The Friendly Visitor was a monthly evangelical periodical that aimed 'to convey religious instruction and information to the lower classes of society, in a cheap and popular form'. Published between 1819–21, the magazine sought to guide its young readers towards acceptable moral conduct and, ultimately, salvation. Each edition contains short sermon-style pieces, prayers, and harsh moral tales that typically warn of death or punishment.
The magazine’s teachings are underpinned by the evangelical Christianity of its author, Reverend William Carus Wilson, founder and head of the Cowan Bridge Clergy Daughter's School attended by the Brontë sisters. He believed that children were born sinners, predestined to hell, and must repent to save their souls.
Influence in Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre
Critics speculate that Charlotte Brontë may have drawn on The Friendly Visitor for the 'Child’s Guide' given to Jane by Mr Brocklehurst in Chapter IV.
Similarly, it is a potential source for the grim readings incorporated into Brocklehurst's teaching ('… he bored us with long lectures once a week, and with evening readings from books of his own inditing, about sudden deaths and judgments, which made us afraid to go to bed.'). The magazine’s tone and teaching certainly mirrors Brocklehurst’s. For instance, ‘The Sunday School Teacher’s Third and Last Address to his Children’ (pp. 128–33), describes children as ‘travelling on the road that leads to hell’, whose ‘souls … are full of wounds’.
Compellingly, ‘The Love of Dress’ (pp. 78–79) directly parallels Brocklehurst's rage at the Lowood girls's curled and plaited hair (Chapter VII). In this short tale, Wilson exploits a young woman’s suicide to warn that girls who are ‘fond of dress’ and ‘fine curls’ will lead to ‘dreadful ends’, such as prostitution, criminality and death.
- Article by:
- M O Grenby
- Reading and print culture, Childhood and children's literature
Professor M O Grenby charts the rise of children’s literature throughout the 18th century, explaining how books for children increasingly blended entertainment with instruction.
- Article by:
- Sally Shuttleworth
- Childhood and children's literature, The novel 1832 - 1880
Drawing on children’s literature, educational texts and Charlotte Brontë’s own childhood experience, Professor Sally Shuttleworth looks at the passionate and defiant child of Jane Eyre.