Now that I've recovered from my "violent cold," as they used to say, it's time to return to Victorian controversial fiction. As promised, here we have Plumpton Wilson's Protestant Truths and Roman Catholic Errors (1830), the rebuttal to Noel Thomas Ellison's Protestant Errors and Roman Catholic Truths (1829). Wilson, another Anglican clergyman, spent more time sermonizing than he did novelizing; like Ellison, this was his only attempt in the fictional way. Reactions rather predictably divided according to the reviewers' political and theological leanings. On the one hand, the Literary Gazette complained that it was "neither very good reasoning, nor very strict justice, to make certain imaginary individuals commit certain imaginary acts, and then hold them as prototypes and examples of a numerous and existing body" (529). On the other hand, the Evangelical Magazine and Missionary Chronicle described it as a "seasonable, well-written volume, full of manifestations of a superior order, and calculated to arouse Protestants to a right sense of their great obligations and distinctive principles" (195). As the latter review suggests, Wilson rejects Ellison's arguments in favor of seeing commonalities between the CofE and the Roman Catholic Church. He does so by reworking Ellison's mixed marriage plot: in Wilson's narrative, mixed marriages must fail--not only because couples of two faiths cannot truly agree, but also because only Protestantism fully respects the bonds of matrimony.
Besides the marriages, Wilson borrows several elements of Ellison's novel, including the banter in the opening scene, the occasional break into epistolary form, and, indeed, some chunks of the plot. There are three mixed marriages, one of which appears, rather mind-bogglingly, as an afterthought. (Pace the Evangelial Magazine, Wilson's novelistic skills equal Ellison's.) Emily Saville, a Protestant, marries Adrian Harvey, an Irish Catholic, with her parents' very tentative blessings. When she relocates to Ireland, she meets the unsaintly Monica Clifford, a Catholic, who is married to Edmund Clifford, a Protestant. Finally, Mary Thelluson, the sister of clergyman Novis Thelluson (whose sympathies seem close to Orlando Cambray's), eventually marries Felix Everard, a decidedly non-devout Catholic whose career echoes that of Donald Douglas. Wilson also takes time to snark at Ellison's odd handling of Orlando's and Agatha's relationship, with names slightly changed to protect the guilty: "The
match is now completely broken off by mutual consent, as Miss Rowcliffe
says, that now Mr. Cumber is no more she cannot think of marrying the
son, especially as he is disinherited ; and that, of course, no one
would compare the respect which is due to the living to the duty we owe to the dead" (43).
Although Wilson makes off with Ellison's Big Idea, he transplants the plot in time and space. Protestant Errors... takes place around 1829, but Protestant Truths... is a historical novel, set during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. In controversial fiction, the choice of historical setting is always extremely significant, and this is no exception: the setting identifies Catholicism with Ireland instead of England; associates Catholicism with violent disloyalty to the Crown; and polemically directs the reader's attention backwards to a hot-button political event, instead of forwards to a hopeful possibility. Moreover, the setting not-so-subtly asks the reader to compare the role of Irish advocacy for Emancipation to the Irish uprisings of 1798. The causes, the novel also not-so-subtly implies, are the same. In that sense, Wilson takes a more hardheadedly political approach to the topic than Ellison: where Wilson makes Catholicism's spiritual failings part and parcel of the openly political challenge it poses to the nation, Ellison emphasizes the really-existing unity between Catholicism and the CofE, and focuses on Protestantism's negative moral effects.
In any event, the plot. In Marriage One, Emily Saville marries Adrian Harvey, sure that "in essentials we do not differ" (9). Apparently, she has been reading Ellison. Unfortunately, once Adrian totes her off to Ireland, she discovers that the family quickly loses patience with her staunch Protestantism. The in-laws turn nasty; the servants, mean; and Adrian, icy. To make matters worse, Adrian falls under the sway of the priest Innocent Trentham, who is also Monica Clifford's new confessor. Fr. Innocent convinces Adrian to join in the coming insurgency, along with his friend Felix Everard (the gent who was romancing Mary Trelluson). Things go well enough, until Adrian is captured after the Battle of Arklow. At this point, Emily--who, of course, still passionately loves her husband--comes to the prison, has a heartfelt reunion with Adrian, enables him to escape by throwing her cloak over the guard's head (!), escapes herself by grabbing the guard's key and locking him in (!!), and then returns home without incident (!!!). Apparently, she has "the strength of forty women in my arm to-night" (127). (I believe my year-end books roundup will have to include this under Events So Improbable That You Initially Write Them Off As Fever-Induced Delirium.) Eventually, they both wind up on the Saltees, where, with some other rebels, they take refuge; unfortunately, Emily's horticultural aspirations (she brings roses with her) expose them, and they are retaken. Prison, take two. And, oh dear--Adrian is on trial for high treason. For some reason, Emily isn't imprisoned, even though she broke her husband out of jail (clearly, Wilson never watched Law and Order); this leaves her free to persuade the key witness against her husband to take off before the trial starts. (Which proves that Wilson definitely never watched Law and Order. Well, that and the fact that the novel was written 160 years before the series aired. In a different country. But you know what I mean.) Just when it seems that Emily's interference is all for naught, though, SuperAdvocate arrives and gets Adrian off on a legal technicality. The government tells him to take a permanent hike. But before he can do that, Emily, who has been wasting away--criminy, it's a nineteenth-century novel; what did you expect?--winds up on her deathbed, and takes the opportunity to carry on an Improving Deathbed Monologue that runs several pages long. And then...she wakes up, finds her husband converted to Protestantism, and the two of them take off to live happily ever after. Moral, Part One: when it comes to marriage, Protestantism is the only way to go.
