I'm all for survey courses, not least because that's pretty much most of what I teach. ("Our students don't go for single author courses," advised a former chair during my first year of teaching. "They're pragmatic.") However, there are times when survey courses meet, not the road, but the program requirements. In days of yore, students could use multiple 200-level courses to meet distribution reqs. In days more recent, students are limited to using two 200-level courses toward the major. And when it comes to British vs. American literature, the cries of USA! USA! USA! are louder than they are at the World Cup. (That is, I assume that they're loud at the World Cup. My television pulls in exactly one channel.) Once the program change-over happened, suddenly--as in fall-off-a-cliff, wait-there's-a-hole-in-front-of-me suddenly--enrollments in British Literature II plummeted from the 40s to the single digits. In the space of one year. It would appear that whatever we may feel about the survey, our undergraduates would prefer to hone their literary skills in other courses. And yet, surveys are essential, not just because they ought to enroll in the 40s (many students, so FTE, much wow), but also because...they're introductory surveys. They're intended to give students a grasp of basic material that they can build on over the course of the program. Victorian Gothic, which students like a lot, is not so helpful for introducing British Romantic poetry.
In comments, Roger asked an interesting question: given all these books I keep acquiring (and, therefore, have to shelve somewhere), how do I figure out when to put items from my collection out to pasture? (Or, at least, out to the free books table.)
1. As you might expect, we begin with denial, as I hear my books sobbing at the very thought that I might no longer want them. How could I be so heartless? So cruel?
"Because there are books stacked on top of books here," I tell them, firmly.
OK, I tell myself firmly.
2. Moving on past the Agony of the Books. Some books I never intend to keep. As it happens, these are the books I now buy in electronic format--SF or mystery anthologies, for example. I generally discard mysteries unless they're Victorian (I have a use for those), although I did hang on to all of my Dalziel and Pascoe novels. I also quickly discarded all those Anne Boleyn romances, and the Dracula knockoffs I currently have stacked up every which way will also decamp whenever that article finally puts in an appearance.
3. As an academic, I get free copies of teaching editions. There are times when one contemplates seven different copies of Jane Eyre and decides that there are other things that could be on one's shelves.
Now we're into the tougher decisions.
4. Question #1: Will I ever read this? For some reason, I built up a rather large stack of postapocalyptic novels. And yet, despite my naturally pessimistic nature, I then found myself deeply unmotivated to read any of them. Out they went.
5. Question #2: Will I ever read this again? At the risk of forever destroying what exists of my geek/nerd cred, I found that the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Silmarillion fell before this question like orcs in sunlight. (Let's just say that I think you need to have "caught" Tolkien, like Lovecraft, at a certain age; as it happens, my own immune system proved too strong for Tolkien's prose when I finally sat down to read it.)
6. Question #3: Will I ever write about this? Given my line of work, historical novels tend to survive this question, but a lot of contemporary fiction (especially contemporary fiction that didn't grab me the first time around) disappears into the ether.
7. Question #4: Will I ever teach this? Since I do teach the second half of the British novel survey, contemporary British fiction has a good chance of coming out alive. Literature in translation, which comes in handy for some lower division courses that fulfill GE requirements, also has an edge. And I generally hang on to novels that rewrite other novels and/or Shakespeare, as they're helpful for intro to literary analysis.
8. Question #5: Will I ever cite this? Culling monographs is a bit dicey--I just wound up rebuying (for less than a dollar, thank goodness) a book I discarded about a decade ago because I'd never used it, only to discover now that I need it for more than one project. Because interests are not predictable. (...Dracula knockoffs? Really?) These decisions were easier when I was a graduate student, and bought a lot of books that looked interesting without considering whether or not they were actually useful for my scholarship. A random interesting book should be checked out of the library; a useful book should be on one's own shelf.
