The last article I finished primarily involved high-quality religious fiction (with the occasional poem thrown in), so it's been a while since I've been able to sit down with the kind of novel I normally discuss on this blog. But it's time to get back in the swing of things, so here we go! Julia Ormond; Or the New Settlement (Dolman, 1850) is a pre-Papal Aggression Catholic controversial novel, set not in England, but instead in a German Lutheran settlement in Missouri, founded by a kindly first-generation American, Jeremiah Dtwiller. The tiny and close-knit community experiences an upset when the Catholic Ormond family arrives, eager to escape "the contaminations of the city" (36) in order to raise morally and spiritually pure children. (Despite the country/city divide, the novel doesn't do anything with the natural surroundings.) The beautiful Julia is especially popular, thanks to being a perfect example of charity, piety, kindness, learning, etc., etc., etc., ad nauseam. Although the family is soon on good terms with most of the other residents, thanks to a policy of keeping their religious faith strictly private (and scruples on part of the Dtwillers to confront them), matters soon become unpleasant when a particularly anti-Catholic Methodist preacher, Mr. Gearhart, a man with a "dictatorial and overbearing manner of speaking" (52), preaches a hellfire-and-damnation sermon condemning the wiles of Satan in the community's midst. Although most of the community is unimpressed, and the Ormonds themselves mildly amused--"The truth is, we are so accustomed to such things, that we are become pretty callous to them" (81)--there are repercussions: the Dtwiller's eldest son, Abel, a Lutheran minister, has begun by engaging in controversy with the beautiful (etc. etc. etc.) Julia and ended by falling in love with her--after, that is, largely coming around to her religious POV. Alas, Julia has vowed herself to perpetual virginity (albeit without joining a sisterhood), and so poor Abel, determined to make himself her equal, takes off for further study. Thanks to a lost letter, his disappearance mystifies everyone, and between that and the obnoxious gossip Mrs. Litherbarrow, an iconoclastic mob threatens to burn the Ormonds out of their home. Fortunately, the beautiful (etc. etc. etc.) Julia heads them off, and the mystery is revealed in the nick of time. Cue several years passing, and everybody has converted to Catholicism, thanks to the beautiful (etc. etc. etc.) Julia's influence; at the very end, the new priest arrives to preach in the equally new church, and it turns out to be--er, really, there aren't any prizes for guessing the answer to that one.
As always, let's look for the points of interest. First, the plot structure is a good example of the Catholic interrupted courtship/marriage plot, which both critiques the marriage plot's dominance in nineteenth-century realist fiction, and reframes the concept of "family" to incorporate a different understanding of belonging. Julia chooses to live as a "religious recluse" (159), instead of a Sister of Charity, the better to serve as a substitute mother to her siblings; yet, her decision is on a continuum with the Sisters who are "actuated by affectionate tenderness and a sense of duty to the common Father, whose children the sufferers are" (165). The celibate, that is, abandons the worldly and bodily desires associated with reproduction, as well as with the demands of everyday middle- or upper-class life, to sacrifice herself entirely for the universal family headed by God. In this context, Julia's accomplishments (the etc. etc. etc.) are no longer the traditional signs of useless femininity--the sort of education intended to advertise a woman's suitability for genteel marriage--but, instead, the practical studies necessary to teach her brothers and sisters, a project she later extends to the rest of the community. (The novel thus adopts one of the Victorian justifications for certain kinds of women's professional work--namely, that it is at root an extension of maternal or caring labor.) Similarly, when Abel makes his case for marriage by pleading that "you may be enabled to bring another stray sheep to the great fold!" (167), Julia's firm refusal rejects a much milder version of the classic marriage plot's "reformed rake" scenario. Abel is no rake, but he is also still no Catholic, and his proposal invests his spiritual quest with definite overtones of worldly romance. Their mutual destiny, then, is one in which they are united in perfect spiritual accord, each fully relinquishing the pull of bodily desire in pursuit of holy service.
