Margaret Deland, John Ward, Preacher (Houghton Mifflin, 1888). A nice but ultra-Calvinist clergyman marries a nice but heterodox woman, with increasingly problematic results. (eBay)
Olivia Shakespear, Beauty's Hour, ed. Anne Margaret Daniel (Valancourt, 2016). New edition of this 1896 novella about a woman who discovers that she can magically transform herself into a great beauty, with (again) problematic results. (Amazon)
Richard Watson, Conversations for the Young: Designed to Promote the Profitable Reading of the Scriptures (T. Mason and G. Lane, 1840). US reprint of an 1830 series of dialogues explicating the proper methods of interpreting the Bible. (This is the Methodist Richard Watson, not the more famous Anglican one.) (eBay)
There is apparently no suspense at all about whodunnit in Graeme Macrae Burnet's His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae. Roderick tells us himself that "I have no wish to absolve myself of responsibility for the deeds which I have lately committed" (15)--those deeds being the murders of Lachlan Mackenzie and his two children, Flora and Donald. Of course, as Burnet's reader is already aware, the authenticity of the text in question--a found manuscript in the classic Gothic/historical fiction tradition--is up for grabs, regarded in some elite contemporary quarters as a "hoax" (2). Burnet presents himself as no more than the memoir's editor, supplementing Roderick's's purported memoir of his life and crimes with witness statements, a reconstruction of the trial, and an excerpt from the (fictional) autobiography of a (real) Victorian criminal psychologist, J. Bruce Thompson. This sort of documentary gamesmanship tips the nod to a long line of "authenticated" novels stretching back to the eighteenth century (e.g., Walpole's The Castle of Otranto), and may remind some readers of, among other novels, James Hogg's Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner--a historical Gothic with an infamously unreliable narrator and some darkly humorous takes on the materiality of evidence. Macrae isn't Hogg's sinner (in fact, his religious faith is pretty much non-existent), although Burnet alludes to that narrative road not taken in the form of one witness at the trial, the dour Presbyterian clergyman Mr. Galbraith, who argues that "[m]y observation is that the boy is enslaved to the devil, and if proof is required we need only look to the deeds he has committed" (229). But the novel has related fish to fry.
His Bloody Project engages with multiple questions having to do with unreliability and evidence, both at the level of history (who witnesses to what happens in this tiny village in the Highlands?) and form (what does unreliability imply, especially when everyone agrees, the narrator included, that he's guilty?). The novel is set in a real village, Culduie, occupied by largely impoverished crofters; Thompson, when he visits, notes with disgust that all but one of the houses look like "byres or pig-sties" (175). Culduie is managed by a local constable, who reports to the estate's factor, who reports to the laird, Middleton, an arrangement ripe for exploitation--not least because constable, factor, and laird actually have little regular contact beyond what is necessary. The area's history and current economic situation emerge in only shadowy form from Roderick's narrative, so that he is unable, for example, to parse the implications of Flora's warning that Middleton's "livelihood depended" (106) on escorting wealthy men on deer hunts. Scraps of folk tradition remain in the form of the charms and visions associated with local women like Roddy's sister Jetta and their deceased mother, along with the local assumptions about how crofters ought to be treated. Another local crofter, explaining why Lachlan Mackenzie's decision to reassign land from the Macraes to another family, can only say, "it was not done" (207), which leads one Scottish paper to contemptuously observe that "his baffling adherence to the idea that land should be allocated on the basis of tradition rather than utility was yet another example of how the intransigence of the Highland tribes is bringing about their own demise" (208)--a "modern" response that somehow manages to overlook the devastating effects of the Highland clearances. Mackenzie's purportedly utilitarian local reforms, which involve penalizing the crofters for violating various rules and requiring additional labor from the men, clash badly with the crofters' cultural expectations about land and communal obligations. Moreover, when Roderick and his father visit the factor to stop Mackenzie's actions, they discover that he has been citing rules which don't exist in written form: "The regulations exist because we all accept that they exist and without them there would be anarchy. It is for the village constable to interpret these regulations and to enforce them at his discretion" (102). Mackenzie's interpretations of this unwritten social contract are, despite their maliciousness (especially in regard to the Macraes), in line with mid-Victorian assumptions about profit, discipline, and labor; the difficulty, of course, lies in the underlying assumptions about that "we," as "we" have clearly drifted apart. Throughout, it's clear that the crofters are granted no authority to speak out about or interpret their life experiences unless they affiliate themselves with the assumptions of middle- and upper-class authorities, Highland or Lowland. Thus, Mackenzie gains the factor's respect because his behavior so completely aligns with expectations; similarly, Thompson immediately offers some measure of respect to Mrs. Murchison (as does the audience at the trial) because of her tasteful dress and relatively refined manners, while the working-class witness Ishbel Farquhar also comes off well because she is appropriately "modest" and embodies "the best virtues of Highland womanhood" (236). Typically, Roderick's memoir is, we are told, edited and rewritten as a sensational chapbook, turning him into everyone's popular fantasy of a brutal, uncivilized Highlander.
But what about that memoir? Since there is a secret about Roderick's guilt, let's gone below the fold.
