Catholic Literature and Secularisation in France and England, 1880-1914

Catholic Literature and Secularisation in France and England, 1880-1914

Brian Sudlow
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 256
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Catholic Literature and Secularisation in France and England, 1880-1914
    Book Description:

    This book is the first comparative study of its kind to explore at length the French and English Catholic literary revivals of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. These parallel but mostly independent movements include writers such as Charles Péguy, Paul Claudel, J.K. Huysmans, Gerard Manley Hopkins, G. K. Chesterton, and Lionel Johnson. Rejecting critical approaches which tend to treat Catholic writings as exotic marginalia, this book makes extensive use of secularisation theory to confront these Catholic writings with the preoccupations of secularism and modernity. The book compares individual and societal secularisation in France and England and examines how French and English Catholic writers understood and contested secular mores, ideologies and praxis, in the individual, societal and religious domains. It also addresses the extent to which some Catholic writers succumbed to the seduction of secular instincts, even paradoxically in themes which are considered to be emblematic of Catholic literature. The breadth of this book will make it a useful guide for students wishing to become familiar with a wide range of such writings in France and England during this period. It will also appeal to researchers interested in Catholic literary and intellectual history in France and England, theologians, philosophers and students of the sociology of religion.

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-408-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Preface and acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    This book is based on a paradox and a coincidence. The paradox is that at the end of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a period of profound secularisation in France, there emerged a generation of Catholic writers and intellectuals who were convinced that the rumours about God’s death had been greatly exaggerated. The coincidence is that, in the same period, English literature too saw a significant revival in Catholic writing. In France, the late novels of Joris Karl Huysmans, the plays of Paul Claudel and the religious poetry of Paul Verlaine and of Charles Péguy all represent major...

  5. 1 Individual and societal secularisation in France and England
    (pp. 21-70)

    In this chapter we will attempt to synthesise some of the most common accounts of the history of secularisation in France and England during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Our aim is to arrive at some understanding of the nature of individual and societal secularisation in England and France, and assess, in spite of the vast differences, what correlations can be drawn between the two countries. This will help us understand more clearly the preoccupations of the French and English Catholic authors and the conditions of belief under which they wrote.

    In the first two parts of this chapter,...

  6. 2 Recovering the porous individual
    (pp. 71-99)

    The conditions of individual secularisation described in Chapter 1 posed two sets of moral problems for believers in France and England at that time. The first concerns how human behaviour is to be mapped out if belief in God has become deistic or has collapsed into atheism. The second concerns the alternative moral criteria to counter the anthropocentrism transmitted by individual secularisation. These two sets of problems provide vital perspectives from which to read French and English Catholic literature in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

    In the first set of problems we must include the dilemmas of belief...

  7. 3 Thinking and believing
    (pp. 100-123)

    The conditions of unbelief, according to Taylor, are affected by the pluralisation of worldviews and the multiplication of alternatives to erstwhile Christian certainties.¹ It is logical, therefore, that in responding to secularisation many French and English Catholic writers should subject such worldviews and alternatives to sometimes far-reaching scrutiny.

    As we saw in Chapter 1 the secularisation of mentalities in France and England was denoted by the shift towards a more anthropocentric conceptualisation of humanity and by the way in which certain secular discourses came to dominate the public mind. The nineteenth and early twentieth centuries saw the development of epistemologies...

  8. 4 The fragments of secular society
    (pp. 124-151)

    The figure of the buffered individual takes on a different meaning when we move from the realms of psychology, moral choice and belief into the public domain. As French and English Catholic writers explore political, social and economic issues, the stakes of secularisation become societal in nature.

    As we saw in the Introduction, Cavanaugh’s essay on the secular State emphasises two trends of particular note. The first is that theories of politics in the early modern period posited the radical autonomy of the individual. This autonomy is denoted in the economic domain by an absolutist conceptualisation of possession, ordominium,...

  9. 5 Mending secular fragmentation
    (pp. 152-175)

    Cavanaugh’s essay on societal secularisation provides us with a useful paradigm from which to begin analysing anti-secular alternatives.¹ Exploring this paradigm in all its theological resonances is unnecessary. The political and socio-economic dynamics which it outlines correlate with, and in other ways challenge, French and English Catholic writings about societal organisation.

    On the political level, Cavanaugh argues that ‘Eucharistic counter-politics’ have the capacity to undermine the secular State in two ways. First, they could subvert the model of State-as-arbiter by rejecting the conceptualisation of the individual as radically autonomous; human beings have a stake in each other, rather than being...

  10. 6 Ultimate societal values
    (pp. 176-191)

    All corporate entities are actualised by a set of values (implicit or explicit) which unify their activities and lend them a sense of identity. This is of course supremely true of the State whose actions are justified explicitly or implicitly by values which are enunciated constitutionally or through practice. As Maurice Cowling has put it: ‘All participants in the public realm have had a doctrine, whether they have known it or not […] They have all had a message, whether they have wished to or not, and they have all implied views about the direction which the public mind ought...

  11. 7 Catholic religiosity and the hierarchical Church
    (pp. 192-214)

    This book has so far sought to explore the writings of the French and English Catholic literary revivals in the context of the secularisation of the individual and society. The aim has been to get beyond the limitations of confessional labels and to explore some of their inner dynamics in ways that cast more light on the confrontation between secularisation and resistance to it.

    One possible objection, however, to the critics of secularisation is that the indices of religiosity in society show that secularisation has not occurred, or that it is at the least mitigated. To secular observers in western...

  12. 8 Catholic religiosity and the charismatic Church
    (pp. 215-236)

    The second problem alluded to in the introduction to the last chapter was how buffered individuality reinforced the paradigm of the individual as radically autonomous. Cavanaugh’s analysis of the secular State indicates the role such individualism played in the genesis of contractual political theories. What he calls themythosof the secular city was built on the ‘assumption of the essential individuality of the human race’, rather than on its essential unity or potential to be gathered in unity into the Church.¹

    As we saw in Chapter 7, the French and English Catholic writers conceptualised dogma, the incarnation and liturgy...

  13. Concluding reflections
    (pp. 237-240)

    The aim of this book has been to cast light on the paradox of French Catholic literary resistance to secularisation in the period 1880–1914, and on its coincidental parallels among English Catholic writers of the same period. The task of remapping these writings against an analytical grid of secularisation theory was prompted by the weaknesses which we argued were inherent in approaching these writings simply under the confessional label of ‘Catholic’. This process has meant not discarding the category of Catholic literature, however, but rather articulating how exactly the worldview expressed in so many Catholic writings is in conflict...

  14. References
    (pp. 241-257)
  15. Index
    (pp. 258-264)