Today, I tracked an exceptionally rare novel to its lair. It was a well-appointed lair--namely, the Bobst library at NYU. The novel in question is Gorges Lowther's Gerald: A Tale of Conscience (1840), of which few people will have heard who are not aficionados of this kind of fiction (already a limited quantity). Gerald is a response to E. C. Agnew's far more famous (um, to aficionados of this kind of fiction) Geraldine: A Tale of Conscience (1837-39). Geraldine is the semi-autobiographical tale of a devout young woman's conversion to Roman Catholicism, which, in its original form (vols. I and II were published as a separate unit), climaxes with the revelation that her apparently anti-Catholic father is, himself, a secret Catholic. Gerald, returning the volley, traces the conversion of an Irish Catholic priest (a Jesuit, apparently, but then anti-Catholic novels tend to make all priests Jesuits) to Protestantism by his nephew, Gerald; Gerald's mother, the priest's sister, had been fanatically Catholic prior to becoming fanatically Protestant. In theory, Gerald is an epistolary novel, a retrospective account written to one of the priest's friends after the conversion. Of course, Lowther informs us in the "Advertisement" that "there was no incident of any importance [...] for which he cannot produce authority of the highest veracity"--insisting, as is so often the case with these texts, that it's a not-novel . Be that as it may. In practice, it has even less plot than Geraldine; it's really an anti-Catholic manual (of the sort R. P. Blakeney was known for) masquerading as a novel. (Even The Churchman, which one might think would be on the book's side, confessed that "[w]e are very much puzzled to find out the 'tale' in the volumes before us...," and admitted that Geraldine was much better qua novel.) Anyone who has ever read anti-Catholic controversial literature will be able to predict the novel's, er, high points: it prooftexts extensively to wallop transubstantiation, confession, the Mass in general, attitudes to the Bible, and so on, and so forth, ad nauseam. (To vary the prooftexting, at one point the narrator reports Gerald reporting his tutor paraphrasing some Bible stories for the edification of another priest, who had apparently managed to get through seminary without learning about St. Paul.)
However, it also exemplifies some important trends in this type of fiction, at a relatively early stage in its Victorian development. FIrst and foremost, it is pseudo-dialogic (with apologies to Bakhtin): the entire "controversy" consists of either a) the priest asserting something, Gerald explaining why this is stupid, and the priest unable to respond, or b) Gerald asserting something and the priest unable to respond. One of the most frequent Victorian complaints about this kind of novel, in fact, was its affinity for the pseudo-dialogue. The theological points are all foreordained, and the losing side must not just "lose," but must also be made ridiculous and/or ridiculously tongue-tied. (As the Catholic essayist Agnes Repplier sardonically said of Grace Kennedy's Father Clement, "a more unnatural creed than Father Clement's Catholicism was never devised for the extinction of man's flickering reason.") In this case, the priest repeatedly points out that he and Gerald begin with irreconcilable positions concerning evidence (Gerald, of course, is arguing solely from the Bible), but Lowther doesn't expect us to reflect on the problems this ought to cause; instead, the novel treats the priest's position as self-evidently wrong. Second, the novel positively overflows with footnotes, an enthusiasm for paratext which aligns it with the later work of Catherine Sinclair (passionate about lengthy prefaces) and the American nativist Julia McNair Wright (footnotes and appendices galore). Statistics! Anecdotes! Quotations from Protestant standards! Conspiratorial warnings that "Popery is the stepping-stone to Court and Ministerial favour"! (I:23). Taken together with the prooftexting in the main text, along with the "choice" quotations from Catholic authors, this adds up to a convenient reference source for Protestants in search of loaded quotations to circulate about Catholic authors, or equally loaded quotations to use against Catholics in controversial disputation. (We now have websites for this sort of thing.) It's also the novel's closest approach to Geraldine, which proceeds by having its heroine engaging in a course of extensive theological reasoning (which Orestes Brownson later argued was an essentially Protestant mode of proceeding).
Finally, Gerald is very much a post-Emancipation text, sharing in the apocalypticism of contemporary novelists and polemicists like Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna; it sees Catholic Emancipation as a genuinely sinful concession that will damn the country unless rectified forthwith. Having been granted the right to sit at the Parliamentary table, Catholics now reveal their true colors (with beheadings, burnings &c. no doubt to follow). As Gerald declares, "'every compact on which that bill was granted has been violated, every pledge by which it was obtained has been broken, and every promise by which it was preceded has been set at nought!'" (I:93). The narrator argues that English and Irish Catholics join together in believing that soon "the entire Protestant population of the British Empire will be converted to their faith, and conjoined inseparably, as one body with the Church of Rome" (I:7), and repeatedly attacks the main body of English Protestants as supine liberal types, the products of "indifferentism" (I:27), unwilling to stand up to the blandishments of Rome. This novel is explicitly pro-Anglican (of the evangelical stamp); it takes a harsh line with Dissenters, whom it casts as enemies to Protestant unity, easily duped by Catholic missionaries (e.g., I:17). In effect, the narrator winds up casting himself as a new prophet (St. Paul, perhaps?), with his letters calling the people to a newly revitalized Protestantism, shorn of liberalism or anything else that implies toleration of Roman Catholicism's dangerously rejuvenated presence in England. By embracing the Church of England, he becomes, as his final salutation explains, "[n]ow a true Catholic Priest" (II:253).
 [Gorges Lowther], Gerald: A Tale of Conscience, 2 vols. (London: John W. Parker, 1840), 1:iii.