"Mary Monica," Cottage Conversations (H. C. McGrath, n.d.). US reprint of an 1850 four-volume series of tracts in dialogue form, devoted to various aspects of Catholic life. (eBay)
Agnes M. Stewart, Grace O'Halloran; Or, Ireland and Its Peasantry: A Tale of Today (P.J. Kenedy, n.d.). US reprint of Stewart's Catholic novel about the persecutions faced by mid-Victorian Irish tenants. This volume includes several shorter tales. (eBay)
"Nathan Meritor" [Matthias Levy], The Hasty Marriage: A Sketch of Modern Jewish Life (British Library, n.d.). Reprint of Levy's 1857 novel about the dangers of interfaith marriage. (Amazon)
Leon Bloy, Disagreeable Tales, trans. Erik Butler (Wakefield, 2015). Reprint of Bloy's short story collection in the conte cruel tradition. (Amazon)
Graeme Macrae Burnet, His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae (Contraband, 2015). Historical novel set in the 1860s Highlands, in which we explore why the title character murdered three people. (Amazon [secondhand])
When readers think of whaling, Moby-Dick probably first comes to mind; when ice comes up, there's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and Frankenstein. More recently, there have been a number of novels about the dangers of exploring frozen wastelands, like Robert Edric's The Broken Lands, Dan Simmons' The Terror, and Rebecca Hunt's Everland. But Ian McGuire's The North Water savagely deconstructs tales of masculine heroism in the face of nature red in tooth and claw: the "quest" turns out to be fruitless (not to mention rapacious), the men as vicious as the beasts or the icy landscape, the revelations about the protagonist's personal development worrisome instead of affirming. It takes us a little while to reach the protagonist, though. "Behold the man" (1), the novel begins, with spectacular inappropriateness. The initially unnamed character who walks out one morning is the psychopathic Henry Drax, who murders a man and a boy (whom he also rapes) in the space of one chapter. The narrator describes the rape/murder in such a way that the two actions become indistinguishable: "Drax goes swiftly through the motions: one action following the next, passionless and precise, machinelike but not mechanical. He grasps on to the world like a dog biting into bone--nothing is obscure to him, nothing is separate from his fierce and sullen appetites" (8-9). Drax, who is nothing but all-consuming appetite, offers the very opposite of redemption to those characters forced to share space with him; killing, for Drax, is its own mode of production, his special way of putting his imprint on the world. "Death," he thinks approvingly much later on, "is a kind of making, a kind of building up. What was one thing, he thinks, is become something else" (76). Murder, theft, rape, what-have-you--Drax operates according to no discernible moral code, only an instinctual awareness of when it is or is not time to act.
You can probably see where this is going. While the narrative features plenty of the nature red &c., the considerably greater problem derives from the human beings, of whom Drax is merely the reddest in tooth and fingernails. The novel's whaling plot turns out to be an elaborate insurance hoax, which the captain and the ship's owner have perpetrated together before: the purpose of the whaling expedition is to "lose" the ships after they've taken on enough of a catch to be profitable, thereby making a much bigger haul in insurance money than if they were actually to sell the whale oil and various other parts. Unfortunately for all concerned (except, initially, the owner), this...is not quite how everything works out. But what's significant about this plot, aside from its twists and turns, is its emphasis on waste. As Baxter, the owner, says to Captain Brownlee, "We killed them all, Arthur [...] It was tremendous while it lasted, and magnificently profitable, too" (26). The implications of this chillingly cheerful attitude bring us back to Henry Drax, whom Baxter has employed knowing his predilections full well: the whaling business cannot be separated from its wholesale destruction of a species, something only amplified by the sheer pointlessness of the entire expedition in the first place (which, after all, is to kill whales so as not to sell the results). Drax's lethal progress through the crew--among other characters--merely miniaturizes the implications of how the whaling business exploits nature. But Drax's ability to think of himself in terms of pure appetite deliberately breaks down any barrier one might choose to draw between "man" and "nature" in the first place: all we have here are brutal forces contending against each other, filled with filth, whether whale guts or, much later, a priest's horrific abscess, filled with "foul and flocculent pus" (226). Insides erupt; outsides collapse.
The hero, to the extent that the novel has one, is Sumner, a laudanum-addicted former army doctor court-martialed in India for leaving his post--to look for treasure, as it happens. The ambiguities of Sumner's position as someone both framed and undeniably derelict in his duty play out over the course of the voyage, in which he is simultaneously the closest thing the novel has to a moral voice and as capable of violence as anyone else. Sumner's project on this journey, expressed in Coleridgean fashion, is to "dissolve, to dissipate, and only afterwards, some time later, to reform" (14)--to erase his problematic past (cashiered Irish orphan) and recreate himself anew as a wealthy man of property, thanks to an imaginary inheritance supposedly held up in the courts. Coleridge's dissolving and dissipating, though, was about organic transformation of the original materials; Sumner, though, pursues obliteration. His interest in figuratively killing off his earlier self, however, also aligns him with Drax and Drax's belief in death's creative potential, and Sumner eventually emerges as Drax's double and nemesis. On the one hand, as a healer (albeit not a very good one) Sumner stands opposed to Drax's habit of committing rape and murder whenever it suits him; on the other, he also shows himself capable of a similar ruthlessness, especially once everyone has been stranded. This comes out in what I couldn't help thinking of as the novel's Moby-Bear section, in which Sumner tracks a polar bear across the ice in order to butcher it for food. Like so much else in the novel, the quest is pointless: Sumner wounds the bear with the first shot, then follows it well beyond the point where he can bring any of it back for food. "The chase has found a rhythm already, a pattern he can’t easily disrupt," we're told. "When he is thirsty, he reaches down and eats the snow; when he is hungry, he lets the feeling rise, peak, then pass away" (198). This absorptive "rhythm," which overrides his will (he follows and yet somehow stands outside his action), is uncomfortably reminiscent of Drax's relationship to his own needs and urges. Unlike Drax, this slow self-unwinding leads Sumner to one of the novel's few epiphanies: "He has walked much too far, he knows it now: he has strayed from his true purposes, he is lost and bewildered, and his failure is complete" (200). As literal and figurative journeys collapse into each other, though, the reader begins to wonder what those "true purposes" might be, beyond the impulse for survival. Bildung? At what harmonious self-development might Sumner arrive? Killing the bear provides no solution: while he calls on "Homer" for models of how he might celebrate or commemorate his action, all that emerges "from his brutalized mouth are the inchoate grunts and gaspings of a savage" (203). Under the circumstances, the racism is rather dourly ironic (not least because the indigenous people he does encounter are somewhat nicer than everyone else we've met so far). The heroic quest crumbles into literal incoherence. Called upon to explain his ongoing existence, all he can say is “There is no why" (224).