In her acknowledgments to The Nun, Simonetta Agnello Hornby thanks Enrichetta Caracciolo (1821-1901), whose I misteri del chiostro napoletano (Mysteries of the Neapolitan Cloister) was useful for, among other things, "descriptions of ceremonials" (327). That's rather understating the case. In fact, The Nun relies very heavily on Caracciolo's account for its plot and several incidents, but yokes it to a romance narrative that echoes eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British fiction, especially Pride and Prejudice (which the protagonist reads) and Jane Eyre (which the protagonist doesn't). One way of thinking about The Nun is that it upends nineteenth-century critiques of novel reading: Agata, our heroine, has little in the way of agency, thanks to the structure of mid-19th c. upper-class Sicilian society, but she is both liberated and seduced by novel-reading--something the novel celebrates as freedom from stultifying constraints, rather than moral corruption.
Like Mysteries, The Nun is set against the backdrop of the Risorgimento, although it ends earlier, in 1848. Agata's life plot adheres roughly to Enrichetta's: both women are daughters of military fathers who married women in their early teens; both develop a passion for a young man whom they glimpse primarily from a balcony, and who is destined for another, wealthier woman; both discover that their own mothers (as well as the youth's parents) object strongly to the potential match; and both find themselves unceremoniously deposited in a Benedictine convent after their father's death. In both cases, the mother leaves Enrichetta/Agata in the convent with a promise that the ordeal will last for only "two months" (25/100) if Enrichetta/Agata dislikes the experience; in both cases, the mother returns, supposedly to remove her daughter, only to abandon her instead, which leads the daughter to collapse. Both women go on to become Infirmarians. Both have an aunt, also professed, who suffers increasingly from dementia and/or insanity, and is treated horribly. Besides this basic plot outline, The Nun also borrows a number of incidents and set pieces from Mysteries, including the poor babies in the procession car; the protagonist's unexpected invitation to the convent; the quarrel over wearing curls vs. straight hair before being admitted to the convent; the tour of the convent itself; being fondled by the priests; the anonymous Protestant who objects when the protagonist's hair is about to be cut; singing with her insane aunt; the concealed tumor; and the jewel theft. James Garson, Agata's English beloved, is inspired by an English captain whom Enrichetta meets early on in her memoir. And so on.
Now, that being said, The Nun diverges sharply from its source on the count of politics. Enrichetta's personal development maps onto her growing nationalist awareness, what she describes as a "different and clearer light of salvation" (Mysteries 114); she translates her rebellion against her incarceration in the convent into allegiance to the new political cause, linking the monastic system to "despotism" and praying instead for "the downfall of tyranny, and the triumph of the nation to which it was my boast to belong" (Mysteries 114). Instead of focusing on her putative destiny as wife and mother, Enrichetta imagines herself part of a larger women's movement devoted to the Italian cause, possessed as she is with a "sacred love of country" (Mysteries 146). For Enrichetta, nationalism is civic religion, a more-than-worthy substitute for the stultifying and infantilizing qualities of monastic life enjoined by Catholicism. The convent represses authentic femininity; nationalism, by contrast, liberates it into a new fullness. The narrative climaxes, in fact, with Enrichetta associating the end of her time as a nun with Garibaldi's entry into Naples, so that personal and political freedom are ecstatically united. And, as an afterthought, she gets married--a comic ending to her plot, but one that is very much not represented as runaway grand romance. By contrast, The Nun appropriates most of Enrichetta's life for Agata, but assigns the high political aspirations to Agata's sister Sandra, who embraces her husband's argument that "a patriot's woman must remember that certain sacrifices are necessary in order to attain a given higher end: the unity of the nation and the good of the Italian people" (The Nun 139). But the reader cannot help noting that despite the apparent egalitarianism of Sandra's marriage and her radical political affiliations, she winds up deeply unhappy, thanks to her husband's eventual philandering; nationalist sentiment, far from going hand-in-hand with women's liberation, turns out to enable yet another mode of useless female self-sacrifice. Instead, the novel endorses the free pursuit of romantic desire as woman's only route to entire self-fulfillment. Although we do encounter a couple of entirely content nuns, especially Donna Maria Giovanna della Croce, Agata never shares their vocation and finds their counsels inadequate to her need "to fall in love, be fecund, bear children" (The Nun 181). Enrichetta's quest for political and personal liberty thus transforms into a quest for sexual self-realization, one free from the constraints of financial shenanigans (the politics of dowries and arranged marriages) and inequality (the nun who dies bearing a priest's child). In the world of the novel, such relationships appear to happen almost by accident, as in the case of Agata's mother's second marriage (originally contracted for pecuniary reasons) or on the margins (the lesbian lay sisters). The personal overtakes the political. Unlike Sandra, Agata welcomes the possible coming of a "better, free world" (223) primarily for her own emancipatory options. It is here that novel-reading comes into play.
