Breaking the Idol of the Marriage Plot in Yeast and Villette
Timothy L. Carens
Victorian Literature and Culture (2010), 38:337-353
Nineteenth-century Protestant culture generally held marriage in high esteem, and the notion that marriage was “made in heaven” often explicitly undergirds the conventional resolution of domestic fiction. Despite many indications of a harmonious relationship between human love and religious faith, a countervailing cultural trend reveals a deep conflict between the two. Victorian Protestants worried that passionate love for another mortal creature might lead to heretical extremes, that human love might slip into idolatry, the worship of false and material gods. Jane Eyre memorably confesses that she has “made an idol” of Rochester, although she, of course, looks back upon this transgression from the vantage of marital happiness (274). In this essay, I focus on works in which misgivings about idolatrous love arise with more disruptive force. The marriage plots of Charles Kingsley's Yeast: A Problem (1851) and Charlotte Brontë's Villette (1853) both abruptly collapse, bringing into sharp focus a Protestant religious anxiety that subverts the conventional device with which Victorian domestic novels achieve closure.