Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: May 2019

Chapter 8 - ‘Angels … Recognize Our Innocence’


Jan-Melissa Schramm considers the extent to which Anne, Charlotte and Emily Brontës’ ideas of the human depend upon, and differ from, legal and theological ideas of ‘rights’ before the law and ‘creatureliness’ before God. Providing a detailed examination of the submissive self in Victorian Evangelical theology; Romantic autobiography and the language of experience; and nascent formulations of human rights frameworks, Schramm moves to a close reading of Jane Eyre, including an analysis of religious (William Ellery Channing) as opposed to later secular (Samuel Smiles) self-culture in Jane’s ethical education. Anne and Charlotte Brontës’ inclusion of Biblical quotation both worked to underpin trajectories of female empowerment and helped to create a more liberal sense of Biblical meaning. As Schramm attests, the sense of equality of all before God had to be established in the public sphere before legal recognition could follow. The Brontës’ complex ideas of the human, combining reason, the heart and Christian humility, serve for Schramm as a case-study of the extent to which modern ideas of autonomy might be successfully grafted onto self-abnegation before God: and Jane Eyre, Shirley, Agnes Grey, Wuthering Heights, Villette and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall all play a part in this process.