While a graduate student at the University of Chicago, I once walked the complete works of Charles Reade (thanks, AMS Press) several blocks from the South Loop branch of Powell's to the bus stop, and several blocks again from the bus stop to my apartment. The weather that day was warm and sunny. Yesterday, I managed to walk eleven volumes of the "Novels of Faith and Doubt" series (thanks, Garland Press) from my office to the car, which was not as impressive an achievement, but did involve negotiating an unexpected snow storm. And here people thought that buying books had nothing to do with upper body exercise.
Thomas Longueville, A Romance of the Recusants (British Library, n.d.). Facsimile reprint of Longueville's Catholic historical novel, originally published in 1888, set during the early reign of Queen Elizabeth. Longueville (or de Longueville) was best known as a satirist on matters religious, especially The Life of a Prig and its sequels. (Amazon)
Stephanie Forward, ed., Dreams, Visions and Realities (Birmingham, 2003). Anthology of mostly feminist fiction from around the turn of the twentieth century, both English and American. (Amazon [secondhand])
Anne Markey, ed., Children's Fiction 1765-1808 (Four Courts, 2011). Anthology of early Irish children's fiction. Includes two short novels by John Carey and Margaret King Moore, and three short stories by Henry Brooke, John Clowes, and an anonymous author. (Amazon [secondhand])
By sheer chance, I recently found myself reading two horror novels in which the act of writing played a significant part: Patrick Senecal's 5150, rue des Ormes and Alan Judd's Faustian The Devil's Own Work. 5150, rue des Ormes juxtaposes the journals of Yannick (being held hostage in the titular house) and Maude (the fervently Catholic wife of the man doing the hostage-holding) against an intermittent third-person objective narrator; The Devil's Own Work's first-person narrator tells the story of the fate of his friend, a bestselling novelist, in thrall to a strange manuscript and the woman (or demon) who guards it. Both novels produce some of their skin-crawling effects from the increasingly obvious discrepancy between the hopes vested in writing (to keep oneself sane, to impose order on chaos, to create art, to express the secret self...) and the actual outcomes for the ever more beleaguered writers. Initially, I was going to write about the two novels together, but 5150, rue des Ormes decided to take over this blog post.
Spoilers ahoy, so the rest goes below the fold. Beware! Long entry ahead!
Carter Maness' "All My Blogs are Dead" details the mass disappearance of his online prose as media outlet after media outlet goes kaput. But this is also a problem with many online academic and quasi-academic resources. When I went through my bookmarks a few weeks ago to clear out the dud links, I found that site after site had simply gone kerflooey (a very useful technical term)--not just sites like Literary Gothic (now available only via the Wayback Machine) and the lottery-funded Literary Heritage--West Midlands (which only brings up a blank page), but any number of university-hosted projects as well, like Intute (defunded), the Scottish Book Trade Archive, and so forth. Somebody leaves; somebody's grant doesn't get renewed; somebody's academic interests go in a different direction. The current state of GoogleBooks is also cause for concern; although HathiTrust and archive.org have overlapping archives, Google's increasingly evident sloppiness when it comes to maintaining the project should ring alarm bells, not least because of Google's habit of emulating the Terminator when they lose interest. (I feel like I should download all 3K+ books in my favorites list, just to be on the safe side.) Obviously, I have some self-interest here: for academics in relatively isolated locations, at schools with small libraries, or otherwise without access to a major research collection, online resources play a key role in shaping the kind of projects we can undertake (and, in some cases, the courses we can teach). But they have a bad habit of disappearing without a trace.
I have a bad habit of being a completist. This is a very bad habit indeed when one is working on a big literary history (known hereafter as Book 3 1/2) of an omnipresent nineteenth-century genre, because, of course, one cannot read every religious novel published in Britain between 1800-1900; I've identified well over a thousand of them, and stumble across more of them every week. Unlike Book 2, which had a well-defined corpus of novels to work with (historical novels! religious! about the Reformation! written in/available in the UK!), Book 3 1/2 is about a pretty amorphous field (religious novels! written in/available in the UK!); this is where Moretti's "distant reading" certainly has its appeal. The difficulty is not so much "where to start" (I've been reading this material for fifteen years!) as "when to stop." Last night, after I surfaced from the first week of classes (hence the radio pixel silence), I pulled up a book from my to-read list, an anonymous novel published by John F. Shaw called Christine; Or, the Bible Girl. And I read it. And I knew exactly what was going to happen at every step of the way, because it did absolutely nothing unusual or innovative for a novel of the 1870s. In that sense, Christine demonstrated that, yes, certain tropes had hardened (into what felt like literal concrete, reading-wise) by the last third of the Victorian period--but from a literary-historical perspective, I already knew that. If I were to write an article solely on J. F. Shaw's output, the novel might come in handy, but I doubt that it will rate even a single mention in Book 3 1/2. At this point, as I come near the end of my "let's read" period and move on to the "let's write" period, I need to be much more strict with myself about post-holing this kind of fiction (i.e., read X number of authors from X publisher during period X-Y), because too much of what I'm still reading doesn't teach me anything new about religious fiction and its various subgenres. Which is another way of saying: here is what I can write about now (at this point, quite a bit); there is what I can write about after I do more reading.