(I was in Boston last weekend, so unable to post the usual list. Of course, being in Boston, I also had access to some bookstores...)
William Black, A Daughter of Heth (Lovell, n.d.). US reprint of Black's novel about a young Catholic woman come to stay with strict Protestants, with unfortunate results. (eBay)
Leon Bloy, The Woman Who Was Poor: A Novel, trans. I. J. Collins (St. Augustine's, 2015). Reprints a 1947 translation of Bloy's 1897 Catholic novel about a woman finding her way to the utmost holiness through crushing poverty. (Amazon)
Felix J. Palma, The Map of Chaos, trans. Nick Caistor (Simon & Schuster, 2016). Steampunk novel, third in a trilogy, involving death, Lewis Carroll, and wandering literary characters. Among other things. (Amazon)
Desmond Bowen, The Protestant Crusade in Ireland 1800-70: A Study of Protestant-Catholic Relations Between the Act of Union and Disestablishment (McGill-Queen's, 1978). Important study of Protestant attempts to evangelize the Catholic population (especially during the so-called "Second Reformation" movement). (Amazon [secondhand])
Dominic Aidan Bellenger, Opening the Scrolls: Essays in Honour of Godfrey Anstruther (Downside Abbey, 1987). Collection of essays on Catholic priests in the UK from the early modern period to the late nineteenth century. (Amazon [secondhand])
For sheer rage, Edmund Randolph's Catholic social satire Mostly Fools: A Romance of Civilization (1886) takes some sort of extremely tasteless cake. Except for his hero, heroine, and a couple of other decent folk (take "couple" literally here: there are two others), Randolph loathes everything and everybody. The novel practically soaks in Randolph's revulsion. Randolph doesn't like Protestants. He doesn't like contemporary Catholics (in some respects he seems to like them even less than the Protestants). He doesn't like Catholic public schools. He doesn't like Catholic alternatives to Oxford and Cambridge. He doesn't like the military. He doesn't like women, especially New Women (this is one of those novels where the "good" woman is good, in part, because she doesn't like other women). He doesn't like South Asians or Africans (although he doesn't like how they're treated by the English, either). He doesn't like Jews. He doesn't like politicians. He doesn't like authors. He does like the Irish, at least in the abstract. In theory, he also likes the poor, but again, only in the abstract. Randolph's nausea is palpable: there's absolutely nothing right about modernity, and all of modernity's inhabitants are repulsive, greedy, and frequently oversexed.
What is going on? In its antagonism to the entirety of modern English culture--here cloaked under the guise of an alternate universe with some quasi-SF moments, with the action concluding in the early twentieth century--Mostly Fools undoes Disraeli's "Young England" trilogy of the 1840s and substitutes a "Senescent England" instead. Although our hero, Roland Tudor, lacks the full aristocratic status of Disraeli's first two protagonists, he does come from an ancient line, as his kingly last name implies, and he has a crusading bent, as his knightly first name does. The plot echoes Harry Coningsby's from Coningsby, with Roland eventually developing a new Catholic party instead of reimagining the Tories, and yokes it to Charles Egremont's romance with Sybil Gerard in Sybil--indeed, Roland falls in love with his very own Sybil, Sybil Grey, a young and irreligious woman of mysterious parentage. But nothing works, including the romance. Sybil is the sort of character who, in a Catholic novel, is destined either to die or become a nun, and she opts for the latter option, leaving Roland with virtually no human feelings except his political ambitions. He concludes the novel as the "Dictator," ruler of a united South America, who dies randomly when his horse falls (vanity, vanity &c.); she, in tune with his spirit, dies in a tiny convent in some far-away land. Whether they are to be reunited in the next life is not, in fact, altogether clear. And that would be in tune with the disappointment and failure that haunts everything the most ardently social-minded characters undertake.
If you're interested in mining novels for references to contemporary social movements, this one may actually be useful to you, as it really does take a whack at just about everything. I, obviously, was primarily interested in it as a Catholic novel, and there are some unusual aspects of its approach worth noting. Despite Sybil Grey's presence in this otherwise pretty misogynistic narrative, the novel tracks the shaping of an explicitly Catholic attitude to male citizenship and service--or, rather, the unshaping of it--in what it represents as a post-persecution culture. Roland tells an American with the somewhat unfortunate name of Solomon A. Skump that in modern England, the only "careers" of any note are "[t]o raise Ireland from the dust, to 'place' modern Catholicism, to save the Church of England, to direct the on-coming popular flood into a true groove" (I.135). That is, Roland understands "career" not in terms of the professions, but in terms of public service, in which the true man puts himself at the head of various movements for national unification, healing, and redemption. Which, as I've said, doesn't happen; as Brian Sudlow notes of the novel's conclusions, "Catholic involvement in politics does not necessarily exclude a fundamental cynicism about its outcomes, nor despair about Catholics' ability to maintain a united front in the secular political arena" (160). Roland aspires to be a Great Man in the classic mid-Victorian, Carlylean sense of the term, but he is trapped in a novel in which the Great Man is ultimately frustrated, thwarted, and undermined at every turn by the very people who ought to be his most loyal supporters. He emerges not from late-Victorian English Catholic culture, but in spite of it, beginning with what Randolph represents as the community's persecution complex. The novel associates anti-Catholicism with literal Catholic childishness, either playacting ("but there's the fireplace," says one child to Roland early on at school, "where they have the penances, and sometimes, you know, a martyrdom" [I.41]) or fantasies of Protestant mayhem ("By the way," says another, "did you hear that the Prince of Wales told the Archbishop of Canterbury that he had vowed to make England swim with Catholic blood before he'd been six months on the throne?" [I.44]). While Protestants mouthing traditional anti-popish rhetoric put in an occasional appearance, the novel otherwise insists that modern Catholic fears of anti-Catholic terror are effectively infantile--an act of self-victimization, quite literally in the case of the fireplace martyrdoms. Randolph reiterates this point more concretely when it comes to the Oxbridge schools, which, as he correctly points out, "were absolutely closed to them, not by the law of the land, but by their own authorities" (I.69). The result, Randolph argues, is a partly-deliberate program of self-inflicted mediocrity, which both at school and in later years "prevented boys, and in consequence men, from competing on equal terms with their fellow men" (I.70). Thus, while Randolph represents Catholicism as one possible route for national union in a pluralist culture--the novel never argues for the reconversion of England, rather understandably given its contempt for the temporal Church--he also insists that Catholics have engaged in self-sabotage to such an extent that the Catholic "public man," as such, cannot exist. Roland himself tells his friend, the radical aesthete Lord St. Maur, that "[w]e are absolutely without a single man to give an impulse in any direction that can be considered seriously" (II.68). Even when Roland finally does manage to get a serious Catholic party going in Parliament, he finds himself undone, once again, by the institutional Church's sheer uselessness. The possibility of a Catholic Great Man of History implodes under the weight of ecclesiastical incompetence.
