No, not the holy site, but Emile Zola's Lourdes (1894), the first novel--or stop, as it were--in his The Three Cities trilogy about Pierre Froment, a Catholic priest in the unfortunate position of losing his faith. Pierre joins the pilgrimage to Lourdes in part to assist his beloved Marie, who has suffered from paralysis since a nasty fall from a horse several years previously, but also in part to regain his faith by completing his research on the life of Bernadette Soubirous. Unfortunately for Pierre, both his research and the supposed miracle that enables to Marie to walk again demolish his faith altogether--the former because he comes to view Bernadette's sufferings as, in large part, a waste; the latter because a doctor who believed that Marie's paralysis was psychological in origin managed to predict exactly how the "miracle" would go. A good chunk of the novel is devoted to Pierre relating Bernadette's biography to several other pilgrims, most of whom are enthralled. This narrative strategy seems closely indebted to J.-K. Huysmans' La-Bas (1891), the first novel in the Durtal tetralogy: Durtal, who is a doubter at the beginning, is writing a new biography of Gilles de Rais. Zola in fact flips the whole point of Huysmans' project around, since the Gilles de Rais narrative, loaded with horrors as it is, also represents the mystery of divine grace, and helps set Durtal down the path to his own conversion. (I assume that this is not news, but the secondary sources to which I have access don't discuss this connection.)
However, what also struck me about Lourdes is that the novel's "solution" to the problem of modern religious discourse is remarkably similar to that of my old friend Robert Elsmere's. In Robert Elsmere, the title character doesn't so much deliver conventional sermons or wander around proselytizing people as he simply tells them stories, both religious and secular. Oral storytelling rooted in sympathy transforms the audience's moral character, in stark contrast to the activity of Squire Wendover, a private reader isolated in his library. In Lourdes, Pierre initially sets out to read "one of those little works of propaganda issued from the Catholic printing presses and circulated in profusion throughout Christendom" (79); the book's obvious cheapness and material ugliness prefigures the kitschiness that Pierre will later encounter in the city. Moreover, although Pierre gets a few paragraphs into reading the pamphlet aloud, he soon gives up on account of "[t]he childish character of the narrative, its ready-made, empty phraseology," none of which speaks to the "tender affection and infinite pity" he feels (80). Out goes the pamphlet, then, and in comes Pierre's extemporaneous biographical narrative, based on his own research and, unlike the pamphlet, related in free indirect discourse. The implications are clear enough: Catholic didactic texts turn into the shoddy products of modern capitalism, their language as mass-produced as the knick-knacks littering Lourdes itself, whereas Pierre's researched but spontaneous story, rooted in affect instead of profit, makes his audience "captivated [...] by the touches of compassionate human feeling which Pierre introduced into his narrative" (88). The economy of such storytelling, as it were, is necessarily small-scale, since it relies so much on voice, presence, and the narrator's close relationship with his audience. It thus resists, once again, what the novel represents as the industrial-level production of religious sentiment at Lourdes. (It also implicitly resists the novel form itself--such storytelling cannot be mechanically produced for a mass readership.) At the same time, the FID complicates the story, as the reader often cannot tell what Pierre is thinking and what he is speaking--for example, presumably his critique of Bernadette's vision, which he identifies as essentially a collage of pre-existing Catholic miracle tales and images, is not relayed to his devout audience, but only revealed to the reader. This doubled narrative, which seems in some way to parody Catholic "reserve," is nevertheless part of the novel's own ambivalent attitude to Catholic faith, which it regards as outmoded but yet representative of humanity's desperate quest for "bliss for one and all" (489). Thus, Pierre does not believe in Marie's miracle, but he also does not think it right to deprive her of her belief in the miracle, either. Left hanging, he (like Robert Elsmere) can only imagine a "new religion" (488) must come into play to assuage humanity's need for the divine. Unlike Robert Elsmere, he ends the novel in this state of ambivalence, uncertain what the new religion might be, but equally unwilling to deprive the faithful of their comfort.
