I've said terribly unpleasant things over the course of the years about E. H. Dering, so I will concede upfront that his Sherborne (1875) is pretty inoffensive from an aesthetic POV. Granted, the novel has all of his usual problems: the characterization is nonsensical (in particular, the characters opining about the Catholic psyche after being converts for all of five seconds), the conversation bizarre (everyone delivers "home truths" all the time, even though in reality they would probably never be invited anywhere again after the first go), and the plot contorted (not to mention badly edited--Dering seems to have been worried that his readers would be unable to remember what was going on). Still, the prose, while occasionally resembling meat processed through a clogged grinder, was at least serviceable, and the main arguments, while not unfamiliar, reasonably interesting.
Sherborne's narrative combines a harsh critique of both post-Reformation and what one might call post-Catholic Europe, on the one hand, and a slightly more sensational plot about property gone awry, on the other. The last, however, is symbolically linked to the first. In the property plot, an old woman, Mrs. Atherstone, seeks to return a Catholic estate, confiscated after the '45, to its rightful nineteenth-century heir; the problem, of course, is that the estate, Protestant for over a century, is currently occupied by de Beaufoy, who has taken the old family name, Sherborne. As a young woman, Mrs. Atherstone had temporarily withheld her discovery of an heir's existence from her employer, Mrs. Sherborne, from whose brother the estate had been confiscated because he was illegally studying at Douai. Mrs. Sherborne had "apostasized from the faith" in order to marry a Protestant, who turns out to have been "an unkind and faithless husband" (I.164); in turn, Mrs. Atherstone thinks to conceal the heir in order that her own lover might inherit, only to discover that the will renders it impossible. Just as Mrs. Sherborne was punished for her betrayal, so too is Mrs. Atherstone, whose lover is promptly drowned. The network of refusals and betrayals that alienates the Sherborne property miniaturizes the larger Protestant project of stealing Catholic lands, keeping the rightful owners in perpetual exile either at "home" (a home itself rendered alien by the new religious settlement) or abroad. As Moreton, one of the novel's protagonists and its occasional narrator, says to the current Sherborne, a Catholic convert is now a "sort of spiritual ticket-of-leave man, who is allowed certain rights of citizenship under conditions not very clearly defined" (I.52)--a citizen and yet not a citizen, figuratively transported elsewhere yet at home, free yet circumscribed. But Mrs. Sherborne's return to the faith on her deathbed, as well as Mrs. Atherstone's conversion after a life of morbid despair, both signal Catholicism's irresistible appeal to the English mind, and thus the country's projected future return to Catholic health. "Sherborne," in fact, turns out to have a double meaning, as it indicates both the present holder of the title, one of the novel's protagonists, and Moreton, the actual heir (something revealed only at the very end of the novel). Although Moreton is a recent convert, the discovery that he is actually descended from an old Catholic family literally and symbolically restores a Catholic continuity within the context of violent Protestant disruption.
This alienated property plot sits side-by-side with a Risorgimento plot, which it both mirrors and, again, miniaturizes. Although Protestant novelists (and poets, for that matter) tended to look kindly on the Risorgimento, which they (mis)read as an example of burgeoning Protestant liberty abroad, Catholic novelists were, as one might expect, far less enthusiastic. The novel's primary Catholic priest, Don Pascolini, also links the Risorgimento to the Reformation, but not as the Protestants would have it: "They are doing by degrees in Italy what was done in England by Henry the Eighth" (I.38). Sherborne's interpretation of Protestant historical narrative (not that the Risorgimento was Protestant, but that many evangelicals in particular understood the movement that way) is in line with other Catholic texts of the period, which insist that, far from any sort of Whiggish progress, Protestantism is essentially non-linear. It disrupts, fragments, steals, corrupts, displaces, but shapes nothing. Moreover, this effect extends beyond the political into the moral and subjective. The English mind, says the narrator, has been "blinded by the wretched heresy which has so often warped the instincts of noble natures, and paralysed common sense" (II.191). English Protestants cannot properly make sense of events unfolding around them; they can neither offer true moral judgments nor decode the workings of divine grace. In this matter, though, they are joined by many Continental Catholics, whose governments applaud the Italian revolutionaries rather than taking the Pope's side. Sherborne thus diagnoses a larger religious malaise that goes well beyond Protestantism and into modern Catholicism itself, a destructive desire for power that upends older hierarchies and communities ordained by God. The only solution to this problem is a large-scale reversal of Protestantism's effects through the force of Grace, not of military power. Warns de Beaufoy at the end, if England does not return to its former Catholicism, "there will be an awful crash of everything some day" (III.321). For Englishness, he insists, is essentially Catholic, right down to its Constitution (III.322). Protestants may render Victorian Catholics alien in their own homeland, but understood rightly, it is Protestants themselves who are alien interlopers, performing a form of national identity that has no organic connection to its true origins.