C. J. L. Almqvist, The Queen's Tiara, trans. Paul Britten Austin (Arcadia, 2001). Famous Swedish historical novel, set around the assassination of King Gustav III in 1792, but focusing on the passions aroused by the androgynous Tintomara. (Amazon [secondhand])
Idleness; Or, the Double Lesson, and Other Tales, trans. Mrs. J. Sadlier (Sadlier, n.d.). A collection of French Catholic moral tales, most set in Paris. The translator is the very prolific Mary Anne Sadlier (1820-1903). (eBay)
Minnie Grey; Or, for Conscience' Sake (J. F. Shaw, n.d.). A young Christian woman deals, among other things, with her beloved's rejection of evangelical faith. Shaw appears to have been uncertain about how to spell his own book's title, as the cover does not agree with the title page and the title page does not agree with the catalog listing. (eBay)
[May Ramsay], Maggie's Rosary, and Other Tales, ed. Mrs. Washington Hibbert (Burnes and Oates [c. 1871]). Collection of Catholic didactic fiction for children about praying the rosary, telling the truth, working-class Catholics, etc. (eBay)
Cecilia Mary Caddell, The Miner's Daughter: A Simple Explanation of, and Easy and Familiar Instruction on, the Sacrifice of the Mass (P. J. Kenedy, 1897). A book for Catholic children and converts explaining (using a fictional framework) what the mass is, what the prayers are, and so forth; originally published in the UK in the early 1860s. (eBay)
Simon Mawer, The Gospel of Judas (Little, Brown, 2000). Catholic priest starts studying what appears to be a "fifth Gospel," with obvious consequences for his personal life. (Amazon [secondhand])
Katherine McMahon, After Mary (Flamingo, 2000). Historical novel about a young English Catholic woman who becomes involved in recusant politics during the seventeenth century. (Amazon [secondhand])
Lori Marie Carlson, A Stitch in Air (Texas Tech, 2013). Historical novel set in sixteenth-century Spain, following the goings-on in a somewhat unusual convent. (Amazon [secondhand])
And now we return to our regularly-scheduled religious fiction. For novelists trying to clothe current feuds in the garb of the past, the seventeenth century was a fertile hunting ground for all sorts of politico-theological problems: you have your Civil War, your Protestant infighting, your religious conspiracies, your deadly plagues. And, of course, everyone could point to such-and-such or so-and-so in order to authorize their own practices (e.g., the well-known influence of Caroline theologians on the Oxford Movement). At the same time, novelists, especially Protestant novelists, seemed more pressed to deal with the messiness of the era than did novelists writing about the Reformation (who could more easily retreat to a Protestant Us vs. Catholic Them--or vice-versa--narrative). Charles Benjamin Tayler's Truth; Or, Persis Clareton (1853), while hardly as complex as some other Victorian fictional attempts to grapple with the era (Elizabeth Rundle Charles' work is a case in point), illustrates some of these trends. Tayler, himself an Anglican clergyman, published Truth during the highwater decade for anti-Catholic political agitation, but while the novel is openly anti-Catholic, it is more specifically preoccupied with allegorizing one popular anti-Oxford Movement conspiracy theory--the belief that Oxford Movement clergymen were really Jesuits in disguise (really, secret Catholic priests were never enough, they had to be Jesuits)--and agitating against demands for Anglican uniformity.