Christoph von Schmid, Genevieve: A Tale of Antiquity; Showing the Wonderful Ways of Providence in the Protection of Innocence (Catholic Publication Society, 1873). Translation of German children's novelist von Schmid's novel about Genevieve de Brabant. (eBay)
Alice Hoffman, The Marriage of Opposites (Simon & Schuster, 2016). Historical novel set in an early nineteenth-century Jewish community in the West Indies, with the protagonist being Rachel, mother of Camille Pissarro. (Lift Bridge)
Alan Haig, The Victorian Clergy (Croom Helm, 1984). Historical overview of, er, the Victorian clergy in an age of professionalization. (Amazon [secondhand])
...well, besides cleaning the house prior to departure for California.
1. I've got an article draft well under way. Given the usual length restrictions (this one is for a companion), I'm probably going to have to restrict its scope somewhat. In any event, I expect to have this one fully drafted by the end of July, given current progress.
2. Finishing up the background primary reading for another article. (We'll see how much of this I can get through in transit!) This is material that will probably get a few sentences, if that, but it's necessary for scene-setting purposes. I admit that the critical reading for this article is also doing some double-duty for a new course I'm teaching in the fall; I usually don't do that, but a) my chair asked for a new course, b) I had this article to write, and c) multiple figurative bird-killings with single stones commenced.
3. I just sent off one book review.
4. I have to make some minor corrections to another review this evening and send it back to the editors.
5. A short solicited article is currently experiencing the excitement of peer review. Of course, that means further revisions.
6. I need to revise an abstract and circulate it to the other authors of an edited collection I'm in. (Fortunately, this article already exists in draft form.)
7. Still doing some reading for a revise-and-resubmit I got earlier this year. I probably can't get to the revise part until later in the fall, though.
I'm recovering from the unusual experience of writing briefly about George Eliot, who is a great novelist and, therefore, not the sort of author I tend to post about on this blog. She is, however, the sort of author my editors will want to hear about. Now, that being said, some of my longstanding (long-suffering?) readers were wondering how I stand the strain of contemplating novelists like E. H. Dering, whose prose style always makes me want to consider switching careers to basketball commentator. So, first of all, one of the scholarly problems involved in the work I do is that there is little sense of canon: just because most Victorian religious fiction has been swept into the dustbin of the "popular" or "non-canonical" does not mean that Victorian religious fiction did not have its own canon. This canon shifted around, as canons do, but by the 1840s there was already a pretty good sense of who defined the genre (critics usually began the story with Hannah More). There are some big, fairly sweeping literary-historical accounts of religious fiction per se--Maison, Wolff--but they don't really map out which novelists were exerting more influence on other novelists. (For example, Maison sort of writes off E. C. Agnew entirely, and Wolff doesn't mention her at all, but her Geraldine is key to understanding how Catholic fiction develops at mid-century--far more so than Newman's Loss and Gain or Callista.) Second, then, this means that while I write about individual authors on the blog, in my more formal practice I'm interested in how lots of authors and their works interact and argue. I'm looking for the conversations; I'm also looking for the outliers. This is why I've been reading a lot of Dering. On the one hand, despite how terrible a novelist he is, he's experimenting with genres in ways that characterize a lot of Victorian Catholic fiction; like many of his contemporaries, Dering is interested in how certain narrative/genre expectations are implicitly, if not explicitly, coded Protestant. On the other hand, Dering is an outlier, because as a novelist, he's one of Newman's very few imitators (more emphasis on process than on doctrine--in fact, Dering's characters often convert before they know anything about Catholic theology at all!). My wailing and gnashing of teeth is usually reserved for individual authors; putting everything together, by contrast, is hugely enjoyable. And, more to the point, possibly useful for other people.
Louis Couperus, Eline Vere, trans. Ina Rilke (Archipelago, 2010). New translation of Couperus' 1889 novel about a young Dutch woman who finds herself increasingly frustrated by the confines of married life. (Amazon [secondhand])
The Child's Companion and Juvenile Instructor (1856). Bound volume of this Religious Tract Society children's periodical. (eBay)
Bound collection of tracts by Charles Henry Mackintosh (all G. Morrish). A privately-bound set of tracts about sin, salvation, the Bible, etc. by Mackintosh, a member of the Plymouth Brethren. This was a gift to a nurse from somebody named Bligh (no, not that one). (eBay)
Lionel Adey, Class and Idol in the English Hymn (University of British Columbia, 1988). Transatlantic study of nineteenth- and early twentieth century hymnals that attempts to identify who sang what when and where. (eBay)
Susan Drain, The Anglican Church in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Hymns Ancient and Modern (1860-1875) (Edwin Mellen, 1989). Analyzes the publishing history, dissemination, and significance of the Anglican hymnal Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861). (Amazon [secondhand])
G.F.A. Best, Temporal Pillars: Queen Anne's Bounty, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and the Church of England (Cambridge, 1964). History of the expanding functions of Queen Anne's Bounty, a fund initially intended to assist impoverished Anglican priests. (Amazon [secondhand])
I awoke this morning and was promptly puzzled by an op-ed from Inside Higher Education, a state of mind I more commonly associate with op-eds at the CoHE.
