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Catholic Sensationalism and Victorian Literature

Catholic Sensationalism and Victorian Literature

Volume: 49
Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Catholic Sensationalism and Victorian Literature
    Book Description:

    Catholic Sensationalism and Victorian Literature offers a highly original examination of Victorian sensationalism through the exploration of popular literary representations of Roman Catholicism, that exotic, corrupt religious Other which is inscribed as the implacable anti-English enemy. The book demonstrates how new understandings of cultural tensions of the period are gained through the association of Roman Catholicism with secular fears of crime, sex and violence, rather than with theological ‘excesses’ and doctrinal ‘superstitions’.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-276-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-27)

    This book is about an imaginary landscape: a sensationalized ‘geography’ of Roman Catholicism constructed and widely circulated in Victorian culture. This is a contentious space. It is the site of Protestant defensive battles and Catholic countercultural skirmishes over denominational authority in a society outwardly aligned with Christian principles but increasingly reliant on science and material evidence to validate ‘truth’. This terrain of extremes is characterized by linguistic extravagances and plots of crime and violence, of persecution and intrigue. Its signposts are images of confinement, torture and deviance. It is a world peopled by victims and oppressors, law-givers and rebels. Many...

  5. 1 Sensational Invasions: The Jesuit, the State and the Family Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho! and Wilkie Collins’s The Black Robe
    (pp. 28-76)

    In 1880, a priest took the pulpit in St Francis Xavier’s Roman Catholic church in Liverpool, looked carefully at the congregation, extended his hand theatrically, and proclaimed three times in a voice rising in sonority: ‘To hell with the Jesuits.’ After a measured pause to ensure maximum impact on the startled parishioners, he continued in a voice of quiet resignation: ‘Such is the cry today.’⁴ This sensational moment can still strike a modern reader, as it electrified Father Tom Burke’s listeners, through its shocking juxtaposition of the sacrilegious and the familiar. Like so many nineteenth-century representations of Catholicism, this episode...

  6. 2 Nuns and Priests: Sensations of the Cloister Charlotte Brontë’s Villette and the Monologues of Robert Browning
    (pp. 77-130)

    In her memoirs of an Evangelical childhood, the Victorian poet, Eliza Keary, recalled a youthful fascination with stories about sinister Catholic convents. Both Eliza and her sister succumbed to the deliciousfrissonsof ‘nun mania’ after reading Mrs Sherwood’s novel,The Nun(1833).⁴ Sherwood’s narrative makes much of the Catholic cloister as an institution that oppresses both the vulnerable (innocent girls) and the assertive (those with independent religious views). A sub-plot, for example, features Sister Agnes, who, obstinately Protestant in her religious tendencies, had ‘been hidden away in a cell underground, that she might not contaminate the sisterhood’.⁵ Deeply moved...

  7. 3 Persecution and Martyrdom: The Law and the Body Grace Aguilar’s The Vale of Cedars, or The Martyr and George Eliot’s Romola
    (pp. 131-176)

    Religious persecution offered much sensational interest in nineteenth-century literary and visual culture. The physical and psychological torments of heroic martyrs – perplexed by conflicting loyalties to state and church, family and conscience – are a stock feature of popular Victorian fictions by both Catholic and Protestant authors. Even though critics derided such works ‘as a “literary nuisance’,³ the exciting blend of gory tortures, riotous mobs, and wily entrappers of the innocent faithful provided vicarious adventure and spiritual gratification simultaneously. This chapter argues that the complex Victorian rhetoric of Catholic torture, persecution and suffering is of particular importance for understanding nineteenth-century...

  8. 4 Feeling the Great Change: Conversion and the Authority of Affect Benjamin Disraeli’s Lothair, J. H. Shorthouse’s John Inglesant and Mary Ward’s Helbeck of Bannisdale
    (pp. 177-230)

    The Victorian passion for progress has many iterations, not least in the voracious appetite for accounts of the individual’s moral, intellectual and spiritual formation. The public relish for genres like theBildungsromanand the novel of religious faith and doubt shows how certain fictive narratives took up territory occupied by the memoir and biography in order to illuminate the evolution of an individual subject. Crisis and transformation are key themes in the Victorian ‘spiritual quest’ plot³ where self-development is characterized by progress from ignorance to enlightenment, and thence salvation. Whether the focus is secular or religious, maturity is encoded as...

  9. 5 Art Catholicism and the New Catholic Baroque The Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Francis Thompson
    (pp. 231-283)

    In the year following his conversion to Catholicism, John Henry Newman reviewed a new volume of religious poetry by John Keble, his friend, former colleague and leader of the Oxford Movement. The essay is a bristly affair, its literary criticism punctuated by extended passages of self-justification and sharp protestations against those ‘who have spoken or written harshly of recent converts to the Catholic Church’ and who merit ‘more lenient measure’ on the ‘Great Day’ of Judgement than they have seen fit to dole out themselves.⁴ In this hypersensitive mood, Newman welcomes the volume’s denominational discretion. Unlike Keble’s previous collections of...

  10. Epilogue
    (pp. 284-291)

    In his influential book,Contesting Cultural Authority: Essays in Victorian Intellectual Life, the Yale historian, Frank M. Turner, quotes this passage from Newman’sEssay on the development of Christian doctrinein order to critique academic trends in the twentieth century. Turner’s view that a suspicious dislike of religion has shaped the research agendas of twentieth-century Anglo-American historians is persuasive. For him, the academy has promoted a skewed narrative of Victorian Britain that legitimizes present-day personal and institutional values. The myth of nineteenth-century ‘progress’ from a religious to a secular orientation is, he argues, rooted in the very principles endorsed by...

  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 292-310)
  12. Index
    (pp. 311-324)