Early on in Mysteries, Enrichetta is horrified to find that a priest has given a young nun a copy of Denis Diderot's La Religieuse (another influence on Hornby's novel, starting with the title), which she describes as "full of the most revolting improprieties" (54). The Nun takes the obviously erotic connotations of this gift and turns it into a form of re-emplotment: Agata's relationship with James Garson is textual long before it is ever sexual, and turns on the long-running exchange of novels and poetry (from him) and commentary (from her). Even when James isn't sending her novels, she is reading them on her own, with a noticeable preference for romances like Corinne (The Nun 188) and "tragic, heart-breaking love stories" (The Nun 182). In a Victorian novel, her reading preferences would mark her out as doomed to an early death at the hands of an evil seducer; here, the wildness of the passionate plots she so adores proves personally liberating by celebrating the power of grand passion (even when it ends unhappily) instead of erotic and personal self-repression. James' first gift to her, Pride and Prejudice, implicitly offers her a new way of understanding her own life, especially in the wake of her revulsion from her first beloved, Giacomo; rereading the novel and falling "head over heels in love with Darcy" (The Nun 178), which leads her to restart her exchanges with James, is the sign of her emotional maturity. After her profession, she conceals her comments on James' gifts in the paperoles--miniature altars--that she makes and sends to him, making self-expression substitute for an image of the Eucharist at the heart of her miniature. Her literary criticism remains secret even to the reader, an alternate form of sacred communion that derives from the shared world of books and excludes everyone but James. Later, James invites her to read along with him by marking lines with his initials, using literature to ventriloquize his passion (The Nun 276-77). Imaginative reading-with-another offers a double means for Agata to escape her mental and physical imprisonment, both by identifying with creative literature and its characters and passions, and by sympathetically engaging with James' own interpretive processes. Notably, their exchanges are a form of secret writing, which, unlike Enrichetta's texts, are difficult to decode and often hard to trace--indeed, cannot always be understood as "communicating" at all. This private language, stitched together from novels and hidden letters, stands apart from the political discourses at play in the worlds of Sandra's husband Tommaso and Enrichetta herself, which are openly subversive and dangerously readable by the authorities. Literature provides the figurative space in which James and Agata can meet, but it also suggests ways in which Agata can, as it were, escape the confines of Enrichetta's memoir.
This strategy climaxes (in more ways than one...) in James' rather astonishing present to Agata of M. G. Lewis' The Monk, which clearly stands in for La Religieuse. The novel, James explains in his accompanying letter, is "full-blooded and carnal. Like the relationship that I desire with you" (The Nun 264). Although we never find out what, exactly, Agata makes of The Monk, Hornby does borrow tropes from anti-Catholic Gothic (the suicidal nun, the insane nun, solitary confinement, sexual abuse at the hands of priests) that are more subdued in her source material, and the outcome of The Monk's secondary romance plot prefigures Agata's eventual reunion with James. More to the point, James' forthright declaration of the novel's sexual intent precipitates Agata out of Pride and Prejudice and into Jane Eyre, as James is already married and, like Rochester, proposes that they live together without officially cementing the relationship. James' proposal, however, is an egalitarian one: "you will always have my love, ample economic independence, and the life that you want to live, where and as you wish" (The Nun 263). This is not a Rochester who seeks to absorb the life of his mock bride, but a proto-feminist offering up an alternative family form; unlike Sandra's husband, he celebrates mutual liberty and freely-chosen obligations instead of absolute self-subordination to a political ideal. Whereas Enrichetta yokes femininity to nationalism, Agata finds it instead in the union of Godly and erotic love, first in her sexual encounter with James and then later, at another convent, when she concludes that "there was really no difference between sacred love and profane love" (The Nun 296). Divinized eroticism (despite pesky issues like marriage, adultery, etc.) supplants political action--or, to put it differently, when faced with a choice between history and romance, Agata comes down firmly on the side of the romance.