What I did not find puzzling: the paperwork (I need to fill out paperwork for every new course I propose); the courses with "umbrella" titles (yes, we have those); the assessment procedure; the working with higher-ups; etc. These are normative procedures on my campus, and I imagine that they're normative procedures on many other campuses as well.
What I found mildly puzzling: removing pre-reqs (OK, in some instances, but...).
What I found entirely baffling:The idea that you could have two hundred students in Principles of Poetry and have a successful course. Oh, I'm sure there are universities that have two hundred students in Principles of Poetry, or whatever you'd like to call it, but they would also have to have discussion sections and multiple TAs. My department has no TAs. We would not put two hundred students into Intro to Poetry, because that would make no pedagogical sense. It was not clear from the article that Bugeja quite understood what's necessary for good teaching outside his own department.
Bugeja's ideas about how the Faculty Senate should control curriculum were also a little odd, the first because it's old rather than new, the second because it's not workable. Any change to the major that led to duplication would be whacked down in committee even before it got to the entire senate (I know this, because I've both been on the UCC and I'm currently a senator). Moreover, the danger of cross-major duplication seems to me, from my own observations at least, to affect small majors more than big ones--the obvious case being women's studies and ethnic studies departments, which are usually both extremely tiny (despite frequent outbursts of angst from academic observers further to my right) and likely to see their course material appearing elsewhere. It's possible to get around this by cross-listing, which then obviates the duplication issue somewhat.
Now, having the UCC approve every new course...no. No no no no no. No. Absolutely not. We have a special committee set aside to handle General Education courses specifically, and that committee is a huge burden. Similarly, the UCC handles significant changes--new majors, changes to major requirements, new tracks or programs, new certificates. That committee is also a massive time-sink, with dozens of applications to approve, and I teach at a very small college. We could not approve, or even look at, every new course. I can imagine that a very tiny SLAC could be hands-on with new courses like that, but a committee at a small SUNY like mine would simply implode under the weight.
What with all the excitement, I'm sure everyone is thrilled for another Catholic novel. If only it were not by E. H. Dering. Fortunately, I'm almost through with Dering's oeuvre, such as it was--he was, thank goodness, not prolific--but alas, Freville Chase, the sequel to Sherborne, is not cause for enthusiasm. While Sherborne demonstrated occasional flashes of competence, Freville Chase is unremittingly terrible: the overly-complicated subplot about a baby-switch (which Dering also used in The Lady of Raven's Combe) is forgotten for long stretches of time, while the main romance plot suffers from Dering's ineptitude at characterization. Worse still, from the reader's point of view, Freville Chase is effectively fictional hagiography, and its protagonist, Everard Freville, is so drenched in the odor of sanctity that he is barely capable of movement. In their fulsomeness, the final pages--in which Everard is buried, everyone bawls over his grave, converts, and/or (in the case of his fiancee, betrayed by various Evil Machinations) dies of grief--unintentionally anticipate the glorious emotional excesses of Fr. Corvo's wish-fulfilling Hadrian VII. There are far too many moments in which Everard is besieged by compliments, as when young Elfrida, sister of Everard's fiancee Ida, tells him repeatedly that "I have not known which to admire in you most" (I.269)--which, after a while, begin to ring uncomfortably of self-parody. It doesn't help that Everard's plot, in which he and Ida are betrayed by Ida's Protestant mother and the villainous Italian Moncalvo (a Catholic who has succumbed to the allures of liberalism--i.e., the nationalist movement), largely gets under way because Everard fails to listen to multiple warnings that Moncalvo cannot be on the up-and-up. (The novel's unintentional moral is that the principle of charity leads to disaster, as opposed to the intentional moral, which is that you should only enter into an interfaith marriage if you want to be responsible for the deaths of multiple people.)
