After sabbaticalizing, one reports. I was therefore thinking about Book Three, not least because I'll be delivering two conference papers this month and the next directly related to it.
1) Canonical novelists are an interesting proposition for a project like this. Some of that has to do with crass marketing imperatives, as publishers do not, in fact, look kindly upon monographs filled entirely with people of whom nobody has ever heard. But there's also a bit of a polemical statement here, too, because one of the underlying arguments of my scholarship is that (despite my running joke that "I read these things so you don't have to") reading "for the religion" in canonical texts, whether poetry or prose, warps our understanding of how nineteenth-century authors popularized particular religious discourses. Part of the point of Book Two, for example, was that many Victorians, Protestant and Catholic alike, were obsessed with the Reformation and its implications for their own cultural moment--but you wouldn't know that if you stuck to "the canon," because the major authors avoided the subject like the proverbial plague. Despite the old cultural studies mantra about all things being produced and produced by each other, some forms don't actually intersect--or, at least, rarely do. (A twenty-fourth century literary historian doing an equivalent monograph about our own period would have to pay attention to the Left Behind series, not just Marilynne Robinson.) And I want to avoid treating explicitly religious fiction as the "context" or "background" material for the Brontes or Eliot. Despite my grumbles when I encounter an especially terrible author, Victorian religious fiction had its own forms, narrative strategies, and so forth. Ergo, canonical novelists in Book Three are, as I say, an interesting proposition, as I don't want them to swamp everyone else, but some of them (e.g., Eliot, the Brontes, Gaskell) are more than slightly relevant.
2) On the one hand, I don't want to duplicate Wolff or Maison; on the other hand, I do want reasonable coverage, especially of the Catholic novelists (whom everybody ignores). Nineteenth-century readers did have their own canon of religious fiction, and it's worth knowing what it is.
3) I really do think that at mid-century, the Catholic novelists are by far the most interesting in terms of their willingness to experiment with the various forms of religious fiction. Even E. H. Dering is doing his best, although he's well-nigh unreadable by any aesthetic yardstick.
I'm thinking of bringing a Dering novel with me on my travels two weeks from now. If nothing else, I may fall asleep quickly.
4) I'm beginning to see a consolidation--consensus--fragmentation plot structure emerging. Granted, things always remain messy, as I've noted before. But by the end of the century, "the" religious novel starts looking unwillingly pluralist, what with the multiple denominational presses, several high-profile agnostic novels, and so forth.