Antonia Hodgson, The Devil in the Marshalsea (Mariner, 2014). In the eighteenth century, a wastrel lands in the Marshalsea Prison, then finds himself embroiled with a sinister murderer. (Lift Bridge)
Paul R. Messbarger, Fiction with a Parochial Purpose: Social Uses of American Catholic Literature, 1884-1900 (Boston UP, 1971). Study of the emergence and didactic use of the Catholic novel in the USA, including reception history, reactions to various historical problems, etc. (Amazon [secondhand])
In the fall, I'm teaching a new course on (mostly) Victorian fictions of childhood (and what we would now call young adulthood, for that matter). It's not a children's literature course, although there are certainly plenty of examples of Victorian children's literature on the list. I'm still playing around with the various electronic readings, although some of the books are set (thanks to the rule that we need to order books months in advance...). The syllabus is more thematic than chronological. I suspect that I'll move Little Henry and His Bearer down to the end with Kim.
Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist
Frances Trollope, The Life and Adventures of Michael Armstrong
Mary Martha Sherwood, Little Henry and His Bearer
Mrs. Molesworth, Ministering Children (excerpts)
Hesba Stretton, Jessica's First Prayer
Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
Mary Martha Sherwood, The History of the Fairchild Family (excerpts)
Frederic W. Farrar, Eric; Or, Little by Little (excerpts)
Thomas Hughes, Tom Brown's School Days
Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Selections from Auerbach and Knoepflmacher, Forbidden Journeys
Daniel Levine's Hyde is an interesting case (so to speak) of how the Gothic can be translated from the supernatural to the rational mode--from Lewis to Radcliffe, in other words. Readers who come to the book after scanning the back cover can be forgiven if they expect that the novel's revisionism will lead us to a heroic Hyde ("brief, marvelous life") and creepy Dr. Jekyll. As it happens, the blurb is rather inaccurate on that score. Instead, Hyde historicizes Stevenson's original novel at the intersection of two different Victorian investigations: the study of multiple personalities, on the one hand, and W. T. Stead's Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon, on the other. Levine reinvents Jekyll as an alienist whose work with a French patient, Emile Verlaine (possibly inspired by Louis Vive?) went badly astray, but not before Jekyll discovered how to trigger Verlaine's different personalities with a chemical injection. Hyde, then, is one of Jekyll's own personalities, "born" from childhood abuse (physical, sexual, and emotional), and repressed from adolescence until middle age. Unfortunately for all concerned, the classic Gothic double (Jekyll/Hyde) has been interrupted by a third party. In some ways, the novel's intertext is as much Sybil as it is Strange Case.
As readers will remember, Strange Case really consists of multiple acts of storytelling, whether oral or written, attesting to encounters with/visions of Mr. Hyde. Most of the time, these tales are mediated to us through Mr. Utterson, the dour lawyer. Like many other Victorian Gothic narratives, Strange Case pits professional, middle- to upper-class men--the social elite, the experts--against apparently supernatural phenomena; the question, then, is whether or not the professionals can survive the novel with their sanity intact. Hyde's strange difference, which is always in some other place than where the viewer looks for it, troubles rational thought processes. Lanyon, of course, dies from the revelation of Jekyll's/Hyde's identity; by contrast, the reader never learns Utterson's response to Jekyll's narrative, leaving Jekyll with the last word. By contrast, Hyde is entirely focalized through, well, Hyde, with occasional newspaper articles or mysterious letters taking the place of the original's more fragmentary construction. Unlike the eminently reasonable Mr. Utterson, however, Hyde is himself fragmented: not only is he frequently relegated to passive observation but also he doesn't necessarily understand Jekyll ("[h]is work was sealed off in regions of the mind well beyond me" ). To make matters worse, it becomes clear that there is a third personality, "Mr. Seek," whose subjectivity is entirely inaccessible to the other two personalities inhabiting the body. (Jekyll's account of his work with Verlaine, who had a third and much nastier personality lurking within, should warn readers that something is up.) Thus, whereas Jekyll's narrative in Strange Case supposedly explains the rest of the text, Hyde's (and, by extension, Jekyll's) promises revelations only to come to a crashing halt in front of a mental abyss. Jekyll tries to explain Hyde to Utterson, but Hyde is in the awkward position of trying to explain Jekyll to himself and himself to himself--and, because of his imperfect access to his "own" mind, fails on both counts. By shifting focus from the rational professional to the "irrational" alternate personality, Hyde reworks the traditional problem of Victorian Gothic--"convert" to a belief in the supernatural/paranormal or die. Here, there is an explanation for Hyde's existence (Jekyll's abuse at the hands of his/their father) but it is not, for lack of a better term, functional: the answer to the mystery, whether proto-psychoanalytical or not, doesn't help.