I'm spending my spring break at Baylor University, conferencing, as one does when one is an academic. (The conferencing part. Not necessarily the conferencing at Baylor part.) The talk is about early nineteenth-century attempts to deal with this weird new genre, the religious novel, which (needless to say) almost nobody liked. But it's also about a "kids these days" problem. When academics grumble about "kids these days," it's easy enough to point out that, if one believes teachers, records demonstrate that the intellectual and applied capacities of the student population have been in decline since the time of ancient Greece. The "good" student population has always been located in the not-so-distant past, perhaps a generation or so earlier, frequently when the instructor was a student themselves (strange how that is...). As it happens, the "kids these days" narrative also informs even the nineteenth-century literary historiography of the religious novel: from the POV of late-Victorian observers, religious fiction didn't really get hot-and-bothered until the 1820s. Earlier novelists (e.g., Hannah More) were gentler, less impassioned in their approach. Now, from the POV of the late twenty-first century, this seems like a valid position, as the early nineteenth-century novels frequently adhere to the norms of post-Enlightenment sociability; Michael Ledger-Lomas rightly refers to the "polite evangelical fiction of the 1810s."1 For example, there's a great (I mean, great for my argument, not so great otherwise) moment in John Satchel's Thornton Abbey (1806) in which a controversial debate suddenly resolves into a charming afternoon tea. That sort of carefully convivial resolution just doesn't happen three decades on. But Thornton Abbey and its immediate contemporaries often struck contemporary critics as being the very opposite of sociable--they were too opinionated, too hung up on their theological hobbyhorses, too ready to represent the "wrong" (divisive) opinions, &c. In other words, depending on whom you're asking, the religious novel has always been offensive, even when it presented itself otherwise. Kids these days!
1 Michael Ledger-Lomas, "Evangelical Fiction," The Oxford History of the Novel in English: Volume 2, English and British Fiction 1750-1820, ed. Peter Garside and Karen O'Brien (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 261.
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.
In 1894, Oswald John Simon, son of the prominent Reform Jewish lawyer and activist Sir John Simon, diagnosed a serious spiritual malaise amongst the Anglo-American Christian population. This malaise, he argued, emerged from their crumbling belief in the Fall and, therefore, in the Atonement; as a result, the Christian settlement had fractured into irreconcilable shards of theism, agnosticism, atheism, and every other sort of -ism. The solution he proposed to the problem was a new form of an old faith--namely, Judaism itself. "Judaism," he argued, "is a great historic testimony to the fact that men have worshipped God, have cherished faith, and acknowledged the claims of righteousness without believing in the Fall, and, therefore, without experiencing the necessity for miraculous redemption from that normal state of perdition."1 Reform Judaism in particular, he felt, modeled a mode of faith that could promote "the means of union, of assimilation, and of broad human bonds" (88); the right practitioners might develop a Judaism for the Gentiles, as it were, that would be stripped of anything pertaining strictly to "mere accidents of a national history, and the commonplace badges of enforced separateness" (87), and instead offer a truly pure, universal religion that could not be affected by the discoveries of modern science or any qualms about miracles. As Meri-Jane Rochelson points out, Simon's work, which "incorporated the rhetoric of Christianity" in service of promoting a "Jewish Theistic Church," sparked momentary but limited interest among his contemporaries, although some of his impulse towards "universalist" belief still resonated.2 This was not, however, his first go at this idea. Four years previously, Simon had tried to articulate something along these lines in The World and The Cloister (2 vols., 1890), which I undertook to read as penance for maligning the British Library's digitization process. Strictly speaking, Simon clearly failed to master the finer points of the novel-writing art. Alas, he also failed to master the coarser points. The result is, I fear, rather dreadful. (OK, it's very dreadful.) Nevertheless, as always, there are some points of at least historical interest.