Truth is a title that takes no prisoners, and it refers both to the true faith and to the Claretons' unfailing belief in the necessity of telling the truth at all costs. (Unlike those nasty Catholics.) The novel, although somewhat bizarrely structured--it opens with characters who turn out to be completely marginal, and has an anti-Catholic inset narrative appear out of nowhere (of which more anon)--follows the experiences of Persis and her Presbyterian father, Mr. Clareton, in the wake of the Restoration. Despite the protection of an exemplary Episcopalian like Sir Ralph Cleveland, who during the days of Cromwell "had not shut his eyes to the improved state of morals throughout the country, whenever a godly Presbyterian minister had been placed over a parish" (71), Clareton suffers through a series of laws that turn him, in effect, into a fugitive: the Act of Uniformity (1662), leading to the Great Ejection; the Conventicle Act (1664); and the Five-Mile Act (1665). Early on, Clareton muses, looking at a flower bed, that "who that looks upon these variegated flower-plots, and inhales the combined sweetness of their different odours, would wish for uniformity" (7), and this paean to the Church of England's potential spiritual capaciousness (differences harmonized within boundaries) embodies the tolerant attitude that the novel preaches, but generally fails to find. Pointedly, while the novel celebrates its saintly Episcopalians, like Clareton's brother Gabriel and Persis' nurse Mabel, the Episcopalians in power are persecuting spirits, with a sorry penchant for "the enforcing of uniformity" (209). Here's part I of the allegory: the Episcopalians ( = the Oxford Movement & its immediate descendants) falsely elevate conformity in adiaphora (things indifferent), such as wearing the surplice, over agreement in essential truths; meanwhile, the Presbyterians ( = the Low Church/evangelical wings of the C of E, as well as Dissenters) stick to the Bible. Moral of this part of the story: ignore the conformist guys.
Then, of course, there are the secret Jesuits, without whom many Victorian religious novels would be far shorter. As I mentioned, this is a lengthy inset narrative about an otherwise irrelevant family, the Avenels, who are--gulp--a mixed marriage. (This, as I have also said before, is 99.9% of the time Not a Good Thing, unless the author is a liberal Protestant.) Things are going swimmingly for the Avenels, both male (Catholic) and female (Protestant), until priest #1 (non-interfering, possibly a convert to Protestantism before his death) dies and is replaced by the this-could-go-either-way-named Father Foxe. Alas, Fr. Foxe is not a Foxe of the John Foxe variety, but merely foxy. Indeed, he encourages people to...wait for it...lie. More specifically, Foxe's arrival enables Tayler to inject yet another iteration of what Maureen Moran calls the "Popish plot," in which Roman Catholic clergy seek to retake English soil not by violence, but by proselytization: Mrs. Avenel's daughter is to be a "great heiress," and therefore Foxe seeks to convert her so that the Church can control her property (132).* Foxe's deception in the Avenel family turns out to miniaturize that of the purported Anglican clergyman Mr. Moleville, who is actually the Jesuit Father Monckton. Foxe seeks to steal one Protestant family's property, along with their child, while Moleville sets out to subvert an entire parish's spirituality (and, presumably, their property into the bargain). Roman Catholicism embodies the dangers of compulsory conformity to "ceremonies," as well as the threat posed to faith by the ardent "formalist" (56); it is the ever-present reminder that those who elevate the Book of Common Prayer above the Bible (that's how Tayler construes the situation, in any event) as the core of the C of E engage in what amounts to idolatry. It's just one step from compulsory conformity within the C of E to becoming a Roman Catholic, it seems. Here's Part II of our allegory: the Oxford Movement is a fifth column within the Church, relying on performance (of rituals and of personality) to sway the English people from their Protestant allegiance to the Bible. Moral of the story: um, again, ignore those guys. (In case you're wondering, the only decent Catholics in the novel wind up converting to Protestantism, that apparently being the definition of a decent Catholic.)
Snark aside, one of the genuinely interesting things about the novel is its interest in community-building via narratives of martyrdom. One of Book Two's points is that the Victorians were obsessed by the prospect of Protestants forgetting their Reformation heritage; here, although Persis' faith emerges from Bible reading, it is reinforced by Mabel's many "true and heart-moving stories" (48) about Lollard and Reformation martyrs, many of them women. This emphasis on the nurse's moral storytelling both offers an alternative to the kind of dangerous tales stereotypically associated with nursemaids and servants (as in Jane Eyre, for example) and associates the martyr narrative with mothering and feminized oral culture. It also reinforces that women and men are equally called to witness for the truth (a point of obvious relevance for Persis' own heroic resilience). In this novel, the nurse's martyr narratives are the counterpart to the portrait of Bishop Hooper above the fireplace, which symbolizes Clareton's own clerical priorities: in the end, "defenders of the truth" must rest on "points of real and vital importance" (12), not mere "ceremonies."
*--I've written about overlaps between nineteenth-century Jewish and Catholic stereotypes before, but the intersection of financial stereotyping (both Jews and Catholics seeking control by acquiring Gentile/Protestant property) could perhaps use some more analysis? Hmm.