Like many neo-Victorian rewrites of classic Victorian novels, there's much more explicit sex in this novel than in the original (as in, there's explicit sex in the novel in the first place), but given that sexual transgression was already in play in Strange Case, the lust isn't as extraneous here as it often is. In Hyde, though, the sex is part and parcel of the narrative's emphasis on both exploitation (of female bodies and bodies in general) and filth. I've joked about neo-Victorian "filthfic" before--novels focused on sewers, slums, and associated physical secretions. The exuberant filthiness of filthfic recasts the classic Victorian novel in terms of repression, boundary-making, and self-containment; Dickens may discuss "dust" (and Rossetti, more explicitly, the "middle street"), but Hyde offers us urine, feces, saliva, mud, and goodness knows what else. Indeed, the novel makes the distinction between professional Jekyll and criminal Hyde a matter of cleanliness: when Hyde transitions back to Jekyll, there's almost always a ritual moment in which he shaves off Hyde's stubbly beard, bathes, and changes his clothes. As Carew points out, although Hyde's physicality seems "deformed" and "twisted," he nevertheless is obviously Jekyll (199)--Hyde's dirtiness and Jekyll's cleanliness are each part of a personality's performance. At the same time, Jekyll's obsession with being clean, which amounts to a fear of his own body and its potential (he cannot look at himself naked in a mirror), is also associated with his inability to perform sexually. Hyde's "job," in effect, is to be "dirty" in every possible way, to revel in his body but also in sexual pleasure.
Although, like the original, the boundary between Hyde and Jekyll slowly disintegrates as the novel continues, the presence of the third personality--"Mr. Seek"--warns of more brutal impulses within Victorian culture. Seek, present to the reader only through scraps of riddling text and traces of his criminal activities, is the personality embroiled in sex trafficking; what both Jekyll and Hyde initially believe to be a nefarious plot concocted by Sir Danvers Carew (the novel's explanation for Strange Case's inexplicable act) turns out to be the product of an absolutely uncontrollable personality who taunts "himself." Reading a newspaper report clearly implicating him, Hyde notes, puzzled, that "I knew it couldn't be referring to me--I hadn't bought any virgins or ruined any maids" (182), but that confidence is precisely what the novel attacks. Hyde "knows" what he does and does not do, just as Jekyll similarly believes he knows, but neither grasps the presence of the third "I" in the equation. (A passing reference to Frankenstein suggests the extent to which the mental "Creature" exceeds the creator's control.) Seek's first letter to Hyde, "you be hide and I play seek/tho I know where you've hid, you see,/so I play hide and you play hide/and see who's found out first!" (143), suggests the secret's nature: Hyde/hide has already lost the game (Seek "know[s]" where Hyde is), so Seek will "play" as Hyde by walking about under his name (hiding as Hyde) and exposing both Hyde and Jekyll to the public as deviants. The personality who knows most of all is the one that neither Hyde nor Jekyll nor the reader ever encounters directly; moreover, Seek's evil is effectively untraceable, since it has been ascribed to Hyde. In one respect, the novel keeps drilling down, as it were, to greater and greater evils, until it finds an evil that appears containable (because it has been "named") but in fact escapes social control. And because Seek is only one of many participants in the trafficking underworld, "their" death does not, in fact, end the repercussions of Seek's evil, in the way that Jekyll's/Hyde's death does in Strange Case. Destroying the monster does not, in the end, change anything.
