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« This Week's Acquisitions | Main | Sabbaticalizing »

August 23, 2008


La Franglaise

As an introduction, I don't remember how I stumbled upon your blog (at least six months ago), but as a new grad student planning to specialize in Victorian lit, I find it always interesting and it gives me good ideas for reading.

My own experience doesn't lead me to believe that the "crisis of faith" is that much a convention within the field - where I did my BA, anyway. Indeed, a lot of texts may lead to that assumption, but there are equally as many that approve of honest faith, and I was shown both sides of the medal.

My personal interests lead me more into the field of ethics, but that may be a good point to start filling that gap you mention, since ethics are so closely related to religion.

I'll definitely give that book a look, and see what consequences it has on the study of ethics and morality... if there is doubt about a crisis of faith, it'll certainly become doubt about a crisis of morals.


For those who love book lists, at least one other book I've read that would support Larsen's contention is _The Critical Spirit and the Will to Believe: Essays in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Religion_, edited by David Jasper and T.R. Wright (1989). On the other hand, a more recent and favorable study of "honest faith" is Carolyn Oulton's _Literature and Religion in Mid-Victorian England: From Dickens to Eliot_ (2003); despite the somewhat misleading title, its focus is almost exclusively on Dickens and Wilkie Collins, with George Eliot serving as something of a foil.
Once again, I must thank you for an excellent post; I'm studying for my qualifying exams, and Victorian Religion and Literature (with an emphasis on the sermon), is my dissertation area, and you have once more given me the titles of some more books that I'll want to read. Then again, given the length of my reading lists already, perhaps I should hold off on reading your blog until after I'm done with my exams!


Interesting post. I have to disagree with the first commenter, though -- I think Larsen is right, and the 'Victorian crisis of faith' is still very much the dominant paradigm. A.N. Wilson's books (God's Funeral, The Victorians) have skilfully packaged the crisis-of-faith thesis for a general readership -- and while no one would claim that Wilson is writing cutting-edge scholarship, his books are widely read and have done a lot to shape the popular perception of the Victorian period. The crisis-of-faith thesis also makes regular appearances whenever Darwin and the theory of evolution are discussed -- and with the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species coming up next year, we can expect a lot more newspaper articles like this one. As to how far the crisis-of-faith paradigm is still the orthodoxy in English departments, I can't speak from personal knowledge, but I suspect it's still going strong wherever 'Dover Beach' is on the syllabus.

It reminds me a bit of the Whig interpretation of English history (much on my mind at present, as I'm helping to curate an exhibition about the English civil war). I recently read an eloquent blog post by a medieval historian declaring that 'the Whig narrative has collapsed', and as far as academic scholarship is concerned, this is certainly true. No serious historian nowadays would defend the old Whig narrative (at least, not without very heavy qualification) and anyone doing 'Tudors and Stuarts' at school or university is routinely given the revisionist line. But somehow this hasn't penetrated far outside the academy. I used to think the Whig interpretation was dead and buried; I now realise I was wrong. It's still the default paradigm for most people thinking (or vaguely trying to remember what they know) about kings and parliaments. In fact I'm tempted to argue that the recent surge of popular history books has actually led to a revival of the Whig narrative, albeit in a slightly more sophisticated form.

Just so (to conclude my sermon) with the Victorian crisis of faith. You know, and I know, that it's mistaken (or at any rate seriously flawed) -- and looking outside our own specialisms, we can connect this with the 'religious turn' across the humanities in general. But out in the wider world, the 'Victorian crisis of faith' is still alive and well -- and it fits into so many preconceived narratives (the rise of modernity, the rise of secularism) that it's not going to fade away easily. 'The slow erosion of the survey-level crisis of faith'? I hope so. But I rather doubt it.

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