A professor of mine at UC Irvine once told me that when he was working on his doctoral dissertation in the 1960s, he obediently went back to the earlier scholarship on his topic--the 20s, the 30s, the 40s, etc.--and read through it. At a certain point, however, he arrived at a welcome or unwelcome conclusion, whichever way one chose to look at it: the older scholarship was terrible.
Even if one doesn't wish to conceal decades of material under an uncomfortable woolen blanket of condemnation, it soon becomes hard to avoid noticing key differences in approach that can make assessment difficult. In English, for example, you have a lot of hand-wavy aesthetic judgments that, pace those who want to bring aesthetic judgments back, are frequently pretty useless. When Joseph Ellis Baker tells us in 1932 that Lady Georgiana Fullerton's Ellen Middleton is "false, inflated," but William Sewell's Hawkstone "still might afford amusement to the average reader" (The Novel and the Oxford Movement, 19), the twenty-first century scholar is left with any number of questions, starting with the question of Baker's taste.Where on earth does one locate the average reader who wants to slog through the prolix Hawkstone? And how does one imagine such a person into being? More to the point, Baker's approach in this monograph, which relies heavily on plot summary and coverage but has no analysis to speak of, is typical of literary history from this period; ironically, the emphasis on extensive coverage of a constrained topic, borrowed from the German research model, is why the book is still extremely useful as a bibliographical resource, even though what Baker has to say frequently has not aged well. Now, readers expect a sharper historical narrative with a well-defined theoretical focus (although plot summary remains unavoidable).
This is a bit of a workaround to Rob Warren's recent post about his stint as editor of Sociology of Education, where he discovered that lots of the submissions were kind of, well, not good. When I was at Modern Philology for a year in the mid-90s, I also had the eye-opening experience of realizing that many academics, even those at tony R1 institutions, were not producing A+ work. (That's before we got to the book reviews, which, as far as I could tell, were often written by academics who expected the editors to wallop their prose into shape.) My own experience of reading earlier published work, as well as reading submissions from two decades ago, leaves me with this question: how could we know that most or many submissions in any field--not the publications, the submissions--have ever been "high quality" according to the methodological criteria of their own time? Is it that scholarship has entered a methodological decline? Or, rather, that scholarship has always been, in the main, fairly bad (cue Sturgeon's Law), but that the circumstances producing a particular form of badness have changed?
Or so that old Crown Books ad said. (I presume that you need to be of my vintage to even remember Crown Books.) This article about the ongoing decline and fall of academic publishing was, as always, a reminder that most academics do not buy lots of monographs because most academics cannot afford to buy them. In fact, I wonder just how much the adjunctification of the academic work force has affected book sales: if you're being paid not that much money, then most of that not that much money will go elsewhere than into the hands of academic publishers. But even a reasonably well-compensated academic like myself has considerable limits, despite what my lists of acquisitions appear to indicate. I can't afford to buy the average Oxford or Cambridge monograph unless Amazon has drastically slashed the price or somebody is selling a secondhand copy. As many of the relevant monographs for my work are published by Oxford or Cambridge, that's...a problem. The same goes for non-university presses like Routledge, Bloomsbury, Palgrave Macmillan, or Pickering & Chatto (all those pretty collected editions, none affordable to mere mortals). More reasonable publishers--University Press of Virginia, say--will bring out books in the high $40s-low $50s, which is much less hard on the average senior scholar's wallet, but possibly still too much for junior or adjunct faculty; at least Virginia reliably prices its paperbacks in the $20s. I do buy academic eBooks when they're under $20 or so, but given that we don't own eBooks, there's no way that I'm going to spend $40, $50, or more for one (let alone $100 and up!). I'm not sure how one interrupts the destructive loop in which nobody buys books (because they cost too much) so publishers raise the price (because nobody buys books).
(In Canada yesterday to see Sweeney Todd at the Shaw Festival, so no time to type.)