The novel also illustrates some of the gender trouble caused by the Catholic controversial novel's "flipping" of Protestant tropes. One has to go quite some way into the nineteenth century before Catholic controversial fiction ceases to react to its Protestant forebears en route to consolidating its own formal properties. In evangelical fiction, female controversialists (and child controversialists, for that matter) are extremely important: their ability to hold their own against hostile Catholic (or secular) interrogators, of whatever sort, manifests the power of sola scriptura. Anyone who has properly read and interpreted the Bible (with the help of the Holy Spirit) can take on even the most erudite opposition. For obvious reasons, this doesn't work in the Catholic context; at the same time, for polemical reasons, Catholic authors tried to hang on to the female controversialist figure. What to do? Julia's various debating scenes exemplify a number of escape routes. First, she takes apart sola scriptura and, indirectly, prooftexting as viable approaches to the Bible (e.g., pointing out that "search the Scriptures" has an immediate context that cannot refer to the N.T. [122-23]); next, she explains the limits of private reason, explaining that it extends to the point of recognizing the true Church and then obeying its "unerring judgment" (130). The narrative thus authorizes Julia's discussions of Scripture and doctrine inasmuch as they are not original to Julia. This becomes even clearer when Julia quotes from or recommends the reading of well-known modern Catholic authorities, such as Gother, Milner, and Wiseman; in so doing, she both demonstrates the breadth of her Catholic education and subordinates herself as an expositor. Significantly, Julia cannot complete Abel's education, even once romance is completely off the table--he needs to undertake a formal Catholic course of study under the guidance of the clergy. That, too, is standard in Catholic controversial fiction: a character starts by conversing with a well-read Catholic lay figure, progresses to serious reading, and finally turns to a priest. Julia's power resides in her spiritual exemplarity, which distinguishes her from both the evil Mrs. Litherbarrow and the wishy-washy Mrs. Dtwiller on the novel's moral continuum. But exemplarity inspires; it isn't sufficient.
(Today is an appropriate time to post them, I suppose.)
George Alfred Lawrence, Henry Jackson, and John Saunders, Maurice Dering; Sans Merci; Gilbert Rugge; Bound to the Wheel (Harper, 1864-66). Bound volume of four double-columned US reprints of popular Victorian fiction, mostly of the dering-do/sensational variety. Lawrence, now the best-remembered (least-forgotten?) of the three, was the author of Guy Livingstone, one of the first "muscular Christian" novels. (eBay)
Jonathan M. Yeager, ed., Early Evangelicalism: A Reader (OUP, 2013). Anthology of important evangelical texts by Anglo-American authors from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. (Amazon)
At the edges of Steven Price's By Gaslight are two eerily familiar characters. One is the coroner, Dr. Breck, whose head "sway[s] at the end of his neck, snakelike and grotesque" (159), and performs impossible-seeming readings of crime scenes, and the other is Gabriel Utterson, a shady lawyer who conducts business for one of our protagonists. Breck mashes up Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, while Utterson is straight out of Stevenson's Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in both name and profession, if not in character. Neither is a hero or focalizer; they belong to narrative roads not taken. Their presence in the margins--deformed versions of the original--hints at other twisted literary presences in the novel: Molly, a pre-adolescent thief much older than her years, is a grittier Artful Dodger; Adam Foole, one of the novel's protagonists, is a grungier A. J. Raffles, but both his "Emporium" and his relationship to Molly also suggest a warped Old Curiosity Shop. We are in deliberately "literary" Victorian London, a setting that is not so much referential as it is composed of history filtered through Dickens, Doyle, et al. and equally hazy modern beliefs about what "the Victorians" were like. Everything is covered in filth (this novel is in historical fiction's filthfic subgenre); many of the criminals, like Japheth Fludd and the Sharper sisters, are grotesques; there are gigantic sewers and opium dens; characters go to seances; the rich are very rich and the poor are very poor. The novel's evocation of the past feels "real" in large part because literary history has conditioned us to accept it as such, even though the terse prose pointedly rejects the stylistic embellishments one might associate with anything even quasi-Dickensian.