In case you hadn't noticed, I didn't like this novel.
Moving on. As always, I try to extricate some use from whatever I read, no matter how inexcusably bad, and there a few things of note here. (Given how long the novel is, one would hope so.) The first is Dering's interest in the sensation novel. Maureen Moran, who doesn't discuss Dering, has argued that there exists a mode of "Catholic sensationalism" in Victorian literature, in which the "rhetoric of exposure," for example, can be wielded by Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish writers alike to "unearth the buried forces in middle-class culture that belie its orderly, progressive self-image" (14). Dering, I think, links sensationalism to his fascination with the gift of divine grace. In Freville Chase, which relies on both Gothic and sensationalist tropes (one character even dryly inquires "Have you been reading the 'Castle of Otranto'?" [II.178]), the emotional and physical extremes of sensationalist narrative open up a wide theatre in which the workings of grace appear in their clearest form. For example, when Everard nearly strangles Moncalvo when he discovers, too late, that Moncalvo has married Ida, "[n]ature and Grace were brought into collision, and nature possessed his whole being, Grace appealed only to his soul"; the victory of Grace "and the habit of listening to it carried him through a temptation than which a greater cannot be conceived" (II.56). This moment, so extreme that it causes physical damage to Everard's heart, is both obviously sensational in the literary sense (attempted murder! guy making off with girlfriend! double-crossing!) and testimony to the power of Catholic masculinity, which always subordinates bodily desire to salvation; notably, it is not just God's gift of grace that prevents Everard from killing Moncalvo, but Everard's self-disciplined "habit" of paying attention to it. This is what distinguishes Everard from not just Moncalvo, who was not the direct agent of the baby-switch, although he benefited by refusing to reveal it, but also Ida, who kept putting off her conversion, and, for that matter, Ida's father Sir Richard, whose Catholicism had long since ceased to be anything but nominal. The only way to survive sensational extremes--morally, at least, if not physically--is through a fully Catholic training that both elevates soul over body and makes the soul always aware of grace entering into it. Dering's sensation fictions both reveal how Catholicism works and suggest Catholicism as their "cure," as it were. The horrors of man's sinful nature produce sensation; the glories of the free gift of divine grace enable the protagonists to triumph, even if that triumph must be delayed to the next world and/or is experienced solely in terms of lifelong penance.
The second is Dering's call for a Catholicism that is simultaneously universal and, in its local expression, English. Like many other Catholic novelists, Dering associates the "old" Catholic estate with authentic English historical continuity--a true conservatism embodied in the spirit of the place. Although the house itself "had been built at different times," the architecture "harmonised" in such a fashion that it "satisfied artistic feeling and made criticism seem out of place" (I.15). "Harmony," here suggesting how the home both manifests and organically contains the signs of historical difference, returns in a later discussion of church architecture. The Gothic, Everard explains, is quintessentially English: "It symbolises in stone the faith that produced it, and is in harmony with the atmosphere, temperature and features of the country. The idea of a basilica in England, however good of its kind, is to my mind not merely incongruous, but implies a forgetfulness of history: it implies that, having forgotten the old faith and traditions which we got from Rome, and which inspired those buildings, we have to begin anew, and borrow an architecture as unsuitable as it is untraditional. But I do love basilicas in Rome. They harmonise with everything there—air, light, landscape, the history of the Church and of the world" (I.100-101). Gothic indicates, that is, how Catholicism became inseparable from Englishness, especially the English landscape. As a Catholic aesthetic, it reminds the viewer of the faith's roots; as an English aesthetic, it domesticates Catholicism so that it is not some foreign import (the usual charge against Roman Catholicism), but an organic expression of national temperament. Thus, when Everard later plans a church, he argues that its form "should look as though it grew out of the landscape and completed it" (II.133). The final building is rooted in English medieval forms, simultaneously new (heralding modern Catholic revival) and old (rooting that revival in English landscape and national traditions). But this Englishness also contains the novel's sensationalist mode: it grounds the novel's action in a historical long view that emphasizes wholeness, continuity, and presence (physical and Real), as opposed to the transitory shocks that make up the novel's action.