William Ingraham Kip, Recantation: Or the Confessions of a Convert to Romanism: A Tale of Domestic and Religious Life in Italy (Stanford and Swords, 1846). Young woman travels to Italy, is seduced into converting to Catholicism, has regrets. An Episcopalian novel. (eBay)
W. Boyd Carpenter, Narcissus: A Tale of Early Christian Times (SPCK, n.d.). Historical novel set in second century Rome about the fates of various converts to Christianity. A bit about Carpenter at the Westminster Abbey site. (eBay)
Catherine Sinclair, Torchester Abbey; Or, Cross-Purposes. A Tale (Simpkin, Marshall, n.d.). Anti-Catholic novel set during the Crimean War; also published simply as Cross-Purposes. For a brief overview of Sinclair's career, see the National Library of Scotland. (eBay)
Agnes M. Stewart, Disappointed Ambition; Or, Married and Single (P. J. Kenedy, 1896). US reprint of a much earlier Catholic novel about a disastrous marriage between a Catholic and a Dissenter. (eBay)
Mary Bramston, Everingham Girls (SPCK, n.d.). The experiences of various girls in a small English town, ranging from marriage to professional nursing training. (eBay)
F. E. Reade, How Sandy Learned the Creed (SPCK, n.d.). A Scottish orphan learns about faith in the Church of England while having various adventures. (eBay)
Georgiana Fullerton, Seven Stories (Burns and Oates, n.d.). Collection of Catholic novellas and short stories, mostly historical (e.g., Great Fire of London). (eBay)
James Adderley, Stephen Remarx/Hall Caine, The Christian (Garland, 1975). Two-in-one reprints from the "Victorian Novels of Faith and Doubt" series. The first is an Anglo-Catholic novel about Christianity and calls for social reform, originally published in 1893; the second is Caine's best-known novel, about the relationship between a crusading clergyman and an actress. (eBay)
Patrick Augustine Sheehan, The Triumph of Failure/Henry E. Dennehy, A Flower of Asia (Garland, 1976). Same series as above. A Catholic novel by an Irish clergyman, first published in 1899, about a young man's journey towards a religious vocation, and a novel about conversion in India, first published in 1901. (eBay)
William Edward Heygate, William Blake; Or, the English Farmer (Garland, 1975). Still more from the series. Novel about the role of religion in farming communities, first published in 1848. (eBay)
Charles B. Tayler, Mark Wilton/Frederick W. Farrar, Eric; Or, Little by Little (Garland, 1976). One more volume. The first novel, originally published in 1848, is about a young clerk who finds himself enmeshed with forgers and murderers; the second is Farrar's famous "school story" about a young boy corrupted by his peers at a boarding school. (eBay)
Rebecca Mascull, Song of the Sea Maid (Hodder and Stoughton, 2015). Historical novel set in the eighteenth century about an orphan who becomes interested in the sciences. (Amazon [secondhand])
Roger D. Sell and Anthony W. Johnson, Writing and Religion in England, 1558-1689 (Ashgate, 2009). Collection featuring essays on such topics as anti-Catholicism, Spenser, worship, music, etc. (Amazon [secondhand])
William Francis Barry's triple-decker The New Antigone: A Romance (1887) is a good example of a Catholic novel that doesn't particularly read like one: while one of the protagonists has an important conversion experience in a Catholic church and becomes a nun, the novel is virtually free of dogma (aside from expiation for sin) and the Catholicism tends to be more allusive or subterranean than anything else. In any event. The New Antigone combines a somewhat over-complicated romance plot with a critique of contemporary Socialist, anarchist, and sexual liberation movements (both feminist and "Free Love"). The aforementioned overcomplicated romance plot turns out to be integral to the novel's theological politics. It's difficult to find the opening thread, as it were, but the love affairs go something like this:
The Countess Karina, probably the novel's least likable character, is in love with Tom Davenant, the heir to the Trelingham estate;
Tom is in love with Lady May, the daughter of the Earl of Trelingham;
Lady May is in love with Rupert Glanville, an artist;
Rupert Glanville is in love with Hippolyta Valence, the New Woman-ish daughter of a dangerous radical, Colonel Valence;
Hippolyta is in love with Rupert (finally, somebody reciprocates);
and Ivor Mardol, an ebbing radical (and, unbeknownst to himself or her, Hippolyta's brother), is in love with Lady May.
I hope this is entirely clear.
At the novel's core is a terror of the effects, both moral and social, of sexuality unbridled by any religious or cultural norms. The initial figure for this drift is a painting of the Madonna at the Assumption which used to hang in a convent at San Lucar; the model was a Catholic ancestor of the Earl, Lady Elizabeth, who was never painted again because a combination of "reverence" and "remorse" made her vow "never to allow, for ends of pride or vanity, that countenance to be depicted by a worldly artist, which had been dedicated to religion and enshrined above an altar" (I.66). But during an assault on the convent, Colonel Valence is struck by the painting's resemblance to his beloved Lady Alice, the Earl's sister, and he saves it from destruction. In the process, however, the Colonel translates the Madonna into worldly terms by reading the painting as primarily Alice, not the Virgin (I.57), a slippage that renders the painting's actual religious content null while elevating the Colonel's own thwarted desires. After the Colonel brings the painting to Trelingham, the High Church Earl is more attuned to the painting's spirituality, but nevertheless agrees with the Colonel in finding Alice in the painting, not the model or the Madonna (I.71). But once installed in the Trelingham gallery, the recontextualized painting turns into the Lady Elizabeth--that is, just another ancestral portrait. Stripped of its original meaning, the displaced Madonna eventually falls to earth in a freak accident that leaves it literally de-faced--but Rupert and Ivor are on the scene to restore the painting, and Lady May, who looks just like Lady Alice and Lady Elizabeth, sits for the new face. And yet Rupert is a thoroughly "worldly artist" with no interest in the painting's religious function, and Ivor is, if possible, even less interested in Christianity; for them, the exercise is entirely aesthetic. Lady May, meanwhile, who has already fallen for Rupert via his paintings (before she even sees him!), understands the sittings primarily in terms of their potential for romantic fascination. In other words, there has been a thorough-going alteration here from the painting's original function, as it moves from church to private, secular portrait gallery and from devotional painting to a simulacrum of the same. Rupert succeeds in his task because he manages to "enter into the heart of that dead Friar" (I.224-25) who created the painting in the first place, an act of sympathetic identification that nevertheless sloughs off once he is finished with the work; this is the artist as Keats' chameleon, capable of putting on a religious mood and then promptly removing it again without permanent effect.