But then, the novel's plot very much relies on the relationship between fictions of the past and identities in the present. Its two intersecting plots follow William Pinkerton (son of Allan) as he tries to locate the appropriately-named Edward Shade ("notorious cracksman and thief" [57-58]), with whom Pinkerton Sr. was strangely obsessed, and Adam Foole, the quasi-genteel, biracial crook who, as a teenager, was known as Edward Shade. Much as the novel warps its literary references, it also warps the detective genre: the most conventional aspect of the plot, the murder of Charlotte Reckitt, is allowed to lapse for a good chunk of the novel before being solved by a supporting character, while the real mystery behind Pinkerton's pursuit of Foole is, in fact, why Pinkerton is in pursuit of Foole. (The novel's conclusion equally fails to deliver the expected payoff, although it delivers a payoff for William of a very different sort.) Both the narrator and the characters repeatedly call Allan Pinkerton's interest in Shade an "obsession" (the "peculiar obsession" ), and William's quest to find Shade is not so much an attempt to arrest him as it is to figure out the roots of his father's strange interest. More than that: as escaped slave and former spy Sally Porter says to William when he comes to ask about Shade, "What is it you huntin for?" (15) Shade is a route back to William's now-dead father; the question, then, is why William seeks to repeat his father's "obsession." To know his father better? To do what his father apparently could not? To figuratively kill the past? William's hunt after Shade is doubled by Foole's own yearning for his lost lover and former criminal associate Charlotte. Foole has returned to London to help Charlotte with her plot to break her "uncle," Martin Reckitt, out of jail, an apparent resurrection of the past that abruptly short-circuits after their reunion. In both of these instances, this yearning for the past is not so much nostalgia as it is a desire for certainty: what motivated Allan Pinkerton's interest in Edward Shade? Why was Foole unable to resume his relationship with Charlotte? And yet the results leave the characters as discomforted as they were in the beginning, even if some of the questions have been cleared up. None of the characters have conventional happy endings, even if they do make it out alive.
In disrupting the stereotypical (and Dickensian) ending to the Victorian multiplot novel, in which all loose ends are firmly tied, the novel also disrupts a favorite Dickens trope: alternative families that look nuclear but aren't. Allan Pinkerton tells Foole that "[t]here's the family you're born to, and the family you make. It's the latter kind that lasts" (501), but the quasi-sentimentalism of this utterance is supported at best partially by the rest of the narrative. Foole, Fludd, and Molly (and, perhaps, Foole's housekeeper, Mrs. Sykes--yet another shout-out to Dickens) are a criminal team who also function as a domestic unit, a "strange kind of family" (55). Molly's previous would-be guardians, the Sharper sisters, are also quasi-parental figures. Foole is orphaned, becomes "Edward Shade" with one guardian, and then latches on to Allan Pinkerton as a substitute father figure; his beloved Charlotte, also orphaned, is picked out of an orphanage by her "uncle" Martin. Yet all of these alternative families are rooted in misunderstandings and/or have little in the way of a future. We have no idea what happens to Molly, and it's hinted that Japheth comes to no good end. To the extent that Foole's relationship to Allan "lasts," it does so without Foole ever quite comprehending what is actually going on. The Sharper sisters are abusive. I won't spoil what happens after Charlotte discovers the truth about Martin Reckitt, but let's just say it's not exactly pleasant. To the extent that we are in the world of the Dickens orphan, it is the Dickens orphan whose function in the narrative can only be concluded by being shipped off to Australia, like the Artful Dodger, not comfortably enfolded in domesticity, like Oliver Twist.