Given that, in all likelihood, there's only one other person alive who has read this novel, a plot summary is in order. Our Hero (capital H) is Roderick Hugenot (supposed to echo Huguenot?), the orphaned son of a Catholic who "fell into infidelity and died without the last Sacrament" (I.4) and a Jewish mother whose family had converted to the Church of England for secular reasons. He has spent much of his life with the designing Mary, Duchess of Boughton, a Catholic who is England's "most devoted and the most zealous champion of the Papal cause" (I.6). Despite his upbringing, Roderick (our Hero!) has developed an idiosyncratic form of belief based in a "deep abhorrence of all formulated creeds" (I.20), even though he articulates a strong faith in a unitary God above and beyond all merely human conceptions. Even though he's a politician (the horror), Roderick is equally idiosyncratic about party membership--that is, he refuses to align himself with any one party, given the state of "party warfare" (II.9), and thrashes everyone indiscriminately. Needless to say, because he is our Hero, Roderick cannot go anywhere or say anything without his audience cooing over his ideas, drooling over his intellect, or, in general, being rendered insensate by his profundities. Being our Hero, Roderick finds True Love with the exquisitely beautiful Irene Cassandria. Irene, as it happens, is a Jew taken from her ailing mother while still an infant (more about this in just a moment) under the aegis of the Duchess (oh dear) and raised to be a Catholic nun. Given that she finds True Love with Roderick, the convent is obviously not her final destination. Irene (our Heroine!) is a woman of uncommon brilliance, repeatedly compared to George Eliot, who adores reading Plato in the original Greek, writes theological pamphlets, and soon enjoys a meteoric rise as a novelist and political commentator. She is, not surprisingly, also a bore, but that's no doubt an uncharitable opinion. (In fact, she's a character straight out of "Silly Novels by Lady Novelists," but as Simon appears to have no sense of humor, the coincidence must be put down to incompetence instead of ironic self-awareness.) There's virtually no conflict--Irene discovers the truth, she leaves the convent in understandable ire, she stops suffering and writes that symphony novel--and the Duchess is defanged so quickly that one suspects a hidden dentist. There's also a subplot about a quite silly Protestant lordling who woos and wins one of the Duchess' multiple daughters, a young lady who rebels against her mother's plans to consign her to a convent; this ends happily with a nice interfaith marriage, thanks to Roderick's wise counsels.