What's important here is that in the late-nineteenth-century context, nobody is much interested in the figure of the Virgin as the ultimate in female purity, but rather in the Virgin as she stands in for an object of desire (Lady Alice) or as the pretext for desire (Lady May). Victorian England is, as they say, disenchanted; there's no Virgin there. This turns out to be crucial for what occurs in volume two: Hippolyta explains to Lady May and the Countess that she believes in "Free Marriage," an egalitarian arrangement that can be dissolved once "love ended" (II.59). Moreover, Hippolyta puts her beliefs into practice when she refuses to marry Rupert in a religious or civil ceremony, insisting that such things are part of the "world of lying conventions and foolish worn-out antiquities" (II.145). Despite Rupert's initial agonies, he agrees to her position and they leave London to start a new life as Mr. and Mrs. Malcolm. Here, then, is a world of erotic possibilities with no grounding in the example of the Virgin (literally displaced and defaced). Although they are initially happy, Hippolyta's confidence becomes strained when she encounters her refracted double, Annie Dauris, a working-class Catholic girl seduced, impregnated, and abandoned by a nasty radical. Such abusive sexuality, Ivor tells her, is what happens in a world where "Free Love reigns supreme and unchecked" (277): the private, personal pledges of eternal love in which Hippolyta believes are ultimately inadequate in the face of actual inequalities. What is missing, in other words, is a sense of sin--the same thing missing from the novel's version of anarchist politics more generally. Rejecting the violent tactics of the anarchist "Spartans," an outraged Ivor declares that "[t]he Revolution means liberty and light. It means equality in the best things, the only things worth having--love and justice and truth" (III.173-74). Ivor's proto-Christian position is not a conversion--he has held it all along--but rather serves the novel's purpose as a demonstration of how non-Christian social schemes are destined to degenerate into evil. Indeed, the novel casts Colonel Valence as one of the assassins of Czar Alexander II (thereby dating the novel quite precisely). Of all the characters, only Hippolyta has a full-blown conversion experience while attending a Catholic service on "the wages of sin" (III.38), abruptly realizing that "[t]he illusions of life were over" (III.44). After confessing to the priest, she spends several hours before a crucifix, then abandons Rupert forever. Notably, within the horizons of the other characters' understanding, her decision is not only inexplicable, but unimaginable: Rupert decides that she must have gone off with Ivor (who has known his father Colonel Valence only as his guardian Mr. Felton), while a Jewish private detective (really) figures that she has either taken off with the revolutionaries or with another man. Both men, that is, interpret her disappearance in purely secular terms, when in fact she has reversed the journey of the Madonna painting and, after a period of some illness, returned to the plundered convent at San Lucar as a nun.
The conclusion, alas, is rather...odd. Rupert comes down with that convenient catch-all, "brain fever," and suffers temporary amnesia concerning all things Hippolyta. During that time, he marries Lady May, only to finally recover his memory and, worse still, come across Hippolyta again (now a nun). Lady May eavesdrops on their conversation and tries to commit suicide; Ivor saves her, but eventually dies from his wounds. However, thanks to Hippolyta's willingness to take the blame for her sins, Lady May too realizes that Hippolyta is the "noblest woman on earth," Rupert agrees that "She is in heaven" (III.289), and...they live happily ever after. ("I...I don't think that's how it works," I said at this point.) Nevertheless, Hippolyta's transformation into a nun and missionary (she goes to India) undoes the effect of the defaced Madonna, finally realigning all of the novel's human relationships in accordance with a godly order. Even Colonel Valence gets to live in some contentment, despite, you know, having assassinated the Czar, which one would have thought problematic.
(There are more on the other side of the country.)
Jules Barbey d'Aurevilly, Diaboliques, trans. Raymond A. MacKenzie (Minnnesota, 2015). Translation of Barbey's (in)famous collection of six short stories on a variety of deliberately outrageous subjects; first published in 1874. (Barnes & Noble)
And here we come to the end of E. H. Dering, who finished this novel just before dying. As far as I know, this novel did not provoke my current symptoms (provided courtesy of the belated revelation that I'm allergic to sulfa-class drugs), but I'm sure Dering would have some spiritual advice about how to handle my low-grade suffering. Anyway. The Ban of Maplethorpe (1894) is a striking instance of a novelist having a change of heart, as it is a straight-up rewrite of Freville Chase, albeit without a baby-switch. The Ban's backstory, with which Dering does almost nothing beyond introduce some wandering ghosts in a funeral procession, is that Maplethorpe has never had an heir in the male line as divine punishment for an apostate alienating the property from the recusant owners. This is a fairly traditional plot, and Dering is not the only nineteenth-century Catholic novelist to use it (e.g., Laetitia Selwyn Oliver's Father Placid). In the main plot, our hero, the saintly Oswald Bramsby (standing in for the saintly Everard Freville), falls in love with the Protestant Pearl (her real name is never used after her first introduction) of Maplethorpe (standing in for the Protestant Ida); unlike Everard, who is so charitable as to completely do himself in, Oswald immediately figures out that the two revolutionary foreigners in his plot, the General Foreigner (no name--"Foreigner" is apparently sufficient for Dering) and the Baroness Diabolouski (really), are Total Villains and Not to be Trusted.As in Freville Chase, a Protestant, Lady Rossden, attempts to interfere with the Grand Romance between Oswald and the Pearl by separating them, while the Baroness (a Fallen Catholic) attempts to help Augustus Twerleby (another Fallen Catholic) hang on to an inheritance by marrying the Pearl, his ward, off to the General Foreigner. Augustus has engaged in Shenanigans with the Pearl's father's will, hiding a codicil that would not be to his best advantage. Worse still, Augustus also betrayed the beautiful Gertrude, niece to Mr. Blastmore (who swears a lot--er, just go with it), by decoying her into a False Marriage. Of course, Dering is all about conversion, so the Pearl initially suffers the same sort of emotional breakdown that Grace does: like Ida, she insists that if the Evil Rumors about Bramsby first being involved with Gertrude, then with the Baroness, are "true," then "I shall not believe in anyone" (I.237). When, for quite some time, she does become convinced of the rumors, then she loses faith entirely. In other words, apart from her mistake, she gives in to the sin of elevating sinful humanity above divine perfection. When Ida makes the same mistake, she is punished by marriage to her foreigner, followed by Everard's death and, soon after, her own, although she redeems herself at least by conversion; by contrast, Oswald helps rescue the Pearl from the clutches of the General Foreigner and the Baroness, and not only manages to convert her via passionately romantic theological disquisitions rooted in Aquinas (again, really), but manages to recover from his wounds and marry her. Hooray! But Augustus Twerleby, the General Foreigner, and the Baroness do not experience the same miracle of divine grace that Moncalvo did--and Augustus and the Baroness, forever locked together in a horrific marriage based in mutual loathing, are both completely conscious that they have rejected grace altogether. Thus, whereas the first novel demonstrates how grace can save even the most apparently debased and evil character, the second redeems solely the mundanely-flawed characters and sends the rest off to stew in their coming damnation.