[Harriette G. Brittan], Kardoo, the Hindoo Girl (RTS, ). A first-person novella about a young Hindu girl's life experiences and eventual conversion to Christianity in mid-19th c. India. Brittan, who appears to have been a missionary, wrote a handful of other works about India and Africa. (eBay)
Andrew Smith and William Hughes, eds., The Victorian Gothic: An Edinburgh Companion (Edinburgh, 2012). Major topics in Victorian Gothic fiction, drama, and poetry, including conventions, major historical influences, gender issues, etc. (Amazon)
Back to the Victorian Catholic novels! Lady Amabel Kerr's A Mixed Marriage (1893), originally serialized in The Month, exemplifies the flip side of nineteenth-century discourses about religious toleration: anxieties about the pressure to assimilate. Readers of earlier nineteenth-century novels will certainly recollect examples of interfaith romance plots as signifying national reconciliation (The Wild Irish Girl) or, contrariwise, the apparent impossibility of same (Ivanhoe). It is no accident that Israel Zangwill's famous The Melting Pot (1908) concludes with a possible romantic union between Jew and Christian. The interfaith romance, in its most positive mode, assumes that the personal (love) can trump the political (ongoing sociopolitical disadvantages) and promises to remake public space (the nation) in the image of the private (the pluralist home). But many novelists were skeptical about the interfaith romance plot's religious implications, as well as its political ones. After all, as Mary Jean Corbett notes of The Wild Irish Girl, the "gendered paradigm of marriage" rests on an "inequality" that certainly makes it difficult to think of the novel's proposed Anglo-Irish "union" in egalitarian terms.1 Although Kerr writes long after Catholics had been relieved from most of their civil disabilities, she also reminds readers that they were still on the receiving end of serious religious and cultural prejudice, and her novel takes on that intersection of civic freedom and lingering bigotry. Under those circumstances, what seeds does the interfaith romance plot sow in the private sphere and, by extension, in the public? In that sense, A Mixed Marriage joins with better-known works like Mrs. Humphry Ward's Helbeck of Bannisdale and Mrs. Wilfrid Ward's One Poor Scruple in trying to think through the state of Catholic and Protestant (or free-thinking) relations at the end of the century.
As a novel, A Mixed Marriage derives from the tradition stretching back to Samuel Richardson's Clarissa about the dangers of a virtuous woman trying to "reclaim" a corrupt man. Its most obvious Victorian antecedent in this line is Anne Bronte's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall--except it's a Tenant of Wildfell Hall in which the attempted escape completely fails to work. However, Kerr also signals that her plot takes place in a sort of Trollopean realist universe: the setting is upper-crust life in a gossipy "Cathedral town," one of the novel's good Catholics is a banker named not Melmotte but Melnotte (not Melmotte?), and the heroine's jealous husband, Lord Alne, has some obsessions in common with the monomaniacal husband of He Knew He Was Right. Our protagonist, Margaret Bligh, begins the novel as a young woman in her late teens who, after enjoying a "hidden, uneventful life" (13) in rural Catholic society, is swept off to London with her mother by a wealthy Protestant cousin. (Yes, it's the attack of the country vs. city distinction again.) Much partying and wrangling later, Margaret falls in love with Lord Alne, the Protestant-ish (rather lapsed) son of a hardcore Evangelical. Despite her uncle's warnings, they marry, but only after Lord Alne promises that his children will be raised Catholic. Things cease to go swimmingly after the arrival not only of their first child, but also of Lord Alne's aforementioned mother, who drips old-school anti-Romanist prejudice into her beloved son's ears. As a result, Lord Alne concludes that he was a "confounded fool" (89) when he made his promise, and this position, which he maintains for the rest of Margaret's life, both shatters the foundations of their marriage and suggests the difficulties with a highly-individualized Protestant "conscience." Matters only worsen when they have a son, whom Margaret fails to save from Lord Alne's determination to raise a proper English gentleman. Although the marriage eventually rights itself somewhat, it is never entirely happy again, and Margaret becomes entirely alienated from her son (who winds up in unspecified but probably sexual difficulties). Not only does neither man convert, but both of them become less Christian as the novel continues; as Margaret, now in her early forties, lies dying at the end, the last thing she sees is that "the only two whose knees were not bowed in prayer were her husband and her son" (216). Female virtue turns out to have no effect whatsoever on men who are in no mood to be influenced.
