drink, and live!” she says. “Look after your bodies; leave your souls to me. I hold their cure—guide their course: I guarantee their final fate.” A bargain, in which every true Catholic deems himself a gainer. Lucifer just offers the same terms.”
If the word sheeple had been in common use at the time, I have no doubt that Charlotte Brontë would have used it here. I love that stern little Puritan Lucy Snowe so, so much. She considered putting butter on your bread a vile concession to sensualism. Eat rocks and sleep on nails, that’s the sensible, English way. People who eat and drink are Eloi and Lucy Snowe is the original Morlock.
“I was a Lutheran once at Bonn.”
“The little book amused, and did not painfully displease me. It was a canting, sentimental, shallow little book, yet something about it cheered my gloom and made me smile; I was amused with the gambols of this unlicked wolf-cub muffled in the fleece, and mimicking the bleat of a guileless lamb. Portions of it reminded me of certain Wesleyan Methodist tracts I had once read when a child; they were flavoured with about the same seasoning of excitation to fanaticism. He that had written it was no bad man, and while perpetually betraying the trained cunning—the cloven hoof of his system—I should pause before accusing himself of insincerity.”
It doesn’t offend me, how wrong you are, like a Methodist. CHARLOTTE. You disingenuous little frowner!
“There she read old books, taken from her uncle’s library…mad Methodist Magazines, full of miracles and apparitions, of preternatural warnings, ominous dreams, and frenzied fanaticism; the equally mad letters of Mrs. Elizabeth Rowe from the Dead to the Living; a few old English classics. From these faded flowers Caroline had in her childhood extracted the honey; they were tasteless to her now.”
It’s easy to overlook the anti-Methodism in her books for all the more overt anti-Catholicism, but please don’t miss it, it’s delightful. You faded flowers! You mad apparition-seers! You…you magazine writers!
“He could see in me nothing Christian: like many other Protestants, I revelled in the pride and self-will of paganism.”
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.