Part of the reason for the change, I think, is that Dering has slightly shifted his theological emphasis to the importance of free will. Early on, Oswald explains to the Pearl why the Church objects to mesmerism: "Can it be right to give up the control of one's will to another person--the control of that will through which we shall be saved or lost?" (I.43). By contrast, the Baroness tells the General Foreigner that "we have no free will, though we seem to exercise a great deal of freedom when we want something" (I.123). Later, however, she describes herself as having an "indomitable will," and insists that "I cannot repent. My will is too strong to resist--" (I.131). This, explains the narrator, is because she was "under the influence of the devil, and refusing to pray for the grace of God" (I.131). Similarly, when Twerleby faces and succumbs to temptation at Mr. Malmaines' deathbed, his "[c]onscience again warned him, and again he listened, oscillating between knowledge of his duty and free consent against it" (I.203). The Baroness' "indomitable will" is the will not to choose goodness, which would require her to humble herself before God against the tyranny of her own desires, just as Twerleby's twirls back and forth between "duty" (the higher obligation to the needs of another) and the "free consent" he makes to ignore it (thus, again, falling prey to his own sinful lusts). Over and over, the novel repeats this point: one has the free will to choose salvation, the path of duty, or to choose damnation, the path of sin. The Baroness, Twerleby, and the General Foreigner are all nightmarish characters precisely because they again and again will their own alienation from God's grace--which, as Freville Chase makes clear, can be given freely to even the chief of sinners. The first novel saves just about everyone far too late for it to do them any earthly good, although they are at least promised rewards in heaven. The second novel clears the way for all the characters tending towards the good to both freely choose it and to live (reasonably) happily ever after, but then dramatizes the psychologies of men and women who, given multiple opportunities to choose, insist on evil. It is very understanding of circumstances that might lead someone to initially make the wrong choice, as Gertrude did when she ran off with a disguised Twerleby or the Pearl when she lost faith in Oswald, but it always returns to the position that when prayer and conscience make the right choice clear, it must be made immediately and freely. Under those conditions, circumstances count for nothing.
In 1850, Nicholas Wiseman is excited. He's a new Cardinal! The Vatican has reinstated the hierarchy in England! Why not celebrate?
So he pens a pastoral letter, "From without the Flaminian Gate" (sometimes rendered "From out the Flaminian Gate," "From out of the Flaminian Gate of Rome," or just "From the Flaminian Gate"), which mentions, in the midst of his enthusiasm, that as part of the new arrangement, "we govern and shall continue to govern, the counties of Middlesex, Hertford and Essex, as Ordinary thereof, and those of Surrey, Sussex, Kent, Berkshire and Hampshire, with the islands annexed, as Administrator with Ordinary jurisdiction." Now, this is perfectly correct in a technical sense: as the Cardinal of Westminster, he had ultimate conntrol over the new dioceses. The statement is right. Unfortunately, between this and the aforementioned enthusiasm, Protestants everywhere believed that he was claiming dominion over the country itself. Even though Wiseman raced to correct this interpretation, in a statement that might conveniently be abridged thusly--
--he didn't succeed, and some years of extreme anti-Catholic nastiness followed.
I recently wrote a short article about this event, which at the time was dubbed "the papal aggression," and one of the things I realized is that nobody thinks Wiseman was in the right rhetorically, no matter how accurate he was technically. A lot of his Catholic contemporaries were not exactly thrilled either--it sounds like Newman wanted to crawl under a convenient pew, for example--but there hasn't been what you'd call a revisionist effort in Wiseman's favor. In effect, he's accused of reading the room rather incompetently. But, with some exceptions, it's interesting that the blame tends to fall primarily on Wiseman instead of the room; looking at the current version of my article, I too hand him some of the blame (although I bring in some Catholic support on his side). Nor is the blame denominational--Catholic biographers and historians tend to whack their figurative heads against the desk just as hard as the Protestants (or otherwise affiliated). The underlying assumption is that Wiseman should have taken the temperature (to borrow from Newman) of his Protestant contemporaries with a better-calibrated intellectual thermometer before engaging in any sort of rhetorical flourish, let alone a literal description of the charge he had been given. I wonder, though, to what extent the temperature could, as it were, have been taken, especially given what we know about the Vatican's prior negotiations with the British government on the subject--and not least because Wiseman presumably thought he was speaking to a Catholic instead of a Protestant room. Contemporary social media is not the only place where messaging goes awry...
Here we have another unusually well-known novel--unusually well-known for this blog, that is. (It was even filmed multiple times--in fact, there's far more scholarship related to the various early films than there is about the novel itself.) The title character of "Maxwell Gray"'s (Mary Gleed Tuttiett's) The Silence of Dean Maitland (1886) is an Anglo-Catholic clergyman famed for his speaking voice--a "beautiful voice" (17), a "musical voice" (74), a "richly compassed voice" (80), and so on. Not surprisingly, then, the title is both literal and ironic: Cyril Maitland, famous for speaking, keeps silent about the events that threaten to do him in. Cyril, momentarily taken with the beauty of a young working-class woman with whom he grew up, Alma Lee, seduces and impregnates her; when, much later, he is confronted by her enraged father, the coachman Benjamin Lee, Cyril fights back and kills him. For obvious reasons, this sequence of actions is not conducive to a successful clerical career. At one point, Cyril remembers how, as a child, he broke a vase, only for his best friend, Henry Everard, to be punished instead. "I was miserable for days," Cyril tells Henry, "hating myself, and yet too frightened to tell the truth" (95). In a novel somewhat over-enamored of foreshadowing ("Could she but have had one glimpse of the swift-coming future..." ), it will come as no shock to the reader that Cyril proceeds to reenact his childhood failure on a grand scale, with Henry spending nearly twenty years doing hard labor in prison after being convicted of Cyril's crime. As the narrator says of Cyril, "But he was a coward, and loved the praise of men" (283). Despite all this, Henry is kept alive by both the love of Cyril's better half, his twin sister Lilian, and his eventual realization that he can do good to other men while in prison. Eventually, of course, the novel's sensationalist aspects reassert themselves at the end, as both Alma and her adult son return from America, Henry returns home, and Cyril (whose life has been plagued by a disillusioned wife and multiple deceased children) delivers a stinging self-indictment from the pulpit before conveniently dying right there. (In a depressingly obvious bit of symbolism, the cat he raised with his sister chooses that moment to die, too.) At least Lilian and Henry get to live happily ever after, adopting all of Cyril's remaining children in the process.