This plot summary will probably not have motivated anyone to rush over to the British Library site to download The World and the Cloister, but, as I said, there are a couple of things worth noting here. The most important is Irene's plot, which reworks the famous Edgardo Mortara case. The Duchess herself brings up the case to explain why she never told the girl about her mother (I.94-95); later, other characters insist that such a crime "'could never happen in England, the police are much too sharp'" (I.146). Besides implicitly warning that such English chauvinism obscures the workings of prejudice at home, the relocated and re-gendered plot also challenges the kidnapping's outcome: whereas Mortara settled down quite contentedly as a Catholic priest--something acknowledged obliquely when Mrs. Cassandria comments that "I am not likely to be shocked that my own child, brought up away from me, would be more attached to Christianity than to Judaism" (I.263)--Irene feels an instinctive distaste for Catholic ritual that suggests an innate Jewish resistance to it (a possibility also suggested by Benjamin Farjeon's novel Aaron the Jew). Once free of the cloister, she immediately returns to her mother's faith, yet in a self-reflexive fashion that both embraces and critiques it. Like Roderick, Irene seeks a faith that goes beyond creed, seeking out those "essential elements of the Jewish faith which represent universality" (I.278). Her eventual marriage to Roderick, sealed first in a civil ceremony and then with a private prayer in a synagogue (possibly supposed to be Bevis Marks?), symbolically represents the triumph of a fully individualized faith, carefully segregated from political contamination. (Roderick's anti-party politics is of a piece with his antagonism to creeds.) At the same time, her willingness to forgive the dying Duchess, which produces some embarrassingly over-the-top expressions of awe from the onlookers (the priest stares in "blank amazement" at this "astounding phenomenon," one of the Duchess' daughters starts bawling from "wonderment" [II.257]), demonstrates that a theology not grounded in the atonement can have all the same moral results as one that does. Meanwhile, the interfaith marriage subplot elevates what Roderick calls "perfect affinity" (II.224) of souls over the mere dividing lines of creeds. Rather than tending to interfaith marital Gothic, as I've described it before, the marriage between Matilda and Lord Walworth breaks down denominational pettiness in order to achieve a unity of like-minded selves. In effect, just as the novel celebrates the perfect unity of the Divine, it strives towards perfect unities elsewhere, whether in religion, in politics, or (as in the case of the Risorgimento, of which Roderick approves) nations themselves, all en route to a new cosmopolitan vision of global peace.
1 Oswald John Simon, "Missionary Judaism," rpt. in Faith and Experience: A Selection of Essays and Addresses (London: Wertheimer, Lea, and Co., 1895), 74.
2 Meri-Jane Rochelson, A Jew in the Public Arena: The Career of Israel Zangwill (Detroit: Wayne State UP, 2008), 109, 110.
China Mieville's collection Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories is punctuated by three sketches for film trailers of variously horrifying sorts--a zombie film ("The Crawl"), a quasi-Matrix thriller ("The Escapee"), a weird relative of Hitchcock and du Maurier ("Listen the Birds"). The trailers are deliberately fragmentary, the time signatures indicating that each shot lasts no more than three, four, perhaps six seconds. They are also deliberately paradoxical, as advertisements for non-existent films that will never arrive to complete, explain, and perhaps rearrange the not-quite-intelligible shots described here. (And, of course, the reader might well worry, given the rest of the collection, that the imaginary films are documentaries...) But these fractured trailers, left forever awaiting a cinematic closure that fails to arrive, also embody the form of most of the stories on offer here. Many of the stories drop us in medias res into inexplicable situations that have no known beginning and no comforting explanation at the end. Corpses mysteriously reorient themselves; icebergs float over London; people start generating mysterious trenches around their bodies; skeletons bear mysterious scrimshaw work. Indeed, "Four Final Orpheuses" keeps accumulating different explanations for the Orpheus legend, none of them precisely final. Some stories are less narratives than they are found textual objects, like "Syllabus" and the "Second Slice Manifesto," which ask the reader to imagine the conditions under which they might be produced and received, but provide few real clues.
