I gave a little (fifteen minutes) talk yesterday to an on-campus interdisciplinary forum. This is a very, very brief outline of what was already a very, very brief talk, but it suggests some of the issues that I'm currently thinking about for Book 3 1/2.
1. Intro: The "the novel is a Protestant form" debate. (Short version: all novels are Protestant, even when they're Catholic.) What's at stake in making such a claim? What are the literary-historical conditions that have led us (for some value of "us") to arrive at that conclusion?
2. The literary, religious, cultural history of anti-Catholicism in Britain. Quite the growth industry (to which I've contributed). However, like the analysis of antisemitic texts, which requires no acquaintance with a) Jewish texts or b) Jews, the analysis of anti-Catholic texts requires no acquaintance with a) Catholic texts or b) Catholics. In other words, the study of anti-Catholicism as currently practiced continues to foreground majority, "mainstream" writers, texts, and literary/religious/cultural positions.
3. Ignoring the majority hardly makes literary-historical sense. And yet, I did begin to wonder a few years ago where all the Catholic novelists were. Surely there had to be some out there, somewhere. (Hint: there are lots of them.)
4. Brief sketch of current attempts to study 19th-c. Catholic fiction. Short version: almost nobody wants to write about 19th-c. Catholic fiction. Catholics don't want to write about 19th-c. Catholic fiction. (Yes, there are important exceptions to this generalization.)
5. JOHN HENRY NEWMAN IS A MINOR AND NOT HUGELY INFLUENTIAL CATHOLIC NOVELIST. PLEASE STOP DEVOTING SO MANY PAGES TO HIM.
(I didn't YELL during the talk, but the NEWMAN NEWMAN EVERYWHERE thing is a rather massive distortion of the literary field. Look, Newman's novels were pretty much non-starters, genre-wise [and have technical problems--as Loss and Gain indicates, Newman could never tell when his jokes were beginning to wear thin]. Only a tiny handful of authors imitated his polemical and formal strategies [some of E. H. Dering's work, for example]. Even authors who dedicated their fiction to him weren't really "doing" what Newman did.)
6. Some problems with studying Catholic fiction:
a) I can haz Catholic publishers' archives, plz? Well, no, actually, you can't, as just about all of them have vanished mysteriously.
b) Most Catholic authors were not reviewed outside the Catholic press.
c) A lot of Catholic fiction was translated/imported, in a way that is much more visible (because of sheer percentages) than it is with secular or Protestant fiction. Makes it somewhat uncomfortable to discuss the literary field in national terms, no?
d) If you're trying to recuperate "liberal/left/subversive" authors, then Victorian Catholic novelists are going to pose a problem for you, not least because a surprising number of them manage to be both marginal and "establishment" at the same time. (Catholicism in general has never fit neatly into left/right boxes, something that still causes commentators on all sides no end of conniption fits.) Moreover, when they do look "subversive" (their critique of the marriage plot, for example), their subversive doesn't equal ours.
e) There's some Protestant triumphalism still built into current literary-historical assumptions (especially about modernity).
7. Literary history as currently practiced cannot see 19th-c. Catholic realism, given that it operates according to considerably different assumptions about the nature of the "real" (as well as of the social). Mentioned both the critique of the marriage plot and the presence of miracles/divine visitations/mystical experiences etc.