Despite Cyril's affiliation, this is not an anti-Anglo-Catholic novel. Much of what Cyril does in his early career, such as working in the urban slums alongside other Anglo-Catholic priests, is represented as clearly admirable; the novel is much harsher on Henry's killjoy brother George, a hardcore evangelical who later becomes a hardcore Ritualist. Instead, beyond its obvious critique of Christian hypocrisy, of which Cyril is actually far from the only example in the text, the novel attacks clerical charisma or, to put it differently, the cult of the saintly clergyman--the preacher as rock star. Cyril's upward trajectory depends on his ability to embody popular aesthetic notions of the true ascetic Christian, and to perform Christian sermons instead of simply delivering them. Henry, for example, meditates on Cyril's "pale, saint-like features and white-stoled form, the crimson from a martyr's robe in the south chancel window staining in a long bar the priest's breast and hands and the very chalice he held" (75); elsewhere, the novel dwells on Cyril's "worn cheek" (98), his "haggard face" (130). Cyril's peculiar beauty, which derives in part from the very haggardness of his features, appears to signify virtue according to all the tropes of Christian imagery, and actually signifies that he is being eaten from within by his own consciousness of sin. His sermons, which seem "brilliant and soul-searching orations" (326), are identified as theatre by a clergyman who has discovered the truth: "How did you like the play?" (298). These sermons provoke extreme emotional effects from his audiences; early on, an anxious Everard "began to fear some unseemly hysteric excitement in the little congregation" (78) as Cyril speaks. Cyril's ability to manipulate both men and women into sobs and self-condemnation threatens to overstep the boundaries between a righteous awakening to the reality of sin and a more dangerous (and implicitly feminized) mass delusion. Such rhetorical skill, which has market value within the Church of England, tips the congregation over into something resembling a fandom. In fact, when Cyril preaches his final sermon indicting himself as a criminal, most of his auditors refuse to believe it, interpreting his confession as the result of madness rather than violate the saintly image he and they have together constructed. The dangers of such charisma emerge when Henry first realizes the truth and concludes, because Cyril betrayed him, that "[t]here is no God [...] there is no good, no help anywhere" (179).
The novel's alternative to the dangers of clerical charisma is, in effect, a non-dogmatic lay Christianity, practiced by both men and women. Henry Everard's long imprisonment on Cyril's behalf, which eventually turns into a loose Christ analogy of sorts--highlighted by Cyril's sermon on Psalm 55:14, which sets up Cyril as Judas to Henry's Christ--becomes an act of ongoing ministry to the other prisoners. He finds "flowers and charity" strewn along the way in prison and becomes instrumental to saving several of his fellow inmates; when released, he comes across another former prisoner, Smithson, who uses his shop as a means of rehabilitating others instead of focusing on profit (285). Similarly, Cyril's twin sister Lilian is partly responsible, we are told, for "all that was best and most enduring in his writings" (317), and her purity makes her capable of taming dangerous animals (and non-dangerous ones), solving all moral problems within a square mile, and, in general, wearing a halo. Moreover, Lilian's animal-taming powers are linked specifically to sexual innocence. When Henry asks Cyril, who used to be able to do the same thing, why he has lost the skill, he sadly replies, "I am a man!" (101)--here, unbeknownst to Henry, associating sexual sin with the nature of manhood, in a way that Henry himself proves capable of resisting. The novel links Lilian's and Henry's moral and erotic purity, I think, with its Wordsworthian paeans to natural beauty: throughout, the created world appears as a good thing, overflowing with "the richest tones of color" (192) and providing an abundance of innocent aesthetic enjoyment to the properly attuned viewer. Lilian's ability to tame animals associates her with this kind of natural goodness, not prelapsarian but certainly the best that can be had in a fallen world.
Her movement from Cyril to Henry, moreover, suggests the right place for sexual maturity within this world, drawing on an implicitly complementarian view of gender identity. Cyril has a "feminine element" (93), an "almost feminine piety" (188), and an "almost womanly tenderness" (282), all of which in the end prove inadequate to moral action; instead of complementing his sister, he turns out to be inferior to her, both in his self-delusions and in his sexual failure. Unlike his sister, who has a "perfect self-command" (102), Cyril engages in excessive ascetic practices, such as wearing a spiked cross, in order to tame his bodily desires. (This is a standard Victorian critique of asceticism: the ascetic focuses on bodily disciplines at the expense of the mind.) Henry, who is more "masculine" (93), is in part so because he resists erotic desire through the equivalent of Lilian's mental strength. In that sense, the novel assigns both genders the responsibility of caring (Henry proves to be as nurturing as Lilian), but also suggests that caring needs to manifest itself in gender-appropriate ways. Lilian, the exemplar of perfect and self-controlled womanhood, is the right emotional and physical partner for Henry, the exemplar of perfect and self-controlled manhood; Cyril, defined by a problematic masculinity and an equally problematic tendency to physical and emotional excess, has to be shown the door.