Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Shaping Belief

Shaping Belief: Culture, Politics, and Religion in Nineteenth-Century Writing

VICTORIA MORGAN
CLARE WILLIAMS
Volume: 52
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vjgs4
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Shaping Belief
    Book Description:

    Shaping Belief explores how the energy of belief came to manifest itself in nineteenth-century writing. This manifestation was evident as much in expressions of newly formed personal relations to ideas, as in the appropriation of religious discourse in writing of the period. By re-visioning the place of belief in nineteenth-century writing this collection provides important forays into current thinking, both on the position occupied by belief within nineteenth-century literary studies, and within contemporary culture itself.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-568-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Allegiance: A Sermon
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Rowan Williams
  6. Introduction: Re-visioning Belief in Nineteenth-Century Writing
    (pp. xv-xxx)
    Victoria Morgan and Clare Williams

    The shaping of belief, or the forming of different ideas of unity, is something that can be described as typical of the nineteenth century, a period in which knowledge was obsessively categorized and the taxonomical urge was evident, seemingly, in all areas of life. William James argued inThe Varieties of Religious Experience(1902) that the shaping force of ontological unity might be harnessed or reached through forms other than religion, observing: ‘But to find religion is only one out of many ways of reaching unity; and the process of remedying inner incompleteness and reducing inner discord is a general...

  7. I. Religious Discourse:: Transmission and Appropriation

    • 1. Tell the Story: Re-imagining Victorian Conversion Narratives
      (pp. 3-20)
      Andrew Tate

      Dramatic calls to conversion are alien to most liberal, contemporary readers. However, during the mid-nineteenth century, conversion narratives – in sermons, fiction, music and art – were a commonplace element of popular culture. In a sermon to the ‘members and visitors of the Christian Instruction Society’ at the Tabernacle, Moorfields, Charles G. Finney (1792–1875), a distinguished American evangelist, challenged the assembly to dedicate themselves to the task of converting the world, beginning with London. Finney’s zealous message – taking the ‘great commission’ of Matthew 28 as its text – was delivered in June 1850, and foreshadowed a decade in...

    • 2. ‘Recognizing Fellow-Creatures’: F.D. Maurice, Octavia Hill, Josephine Butler
      (pp. 21-38)
      Hester Jones

      From the perspective of a post-colonial, post-Christian, and even perhaps post-secular, twenty-first-century culture, there is much in nineteenth-century thought that seems uncongenial, lacking the confident commitment to diversity and pluralism which we now take virtually for granted. Post-modernity, indeed, has been constructed out of its resistance to a narrative of linear and rational progress, a narrative few now feel happy to accept. Many of its pivotal thinkers and writers, therefore, also seem limited by the constraints of their self-understanding, whether it is in the construction of gender, the commitment to nationhood and empire, or the upholding of social hierarchies. We...

    • 3. ‘Filthy Lucre’: Christianity, Commerce and the Female Bodily Economy in Seamstress Narratives of the 1840s
      (pp. 39-56)
      Ella Dzelzainis

      In this vivid critique of nineteenth-century commerce, the Poet Laureate and High Tory, Robert Southey, reaches for the language of disease.² Wealth – or money – becomes blood circulating in the veins of the body politic. But unregulated commerce has produced a sick patient, where clots of luxurious excess in one part of English society create life-sapping, withering impoverishment in another. As ‘one of the first, though by no means the last, to counterposemoraleconomy againstpoliticaleconomy’, Southey repeatedly and volubly condemned the latter through metaphors of illness until well into the fourth decade of the nineteenth century.³...

    • 4. Isaiah and Ezekiel – But What about Charley? An Essay on ‘Wanting to Believe’
      (pp. 57-70)
      Philip Davis

      This is William Blake, fromThe Marriage of Heaven and Hell, speaking in what he wills to be his own age of imagination – an age in which you could naturallybelievein what you imagined, and not merely think that youonly imaginedit. But the satiric voice of the logical, rational sceptic that is also in Blake may indeed ask: ‘Does a firm persuasion that a thingisso, make it so?’ In our emphatically post-Romantic fashion, most of us would agree that the truth of a thought is not to be measured by the subjective intensity with...

  8. II. Shaping Subjectivities:: Belief, Aesthetics and Space

    • 5. ‘Repairing Everywhere without Design’? Industry, Revery and Relation in Emily Dickinson’s Bee Imagery
      (pp. 73-94)
      Victoria Morgan

      Like Victorian Britain, the mid-nineteenth-century New England of Emily Dickinson’s lifetime (1830–1886) was marked by religious and social change in which ideas of belief were being challenged and reformulated. This produced a proliferation of various ‘unevangelical’ religious groups such as Unitarians, who rejected Trinitarian doctrine.¹ The emergence and recognition of formalized divergent religious groups, combined with the popularity of new philosophies such as Transcendentalism, which espoused notions of self-reliance that were not dependent upon a Christian model of salvation, posed an increased challenge to the once deeply held convictions and practices of New England Puritanism. Robert Baird’s Religion in...

