Things have been silent around here thanks to the beginning of school and all that (oh, look, my job), but I managed to scrounge up some time to read a religious novel. It's wonderful what being stuck in the house in front of your space heater (because the hydroponic baseboards can't handle 0 F) will do for your powers of concentration. In any event, A. L. S.'s Aimee's Marriage (1890) anticipates the plot of Mrs. Humphry Ward's Helbeck of Bannisdale (1898): where Helbeck tells the story of a skeptical woman who tries, and fails, to convert to Catholicism in order to please a would-be husband, with fatal results, Aimee's Marriage tells the story of a Protestant (and eventually evangelical) woman who, after marrying a Catholic man, finds herself under pressure to convert to Catholicism in order to please her husband (and everyone else). Unlike Laura Fountain, Aimee doesn't commit suicide, but she does manage to eventually convert her husband before he dies of terminal lack of attention to gun safety rules (he gets a "good death"), and her husband's sister Flora (she gets a good Protestant husband). Oh, and then Aimee dies from heart disease brought on by the aforementioned pressure to convert to Catholicism. Familiar controversial novel conventions abound, include lengthy speechifying about doctrine, prooftexting, rampaging Jesuits, naughty priests, and magical conversions by Bible-reading. Then again, this is the first time I've come across a religion novel that mentions a telephone.
More interestingly, Aimee's Marriage shares in the transatlantic anxiety about the meaning of toleration and liberalism when it comes to interfaith relations. Early on, Aimee's mother, Mrs. Lafonte, whom the novel condemns for allowing the marriage to go forward, says of Catholics that
"--Now we meet them every where: they form an important part in society: they are just as pleasant, just as liberal in sentiment, so far as I hear, as others. They have their religious opinions, and we have ours: we do not clash. They are valuable as citizens, and hold high positions without intruding their religious views--at least often," added the lady, qualifying the last assertion apparently through some sudden memory. (21)
This is an American novel, with obvious implications for how the characters think about governance and national identity. The "liberal" position ventriloquized here, however, was something that also troubled evangelicals across the bond. Mrs. Lafonte takes a self-consciously tolerant position, insisting on the interchangeability of Protestants and Catholics qua citizens ("just as"), but also asserting that religious faith can be relegated fully to the private sphere. Catholics are acceptable to Protestants as long as their "opinions" do not enter the realm of civic debate, let alone legislation. In fact, the novel will promptly trot out familiar conspiracy theories about how the Jesuits are exerting "political pressure" (416) to control Congress, and Aimee's Catholic mother-in-law cheerfully argues that not only do the Catholics intend to take over the United States, but also that they will abolish "religious liberty" once they do so (187). The liberal position, that is, combines spiritual lukewarmness (Protestants) with outright mendacity (Catholics); serious Protestants and Catholics will proselytize, albeit to what the novel insists are very different ends. When Aimee's mother-in-law snaps that "We live among Protestants. They are in a majority, and it is necessary to tolerate them, but it will not be so always, nor for very long" (184-85), toleration takes on a far more sinister cast, merely a biding of one's time before taking overt power. Protestants tolerate, the novel suggests, because they are too self-satisfied about their domination over American civic institutions; Cathiolics tolerate, by contrast, because they secretly do dominate American civic institutions, and have concrete plans to extend their sphere of influence.
By the same token, the novel also stoutly rejects the liberal position that an interfaith marriage can be a good thing. Frank X. Ransome (really Francis Xavier) initially promises that Aimee will have full freedom of religious belief, only to spend the rest of the novel hectoring her into converting to Catholicism. The fiction underlying the original marriage proposal, that is, is that marriage can function as a secular space, in which neither spouse has a spiritual claim on the other. It assumes that religious belief can be hived off into a kind of private sphere within the private sphere--wife, mother, husband, father are all identities that exist separately of Protestant and Catholic. But the novel insists that for the devout Christian, there can be no way of existing that is not shot through with belief; what differentiates the Protestant from the Catholic, in the novel's view, is that Protestants assert their own agency in coming to Christ (seeking the Scriptures), whereas Catholics coerce non-believers into relinquishing theirs. "I did not seek help," Aimee explains to one of the priests, "because I wanted to find the truth of the two systems, and I doubted my ability to resist influence, should I then deliver myself up to one or the other" (227). In practice, the novel insists, interfaith marriage always brings with it the public conflicts between the faiths, and insinuates those conflicts into the very heart of domesticity's supposed safe haven.