Even the two most "straightforward" stories, "Sacken" and "The Junket," deliberately reject genre fiction's supposed tendency to explain, or over-explain, itself. "Sacken" deconstructs the classic ghost story: its protagonists, a female couple named Jo and Mel, do all the stereotypical things that characters in ghost stories have a bad habit of doing. They go on vacation (a major no-no) and rent a somewhat run-down property (also a bad plan), where the moderately less-intellectual Mel has strange dreams that Jo refuses to take seriously (oh, dear). After Jo mysteriously disappears, Mel does her scholarly research and discovers that she's seeing the ghost of a female parricide, drowned in a sack with several animals. Once she becomes genre-aware, though, things go very badly. Trying to imagine what the ghost wants, she comes up with "Revenge [...] Justice. Company. My child. A retrial. None of those was what the woman had whispered for" (162); the only motives she can ascribe to the ghost are conventional ghost motives, all intended to disrupt the cycle of haunting by completing what she herself understands is a "lack" (166). But believing she can understand the ghost according to the traditional rules proves fatal. Meanwhile, "The Junket," more black comedy than horror, satirizes twenty-first century outrage culture (and the fad for undead mashups) by imagining the mysterious fate of one Daniel Cane, a filmmaker who makes a huge splash with the (ahem) problematic Anne Frank, Vampire, a "jewsploitation" (363) movie which triggers the rage of Jews, white supremacists, lefty activists, and just about everyone else you can imagine. Cane's death by suspiciously anti-vampire protocols appears to be the story's primary mystery--aside from the film's actual meaning, itself left unexplained--but the narrator, set up as a stereotypically counter-culture film journalist, instead winds up refusing to investigate further: "Some stories, though, it doesn't help to finish" (370). Here we have an over-the-top murder mystery, in other words, chock full of potential suspects and complete with bizarre informant, and yet it simply rejects the necessity for an explanation.
What do the stories offer instead of closure? On the one hand, they invoke a decadent, degenerate, and/or decayed environment, frequently of the late-capitalist variety, in which things are very obviously in the process of falling apart. With the exception of the final male couple in "The Design," whose love is both obvious and, it would seem, never stated, human relationships are often twisted and tense. (In another example of black comedy, the psychotherapy jargon of "Dreaded Outcome" morphs both horrifically and hilariously into something else.) Sites of terror, like Guantanamo, turn out to have infused objects with inexplicable powers that react upon those who try to use them. Unexplained cultures of cruelty to animals run through multiple stories, from the execution technique of "Sacken" to the bizarre animal head rituals of "After the Festival" to the deer on fire in "Estate." Yet manmade objects frequently escape human control, most startlingly the living oil rigs in "Covehithe"--which are even producing cute little baby oil rigs--but also the ominous ships in "Watching God" and the collapsing freight elevators in "The Rope," all intended vehicles for profit that take on literal, and sometimes destructive, lives of their own. (In a no doubt deliberate paradox, the "godnapped" idol in "The Buzzard's Egg," which is supposed to do something, clearly does nothing, while meaningless wars swirl around the enslaved narrator.) On the other hand, the stories provoke a strange sense of suspension, as the reader is momentarily caught up in the troubled mood of the narrative's incompleteness. And surely the stories' unwillingness to explain their unsettling events, let alone to offer anything more than just the slightest hints of apocalyptic world-(un)building, is what makes them such discomforting, or upsetting, reads. Much as the trailers hint at the other stories' form, so "Watching God" suggestively addresses our yearning to settle on a singular interpretation. Characters on an island that is clearly of this world, yet just as clearly after some unspoken apocalyptic event, watch mysterious, unmanned boats pass by their shores. Their remaining library consists of mutilated books and out-of-context quotations--the title, as the reader can probably guess, is from Zora Neale Hurston--with which our narrator becomes "obsessed" as a child (94). Narratives break down; sentences are appropriated and reconfigured. But the ships are believed to construct a "deep grammar" (97; Chomsky repurposed!) beneath the surface, and the wrecked ships themselves are each a "word" (98)--an apparently orderly yet unintelligible language. The narrator's friend Gam, we are told, is "one of those intent on decoding the sentence" (98), another obsessive act of interpretation that yields no results (and is just as likely to be the product of conspiracist thinking). Suggestively, the narrator that "[y]ou can't decode it or translate it yet, it's not finished" (98): if the sentence only becomes readable once it is completed, where does that leave narratives that only "end" in the sense of coming to a halt? How does one understand language that always defers closure? (Derrida would probably have a field day.) In the end, after the boats mysteriously stop and start again, thanks to an ominous and (again) unexplained "hostile takeover" (107) by a corporation that appears to employ no people, the characters are left with, not a resolved sentence, but simply the shattering of one and the beginning of another. Yet they also bring something else: "Ships at a distance come not to collect, but carrying freight. They come carrying fear. And it is our fear but it is not our cargo. It has been ordered and is delivered on behalf of someone else. They bring it to be rendered. It is on their behalf that it will be rendered here" (107). No fixed and determined meaning, then or ever, but a state of indeterminacy that proves to be its own undefined horror, brought from somewhere mysterious according to the behest of some agent never seen.
