“I Will Throw All on the Altar”: Christianity, Hinduism, and “Human Rights” in Jane Eyre

  • Jason Emmett Collins


Through an analysis of Charlotte Brontë’s novel Jane Eyre and her essay “Sacrifice of an Indian Widow”, this essay argues that Brontë positions Christianity as the necessary precursor for the development of secular human rights, and that in so doing she categorically excludes Hinduism from access to similar developmental possibilities. By ventriloquizing an Indian widow in Jane’s speaking voice, Brontë elides the difference of identity between them and posits Jane’s Christian emancipation as a putatively “universal” model for the emancipation of women. This sleight of hand strips the ventriloquized Indian widow of the religious and cultural particularity of her circumstances and precludes the possibility of enfranchisement within her own religious tradition. By tracing Brontë’s exclusion of Hinduism, this argument attempts to render visible the early influence of Christianity on the development of “human rights” discourse. In positing it, I hope to interrogate the Western tendency to treat “human rights” as a “universal” and therefore politically neutral discourse, ignoring the ways in which it has been conditioned by its emergence in a Western and Christian cultural context.

The Voice