As Maria LaMonaca has reminded us, Victorian Catholic fiction does not assume that marriage plots are inevitable, and it's telling that Kerr assigns this point not to any of the novel's women, but to the Catholic patriarch, Mr. Melnotte: "Well, I for one have never thought marriage absolutely necessary for any woman's good or happiness. I do not care two straws whether my Katie ever marries or not" (38). In effect, Margaret's life goes haywire because both she and her mother subscribe to an essentially Protestant worldview, which focuses on a woman's earthly needs (being "provided for"  through marriage) instead of her spiritual obligations. By investing themselves in their cousin's Protestant marriage plot, Margaret and her mother opt, however unintentionally, for social conformity over Catholic faith. This choice allies them with an otherwise minor character who is nevertheless the first Catholic we meet, Mrs. Munro, who "was one of those Catholics who take as their standard the Protestant world which surrounds them" (7)--an assimilationist position for which the novel has no brief. Instead, Kerr presumes throughout that the English Catholic ideally critiques normative "Englishness," especially English masculinity. As Mr. Melnotte complains, the position that "young men must be young men" (endorsed by Lord Alne and, to detrimental effect, his son) assumes that "God had created young men only for the purpose of sinning against Him" (41). But Margaret's decision to embrace her idyllic romance plot on the grounds of "instinct" (48) elevates individualist self-will above her obligations to God as laid out by her Church's teachings; by opting for desire instead of emotional self-discipline, Margaret negates Catholicism's critical and moral distance from the ungrounded Protestant "conscience." Although Margaret dislikes the assimilationist Mrs. Munro, who tells "real lies" (67) about Catholicism in order to conciliate Protestants, her own marriage leads to spiritual self-alienation: "I say my prayers, and I go to Mass, and I try to be good, but I am sometimes almost unable to realize that I am a Catholic" (68). Domestic religious pluralism, far from indicating any meaningful meeting of the faiths, instigates a series of fractures--between husband and wife, wife and child, wife and Church, and so on--that imply the absence of God's grace in the household. The wife cannot fully look to the husband's authority; moreover, given that the increasingly anti-Catholic Protestant husband quashes his wife's ability to instruct her children, she also cannot follow the example of Mrs. Melnotte, who "ruled where she was meant to rule" (95). As the interfaith marriage plot plays out, we see that love must falter under the weight of other commitments, both religious and social. Far from being free of religious, cultural, and historical entanglements, romantic love under an anti-Catholic regime turns out to bring with it a network of assumptions that undermine domestic stability. From A Mixed Marriage's point of view, interfaith marriage is neither "liberal" nor a guarantor of social belonging; it is, rather, a doomed assimilationist project in which the Catholic partner is fated to suffer the pains of never being like enough.
1 Mary Jean Corbett, Allegories of Union in Irish and English Writing, 1790-1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000), 68.
Readers may be aware that I've been battling Amazon over a one-star linked review of Robert Elsmere for, um, pretty much since Robert Elsmere has existed. I mean, I'm a terribly pedantic academic and all, but I'm reasonably sure that an annotated edition (with footnotes, and introduction, and appendices, and even something resembling proofreading!) is not quite the same thing as Random Cheapo Facsimile with Lots of Typos. The one-star review comes. I yell. It goes. It comes back. I yell louder. It goes again. It comes back once more. I increase the decibel levels. Etc. This time around, I get this explanation:
So, there you have it: it's "relevant review information" even when it has nothing to do with the book under review. How does one argue with this kind of thinking? (One doesn't, apparently.) I give up.