The convert Thomas Longueville primarily made his way as a Catholic satirist and miscellaneous author, but A Romance of the Recusants was a rare serious foray into historical fiction. Like a number of other Catholic novelists of the period, Longueville takes on the persecutions of Elizabeth I's reign in order to think through a number of persistent and/or contemporary problems, such as martyrdom (not an issue in its strictest form during the Victorian period...) and the relationship between Catholicism and Englishness. It has, however, a relatively brisk and simple plot. The Catholic Sherringford family is under scrutiny for harboring priests, which they indeed are. Older daughter Ethel is outraged when her sister uses subterfuge to save Bowles/Cransworth, a visiting Jesuit, because "we had talked of being prepared for martyrdom" (33-34); for the alert reader who has read a lot of Catholic fiction, her zest for martyrdom will be recognizable as, in fact, the sin of pride, and when later arrested in London, she is easily tricked by the jailer, Mr. Hollins. In short order, Hollins convinces her that he admires her argumentative skills, and so it's just one small step to tricking her into a fake marriage, impregnating her, and convincing her to give up the secret of the family priest-hole. Of course, her track record illustrates the effects of pride upon human reason, but it's hard to avoid the conclusion that Ethel's behavior deserves some sort of award for "most persistently stupid behavior by a character in a Victorian religious novel." Needless to say, Ethel is appropriately humiliated by all this, but after being married off (for real) to one of Hollins' followers and figuratively lopped off the family tree (her baby is stillborn), she dies penitent and everything is great. Meanwhile, her sister Clare is initially pursued by the Protestant Sir Everard Gordon, whom she convinces to inquire into the truth of Catholicism; she convinces him exceptionally well, because he winds up becoming a Jesuit and returning to England, where he is eventually caught and martyred. That romance option not working out quite as planned, she instead marries another convert, Everard's old buddy Walter Murless, but not before almost facing martyrdom herself for harboring Everard. Alas, from her point of view, she doesn't wind up martyred, but is effectively under house arrest for the remainder of her life. As this plot summary suggests, the novel adheres to the basic tropes of pursuivant (priest-hunter) fiction, celebrating the heroism of Catholics under a persecuting regime while linking post-Reformation Protestant values to predation, sexual and financial (both Walter and the Sherringfords are stripped of most of their cash and property*). As always, however, there are a few additional things worthy of note.