Lee Blessing, Fortinbras (Dramatists Play Service, 1992). At the end of Hamlet, everyone dies! And then, they keep talking. (Amazon [secondhand])
Ruth Fleischmann, Catholic Nationalism in the Irish Revival: A Study of Canon Sheehan, 1852-1913 (Palgrave Macmillan, 1997). Analyzes the work of late-Victorian Catholic priest and novelist Patrick Augustine Sheehan, who linked Catholicism to various contemporary issues in Irish politics (land disputes, Home Rule, electoral reform, etc.). (Amazon [secondhand])
Michael Rectenwald, Nineteenth-Century British Secularism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016). Argues for the centrality of George Holyoake to Victorian thought about the secular, including his influence on literary figures like Eliot. (Amazon)
Samuel Warren, Ten Thousand a Year (E. Littell, n.d.). American reprint in one volume of Warren's very long and very successful novel, first serialized in 1839, about legal machinations involving a will and an illegitimate son. (eBay)
Walter Besant, In Deacon's Orders/Mary Cholmondeley, Red Pottage (Garland, 1976). In the first novel, a young Christian goes to wrack and ruin, winding up in an American jail, while in the second, a woman falls in love with a man who turns out to have a terrible secret. Part of the "Novels of Faith and Doubt" series. (Amazon [secondhand])
The Month and Catholic Review, six vols., various (1874-90). Six volumes of this popular Catholic monthly, which included serial fiction. (eBay)
It's all over! (Well, it's all over except for two exams and a lot of grading.) In any event, the life of a senior faculty member at a regional comprehensive with a 3-3 teaching load:
Three courses, two of which were new preparations
Chaired Appointments, Promotion, and Tenure Committee (this committee was fairly busy)
Academic Senate Representative
Undergraduate Curriculum Committee (this will be very busy next semester; it normally has little to do in the fall)
A college-wide awards committee
Drafted and submitted three commissioned articles (about 85 or so manuscript pages). One of these has returned for editing; I'm waiting on proofs for the first and comments for the second
Various Choice reviews
I'm finishing up my revise-and-resubmit, which needs to go back before the end of this year
...in other words, a fairly typical semester. My Tuesdays and Thursdays were the only thing unusual about it: normally I teach MWF and have TuTh to do course preparation and writing, but this time, I taught MWTh(an evening seminar)F, which threw my schedule off a bit. Next semester goes back to normal.
Archive.org has now enabled a full-text search function, which means that those of us on quests for odd Victorian novels now have an even easier time finding them. Yay! (Yay?) It's not on the front page; begin a search in the usual box to get to the results page, where you can toggle the full search option. So far:
1) I've not seen any false positives, which is one of the most frustrating aspects of GoogleBooks' search function. (I mean, it's possible that a children's book about a teddy bear includes a reference to the Scottish Reformation Society, but, you know, it's not what I'd call probable.)
2) The function pulls up results in documents shared with GoogleBooks that GoogleBooks itself misses.
3) That being said, the new search function is still a wee bit buggy. Right now, clicking on results opens the document...and then generates a dialogue box informing you that there's no sign of your search term anywhere. "What?!" you cry, outraged. Actually, it is there, but you have to run the search again inside the book.
Francesco Manzini, The Fevered Novel from Balzac to Bernanos: Frenetic Catholicism in Crisis, Delirium, and Revolution (IGR, 2011). The significance of the suffering woman for 19th- and early 20th-century French Catholic fiction. (Amazon [secondhand])
Gareth Atkins, ed., Making and Remaking Saints in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Manchester, 2016). A series of case studies devoted to nineteenth-century appropriations of, lectures on, and hagiographies devoted to various saints, from Paul to Therese of Lisieux. (Amazon [secondhand])
Favorite historical novels: Annamarie Jagose, Slow Water; Graeme Macrae Burnet, His Bloody Project; Ian McGuire, The North Water; Robin Jenkins, The Awakening of George Darroch; Harry Tait, The Ballad of Sawney Bain; Lloyd Shepherd, The Detective and the Devil.
Favorite short story collections: China Mieville, Three Moments of an Explosion; Barbey d’Aurevilly, Les Diaboliques (The She-Devils).
Favorite genre anthologies: Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger, eds., Echoes of Sherlock Holmes; Ellen Datlow, ed., Children of Lovecraft.
Snarkiest historical novel: Dario Fo, The Pope’s Daughter.
Least convincingly unretired detective: Inspector Rebus. I mean, I understand why Rankin has decided to keep writing this series, but really.
You learn something new…: I hadn’t realized there was a collection of Ernest Dowson’s short stories out there.
Most interesting older work of scholarship: Richard Griffith’s The Reactionary Revolution (1966).
Most interesting monograph not in my field: Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, Objectivity.