    • 6. Poetry, Poetic Perception, and Emerson’s Spiritual Affirmations
      (pp. 95-112)
      David M. Robinson

      Over the course of some four decades Ralph Waldo Emerson made numerous pronouncements about both the qualities and methods of poetry, and offered many descriptions of the poet’s crucial role in both the social world and in the spiritual experience of the individual. Consistent throughout this extended discourse was the close identity between poetry and the spiritual life, a closeness that at times transformed ‘poetry’ into a kind of synonym for religious insight and spiritual fulfilment. Despite his ostensible identity as both a visionary and an optimist, the history of Emerson’s religious experience is one of crisis, inner struggle, and...

    • 7. Sacrificial Exchange and the Gothic Double in Melmoth the Wanderer and The Picture of Dorian Gray
      (pp. 113-128)
      Alison Milbank

      It is a commonplace of the history of the gothic novel that the castles and haunted abbeys of its eighteenth-century beginnings give way to the human being as site for haunting in the Victorian period. Similarly, terror and awe at the unknown and supernatural are held to be replaced by the horror of the unrecognized self, represented by Freud’s theory of the uncanny and evidenced either in a self that splits into dual or multiple selves, or in the apparition of a doppelgänger.¹ Nineteenth-century attention to the fissured and doubled self is held up as primarily a secular phenomenon, and...

    • 8. Church Architecture, Tractarian Poetry and the Forms of Faith
      (pp. 129-146)
      Kirstie Blair

      In the introduction to his 1844 volume,The Baptistery, a work that was to become one of the most successful and widely disseminated collections of Tractarian poetry, Isaac Williams noted the impact that a decade of activism and excitement had had on the Church of England:

      The Church, ’tis thought, is wakening through the land,

      And seeking vent for the o’erloaded hearts

      Which she has kindled – pours her forth anew –

      Breathes life in ancient worship, – from their graves

      Summons the slumbering Arts to wait on her,

      Music and Architecture, varied forms

      Of Painting, Sculpture and of Poetry.¹...

  9. III. Mediating Culture:: Inscribing Democracy, Class and Social Identity

    • 9. Caricature and Social Change 1820–1840: The March of Intellect Revisited
      (pp. 149-170)
      Brian Maidment

      This essay is concerned with the representation in graphic satire of that complex of socio-cultural upheavals from the first forty years of the nineteenth century which were often summarized under the convenient abbreviation of the ‘March of Intellect’. The March of Intellect was, and still is, a convenient shorthand term for a whole range of social and cultural shifts in the first half of the nineteenth century, centrally concerned with evolving technology, the growth of mass literacy and widening access to print culture, through which class structure, as much as the economic order, was being re-defined by education, invention and...

    • 10. Feeling ‘Ghostlike’: Carlyle and his Exposure to the ‘Condition-of-England-Question’
      (pp. 171-188)
      Clare Williams

      Writing on the death of Thomas Carlyle in 1881, the American poet Walt Whitman remembered the great Victorian sage as a hysteric phantasm – an ominously haunting image of one who was celebrated by many as England’s heroic man of letters, revered as a source of credible cultural authority in an increasingly industrialized, utilitarian and secular age. The Carlylean ethos of work of any kind being the means through which man could authentically realize himself as an autonomous, thinking and feeling individual had become part of an extremely influential and highly popular mythology that appeared to find its centre in...

    • 11. ‘Getting Down into the Masses’: Dickens, Journalism and the Personal Mode
      (pp. 189-208)
      Juliet John

      On 12 June 1858, Dickens printed a now infamous statement on the front page of his journal,Household Words. Headed ‘Personal’, it announced his separation from his wife, Catherine Hogarth, and declared in his name and hers that ‘all the lately whispered rumours […] are abominably false. And that whosoever repeats one of them after this denial, will lie as wilfully and foully as it is possible for any false witness to lie, before Heaven and earth.’¹ Dickens’ decision to address the public in print on so personal and controversial a topic as his marital separation and rumoured infidelity flew...

    • 12. ‘Scrupulously Empty Phrases’ and the Silent Work of Matthew Arnold: Belief in the Action of Writing
      (pp. 209-222)
      Kate Campbell

      As the author of ‘Dover Beach’ (1867) and other poems that speak of the loss of religious belief, who became a critic with faith in literature, Matthew Arnold has an obvious place when considering the role of belief in Victorian writing. In his first public utterance as a critic in 1853, in the ‘Preface’ to his third volume of poetry, he repudiated the doubt in his writing and elaborated how poetry should in fact ‘rejoice and inspirit the reader’ (vol. 1, p. 2). In a period in which Christianity was increasingly discredited, Arnold’s subsequent criticism continued to stress the ethical...

  10. Index
    (pp. 223-226)