First, the structure, which relies heavily on doubling. Most obviously, it opens and closes with a hunt scene, separated by three centuries. The opening hunt scene introduces Walter and Father Cransworth, and ultimately concludes with the beginnings of Walter's conversion; the closing features two Protestant riders, riding over what in part used to be Sherringford and Murless territory, who note that "English Catholics have much to thank Queen Victoria for" (245). In this conclusion, the rural landscape manages to mark both the evanescence and the persistence of the old Catholic families: even though the Protestants successfully expropriated much of the Murless and Sherringford land, nevertheless the Murless estate "is the only property in the county which has gone on directly from father to son since the days of Elizabeth" (246), and there is a Roman Catholic chapel nearby (245). Despite Protestant depradations, in other words, the Catholics represent a line of unbroken historical continuity that contrasts starkly with Protestantism's more jagged forms of inheritance, and the reappearance of Catholic buildings indicates a literal and figurative Catholic rebuilding process. At the same time, the positive but slightly condescending attitude of both riders to Catholics in general and the Murless family in particular also signals the limits of toleration--it is significant that the Murlesses "don't come forward enough in public matters" (247), suggesting that the trade-off for tolerance may well be necessary invisibility. Doubling further features prominently in the case of the two sisters. Both sisters have a Protestant suitor, but Ethel's fake suitor Mr. Hollins claims that he will convert on marriage (no) whereas Clare's suitor Everard disdains doing any such thing. Similarly, both sisters marry in secret, except that Mr. Hollins brings in a fake priest (oops) while Walter and Clare are, in effect, secretly married in public by Everard while he is performing his final mass in front of witnesses. (Needless to say, Walter and Everard are also doubles.) Most importantly, Clare insists that Everard consult a priest, whereas Mr. Hollins claims that he deeply admires Ethel's skills as a religious controversialist. For the novel actively disdains religious controversy. It announces its (non)intentions at the end of the very first chapter, where Walter asks Father Cransworth (then only known to him as Mr. Bowles) to explain Catholicism--only for the next we hear about it to be Walter's conversion. There are no representations at any point of serious inquirers listening to or engaging in controversy; all of it is carefully banished offstage. Instead, we have Hollins' seduction of Ethel via her performances of secular controversy (debating the virtue of a given king, for example), which climax in her supposed "victory" over him in an event staged in front of an audience rustled up, in actuality, from Hollins' servants. (To underline just how pride interferes with perception, an audience member at the debate later returns as the fake priest before making his final appearance as Mr. Brown, the man Ethel is forced to marry; she recognizes him from neither guise.) In other words, the novel associates religious controversy with a theatricality that celebrates the individual's verbal pyrotechnics over the weight of divine truth. Insofar as it is here closely associated with predatory sexuality, too, there is also a suggestion that the controversialist turns religion into a form of seduction. By contrast, Longueville's readers are invited to critique and emulate the actions of the protagonists, suggesting--in a manner customary in Victorian Catholic fiction--that the best mode of religious persuasion is exemplary behavior.
Which leads to the novel's second concern, which is non-exemplary Catholic behavior. Walter encounters a trio of Catholics, Father Brindley and Messrs. Stewart and Dundas, who are...not fans...of the queen. Walter sternly insists that he is a "loyal subject" (134), but Stewart and Dundas are open to the possibility of assassination and even Father Brindley admits that installing a new regime by "constitutional medium" or "foreign invasion" (135) would not be off the table. (Under the circumstances, perhaps the reader is meant to contemplate the irony of James II's exit.) Here, the novel insists that there is no conflict between loyalty to one's national sovereign and loyalty to the Pope, for English national identity should be able to encompass a plurality of religious beliefs in the Protestant present, even if Catholics look to once again restore the nation's faith in the future. Walter and Everard alike complain that "[t]hose rascals will be the ruin of the Catholic church in England" (211) and denounce them as "traitorous" (211), insisting that the only means of rightly restoring Catholicism as the national faith is through divine action, not by substituting "their own mistaken and distorted views as to their duty towards their neighbor" for "their duty towards their God" (211). The good Catholic undertakes all the obligations of any good subject, in other words, so far as the state demands nothing that conflicts with the Catholic faith itself. This point makes the ending even more double-edged, since the Victorian-era Murless family has apparently disengaged entirely from the political process and the reappearing Catholic chapel is counterpointed by the sharp reduction in Catholic lands. Will there be more converts, or will Catholics remain a minority visible only as traces in the landscape? At the same time, their mutual dislike of Catholic plotting complements the novel's critique of Ethel the martyr-wannabe: as Clare is forced to concede when she finds she is not to be martyred after all, "God knows what is best" (220).
*--While Protestants absconding with Catholic property is obviously based on historical fact, It occurs to me that this also deliberately inverts what Maureen Moran calls the "popish plot," something I've mentioned fairly frequently, in which Catholics subvert the nation by converting heirs/heiresses and absconding with the property.