Most important monograph on Catholicism and Victorian literature that nobody is citing because it’s written in French: Claire Masurel-Murray’s Le calice vide : l'imaginaire catholique dans la littérature décadente anglaise. Seriously. It came out in 2011 and has only been cited twice--by other French scholars. If you’re at all interested in these topics (Catholicism and literature; the Decadents; Catholicism and the Decadents) this absolutely ought to be at the top of your reading list.
Most bloodthirsty take on Jane Eyre: Lyndsay Faye, Jane Steele.
Most puzzling tendency in Jane Eyre rewrites: Marrying the Jane stand-in off to her Rochester equivalent, when the rewrite has otherwise made pseudo-Rochester pretty repellent.
Most successful Sherlock Holmes mashup: James Lovegrove, Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows (Cthulhu universe).
Most successful Sherlock Holmes parody: G. S. Denning’s Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone.
Best potshot at Arthur Conan Doyle: E. O. Higgins, Conversing with Spirits.
Needs more gore: Surely a mashup of Sherlock Holmes and Clive Barker’s Hellraiser universe ought to be “ow-ier”?
Most successful Lovecraft rewrite: Victor Lavelle, The Ballad of Black Tom.
I suppose there’s no use in renewing my annual plea, but yet again: WE DON’T NEED ANY MORE JACK THE RIPPER NOVELS. OR JACK THE RIPPER SHORT STORIES. OR JACK THE RIPPER MASHUPS. REALLY, WE DON’T. PLEASE WRITE ABOUT CUTE KITTIES AND BUNNIES INSTEAD.
Most atypically good-natured novel by Zola: La Rêve (The Dream).
Best nineteenth-century religious novels: Léon Bloy, La Femme Pauvre (The Woman Who Was Poor); Margaret Deland, John Ward, Preacher; Maxwell Gray, The Silence of Dean Maitland.
Nineteenth-century religious novel that seems least like a novel: J. K. Huysmans, Les Foules de Lourdes (The Crowds of Lourdes).
Most gruesome moment in a religious novel: In Bloy’s Le Désespéré (The Despairing), a former prostitute deliberately renders herself unattractive by, among other things, having all of her teeth removed, an event described in some detail.
Crankiest nineteenth-century religious novel: Edmond Randolph, Mostly Fools.
Religious novel with the most recognizable stand-in for Herbert Spencer: Robert Buchanan’s Foxglove Manor.
Religious novelist who makes Thomas Hardy seem bubbly, optimistic, and positively jovial by comparison: Léon Bloy.
Anti-Catholic novel with the weirdest afterlife: Ethel Voynich’s The Gadfly, which was a big bestseller in…mid-twentieth century Russia.
Most dismaying scholarly moment: When I realized that there was another novel by E. H. Dering (a.k.a. Leading Competitor for Worst Religious Novelist of the Nineteenth Century) out there. Noooooo.
Most repetitive nineteenth-century religious novelist: E. H. Dering, besides being bad, only seems to have had one plot.
Best Victorian deconstruction of George Eliot: John Oliver Hobbes, Some Emotions and a Moral.
Novel that prompted my students to ask “What the ?!#* was that?”: Hardy, Jude the Obscure (you can guess which scene).
Novel that presumably would prompt my students to ask “What the ?!#* was that?” were I to teach it: J. K. Huysmans, Là-Bas (Down There).
Novel with which my students had the most fun: Scott G. F. Bailey, The Astrologer.
Best novel reread for class: James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain.
Most antiquarian acquisition: A first edition of J. G. Lockhart’s triple-decker Valerius: A Roman Story (1821).
I’ve been looking for an affordable copy of this for years: Desmond Bowen, The Protestant Crusade; idem, Paul Cardinal Cullen and the Shaping of Modern Irish Catholicism.
Most aggravating postal delay: After several weeks, a copy of Francesco Manzini’s The Fevered Novel from Balzac to Bernanos arrived…a few hours after I submitted the article for which I had ordered the book in the first place. Ah, well, there are always revisions…
Desperate plea: Dear Oxford University Press: please stop publishing books in teensy-weensy font sizes. My hypermyopic eyes thank you.
Thank you: To Purdue University’s library for dumping its set of “Novels of Faith and Doubt,” most volumes of which have now migrated to my bookshelves.