Ralph Crane, Jane Stafford, and Mark Williams, eds., The World Novel in English to 1950 (Oxford, 2016). Vol. 9 of the Oxford History of the Novel in English. I'm reviewing this for Choice. (Review copy)
Thanks to a tweet by Ted Underwood, I was reminded of another "best novels" list, Ten Great Novels, this one put together for reading groups by the well-known Unitarian minister Jenkin Lloyd Jones. According to Lloyd Jones, the survey was taken in 1884 and the results originally disseminated in his church magazine.
The top ten results seem fairly typical for the period:
The list overlaps noticeably with one I discussed last year: Les Mis is also in second place, Romola and Adam Bede place above Middlemarch (ninth), and Dickens and Scott are similarly represented by David Copperfield and Ivanhoe; the other list differs, however, in being remarkably Thackeray-heavy (three novels, Vanity Fair in the top spot), Auerbach/Goethe/Stowe absent but Don Q present, and The Scarlet Letter in a three-way tie for tenth. In JLJ's list, the only authorial outlier from a twenty-first century reader's POV would be Berthold Auerbach, author of On the Heights, who is now pretty much in the sole domain of specialists. The differences are largely statistical blips--what's interesting is the more general agreement about "great" novelists, with which a twenty-first century reader might agree, and their great novels, with which they might not.
As is often the case with such top-ten lists, things get a bit more interesting once you reach further in:
I'm not going to go through the entire thing, but notice the lack of Austenmania here: she only picks up four votes. In line with contemporary preferences, only Charlotte out of the Bronte sisters gets any love. Anne's reputation had long since gone kaflooey (that's an important technical term in literary history); meanwhile, while Emily was beginning to enjoy something of a renaissance, it was as a poet, not a novelist. Bulwer-Lytton's appeal was clearly on the wane, at least for this group, but some of them were still interested in Dinah Mulock Craik and Kingsley. There's relatively little interest in eighteenth-century fiction here, except for Defoe; poor Samuel Richardson picks up only two votes for Clarissa, as does Fielding for Tom Jones. And despite the list being produced by and for Americans, you have to read quite far down in the votes to find anybody except Hawthorne making an impact vis-a-vis the European novelists.
JLJ's list is also interesting, though, for the letters appended to it, as several of his contributors justified their choices. JLJ wanted recommendations for the "noblest" and the "best" (3) in European and American fiction, and his correspondents visibly struggle with the question of artistry vs. moral improvement. Part of the problem is that nobody appears to have been quite clear what fictional nobility might mean (some sort of "moral element," thought one slightly puzzled writer , while another bluntly said that JLJ had not provided a real "standard" ), and a librarian, Ella Giles, pointed out that lists like this were problematic in the first place (13). One writer, Emma S. Adams, argues that she can't put Austen in her top ten because a truly "great novel" is "inspiring in the lessons that it teaches" (6), which conflates great and noble. The Rev. J. H. Allen admits that he "should quite prefer Lorna Doone to Daniel Deronda, and The Last Chronicle of Barset to Les Miserables, if one wants either a natural or wholesome picture of life" (7), a judgment that seems to call for novels that are good for the constitution--less romanticism, one suspects, and also less sex--although how that fits Lorna Doone is not precisely clear. (Moral of the story: nineteenth-century "wholesome" doesn't necessarily translate.) Nevertheless, Allen turns out to be broad church in his literary leanings, and also plumps for Balzac (surely not wholesome) and Turgenev. Mrs. J. K. Boyesen, meanwhile, was all about "moral bearings" (8) over mere aesthetics, which explains her predilection for Romola (although she's also a Middlemarch fan)--but which also turns out to encompass Vanity Fair. Another writer, Mrs. J. L. Bullard, tries to distinguish between "great" and "noble" (9), putting both Jane Eyre and Vanity Fair only in the former category; C. F. Dole, similarly baffled, goes in the opposite direction and proposes Tom Brown's Schooldays as an example of something noble without being great (12). The Rev. C. J. Staples tries to theorize great vs. noble and comes down on "uplifting power" (19), but it's not clear if he prioritizes noble or great and noble in his selections. In other words, several of JLJ's correspondents felt that "great" literature might well lack any sort of strong moral project, didactic or otherwise, but they weren't sure they were comfortable with that position, or even if the position could be articulated coherently.