I appear to be complaining this week--but hey, what are blogs for, right? (Don't answer that.) In any event, the British Library's digital editions. They're a great improvement on GoogleBooks! There's quality control and stuff! The print copies could use some more toner in the ink cartridge, but they're still readable! And yet, multi-volume editions. I am a great believer in digitized versions of multi-volume editions having, you know, multiple volumes. In the case of GoogleBooks, you can usually find the other volumes lurking somewhere in the bowels of the database, even though much wailing and gnashing of teeth is involved. But for some reason, the BL's track record with its double- and triple-decker novels is, shall we say, scattershot. Now, granted, I may be the only person noticing this, because the world is not overflowing with people who want Mrs. E. Churchill's From Convent to Altar or Oswald John Simon's The World and the Cloister. (I really want The World and the Cloister--it's a 19th-c. Jewish novel and those are in awfully short supply.) Alas, only the first volume of Mrs. Churchill's novel is available and only the second of Simon's, even though the library has the complete set in both cases. If the other volumes have been digitized, there's no way for the reader to access them (and the hardcopy versions are, indeed, only of a single volume). This really doesn't make much sense.
ETA: The mystery has been solved, and I can now read additional bad religious novels to my heart's content.
It's dangerously tempting to make nice, linear chronological claims about the history of literary forms. "X gave way to Y" would be awfully convenient, and yet the real situation is often more "X was in competition with Y, and Y became more popular" or "X was absorbed into Y, but kept going on the margins" or "X looks like it disappeared after Y, but really we just forgot about its existence" &c. As you can gather, I'm thinking about Book 3 1/2, which has a slightly problematic first chapter-in-progress. It's problematic because I'm arguing that a certain kind of religious fiction pretty much disappeared by the late 1830s, with the first shifts visible in the 1820s. But you still have a couple of decades in which Form X and Form Y are, as it were, circling around each other, sussing out weak spots and, in general, claiming religious space. Worse still, there's a seismic event of sorts that really demands its own (currently extant) chapter--and yet, that doesn't quite fit with a neat chronology. Organizing a coherent narrative about a messy situation, alas, is a somewhat frustrating task...
A coherent policy regarding what is and is not available in full text. It is not immediately evident why a book published in 1839 needs to be forever cloaked behind a wall of invisibility or reduced to the dreaded snippet view. At the very least, an explanation would be nice. Moreover, GoogleBooks' habit of randomly making books unavailable after they had previously been available is inexplicable, not least because copyright is not an obstacle when the edition is from 1842. (Matters are even more inexplicable when your realize that Google's own scans of "invisible" books sometimes show up in full view at HathiTrust or archive.org.)
Searchable libraries. Once upon a time, you could search your own library, and it was Good. Then, as your library increased in size, you suddenly discovered that the search function no longer worked at all, and it was Bad.
An actual quality control alert box that leads to actual fixes. There should be a way to do something about missing or distorted pages. (Yes, this would cost money.) And see above: this is something that affects not just GoogleBooks, but other online repositories like archive.org, which frequently rely on Google's scans.
Logical handling of multivolume texts. The most common search for a triple-decker goes something like this: 1) look for the title; 2) find one random volume of the title; 3) go into the "other editions" section on the "about" page and try to find the other volumes; 4) discover that one volume is still randomly missing; 5) do a GoogleBooks search for the missing volumes, to no avail; 6) do a regular Google search to find the missing volume (which usually brings it up, and reminds you to skip #5). Nothing after #1 makes any sense. The search should bring up all three volumes clustered together (as, hey, archive.org manages to do); it certainly shouldn't have them categorized under "other editions," because, you know, they aren't other editions, they're the rest of the book. (Having all three volumes linked together would also be nice.)
Have somebody proof the metadata. As in, not only should publication dates match, but book titles should match the actual book you've just pulled up.