Monica Clifford's marriage winds up very differently. Wilson pulls out all the anti-Catholic stops, many of which will be familiar to long-suffering readers of this blog: the Catholics rank loyalty to the Church over loyalty to one's spouse; Catholic marriages are not sacred; the priest uses confession to interfere in the marriages of his flock; Catholic faith destroys true femininity, turning women into bad wives and mothers. Although Monica's marriage to her Protestant husband is initially an idyllic vision of ecumenical happiness, rather like the one envisioned in Ellison's novel, the arrival of Innocent Trentham transforms everything. Monica becomes "melancholy and unhappy" (62) and, eventually, "alienated from his affections" (79); worse still, Clifford proves to be an obstacle to the rebels, and Innocent convinces Monica that she must betray her husband--albeit not to his death. (This being an anti-Catholic novel, believing Innocent was not such a good idea.) Praying that "she might be worthy to be held in honor as a saint, by forgetting that she was a woman" (83), Monica successfully cauterizes any remaining feelings she may have about her husband. Clifford escapes temporarily, but is captured; he escapes execution by pike, only to be shot as he swims away...towards a boat occupied by his wife, who has come out for a spot of light entertainment (i.e., watching Protestants be murdered). That's the last we see of Monica. Monica's behavior towards her husband thus parallels and inverts Emily's, with Monica asking for the strength to destroy him, not save him, and witnessing his death by the rebels, not his tempered punishment by the state. Moral, Part Two: mixed marriage is only fine when the priest spends most of his time dozing; otherwise, expect that priestly influence will turn your wife into an inhuman monster (who will send you off to be killed, unlike good Protestant wives, who save their husbands).
Last but not least, there's the afterthought. Wilson appears to have completely forgotten about Mary and Everard, but he finally dispatches their marriage in an epistle near the conclusion. Donald Douglas was a nominal Protestant; Everard is a nominal Catholic. Everard also participates in the Irish Rebellion, but turns out to be rather a screw-up (to the detriment of quite a few other people), and he manages to get back to England unscathed. Like Douglas, Everard is an "idolater of pleasure" (190), and his Grand Tour with Mary turns out to be a horrendous affair. Relinquishing foreign fleshpots after his child appears on the scene, Everard comes home, undergoes a meaningless conversion, and turns into a "mean cold misanthropist" (192) instead. Needless to say, this does not contribute overmuch to the cheer of the Everard household. His child grows up to be a mirror image of the father. It occurs to Everard that this might not be such a great thing, so he temporarily repents and takes his wife abroad...to Paris. This was, needless to say, rather ill-advised. Again, like Douglas, Everard winds up haunting the gambling dens, and becomes so desperate that he sits around, anxiously waiting for his wife to die, goshdarnit. Before her death, she makes sure that her husband spies her will, which leaves everything to their son; in a fit of greed, he "tore it into a thousand atoms" (196). Amazingly, Mary dies with the words "Pardon! Pardon!" on her lips (196)--although whether requesting pardon for him or for herself, it's not clear--and Everard belatedly experiences a moment of truth. The end result, though, isn't conversion, although he does make sure that his son receives the inheritance. Instead, Everard resolves to bury himself in a monastery: "I have not changed the religion of my youth. I have not yet tried its power in solitude and ashes. In the cell of some of its far distant convents I hope to wear away the fading remainder of my days; and though in the varied trials of my life I have not proved its truth, yet in its dim sequestered aisles of penance I may find comfort from its holy instructions, and, if such there be, safety from its errors" (197). From an evangelical point of view, this isn't a particularly hopeful conclusion. Everard the impecunious and irreligious is the flip side of the genuinely devout Adrian; Mary, his long-suffering wife, echoes Emily, but cannot rescue her husband from his self-imposed degradation. Moral, Part Three: marrying a nominally Catholic husband on the assumption that you can reform him is not, perhaps, such a hot plan, because a nominal Catholic is indistinguishable from the average atheist. (Did I mention that you'll wind up dead?)
If we think about the larger significance of these mixed marriage plots, the outcome is something as follows. Truly devout Catholics, exposed to the influence of truly devout Protestants, will come to realize that the truth lies in Protestantism--and, therefore, will convert. The devotion remains; the dogma goes. Even then, one can't help noting that it takes Extreme Events--like the threat of execution, a rather boring deathbed speech, etc.--before Emily manages to get through her husband's theological defenses. (Let's not forget that they spend the rest of their lives in exile.) At best, then, this is not what one would call an overwhelming vote in favor of the likelihood that a mixed marriage will result in somebody's conversion to Protestantism. Moreover, as all the marriages suggest, the more "probable" outcome is Protestant victimization at the hands of Catholic men. (This is true even in Monica's case: she is manipulated by Fr. Innocent.) There is no domestic sphere in Catholicism, nor any space in which a woman and a man can be united as one. A "foreign" man will always intervene. (This is anti-Catholicism 101, as I said before.) The political implications seem clear. Where Ellison dreamed of a potentially equal union between the RCC and the CofE, Wilson insists that true unity exists only within a fully Protestant "marriage"; all attempts to unite with Roman Catholics will simply end in the foreign infiltration--and subversion--of both the Protestant family and the Protestant nation.