For the heck of it, I started reading Catherine Charlotte Maberley's The Lady and the Priest (1851), a semi- (quasi-?) competent anti-Catholic historical novel that turned out to be about Thomas a Becket. Not quite for the heck of it, actually: contemporary reviewers thought that the novel was a covert response to the "papal aggression" controversy, and as I'm finishing up a brief overview of said controversy, I thought I'd see if there was anything here worth mentioning. Strictly speaking, I suppose Maberley could have churned out a triple-decker and seen it published in a handful of months in order to criticize the new Cardinal Wiseman & Co.--the preface is dated July 1851--but I think some skepticism may be in order, barring evidence from correspondence. I can see why reviewers would interpret the text that way, to be sure. Becket, the villain of the piece, manipulates our heroine Rosamond, a wealthy heiress, so that she winds up having a passionate adulterous affair with Henry II (oh dear), resulting in children (oh my), eventual insanity (oh no), and death (oh well); she is avenged by her spurned fiancee, who turns out to be one of the murderers in the cathedral and is also driven insane by his own actions. So, bad show all the way around, then. Maberley is not fond of convents, so we have the usual run of anti-monastic complaints, plus sneaky priests, Catholic degeneracy, etc., etc., etc. At the very least, the novel implies that Catholic influence on the throne has, shall we say, profoundly negative effects (not to mention Catholic influence on the home).
The difficulty lies in the etc. etc. etc. Because I wound up skimming the novel instead of reading it, as it so clearly did nothing that was unusual (aside from suggesting that Becket was partly of Middle Eastern descent, which I haven't found yet in any of the relevant source materials--is this derived from something non-obvious?). It wasn't E. H. Dering levels of disastrously bad--the sort of novel that makes me want to declare, "I'm in favor of taking a distant reading approach to this novel. By which I mean that I would like to be one hundred miles distant from it." But the novel was still regurgitating standard-issue anti-Catholic talking points, most of which have become, well, rather familiar by this point. At this point in my reading career, I can generally predict exactly what a mid-Victorian, middle-of-the-road Protestant novel will do and how it will do it; there's not much to be gained from reading yet another one, unless I have something very specific that I want to understand about its genre, topic, narrative structure, and the like. (I need to get back to reading missionary novels, for example.) By contrast, I'm still learning quite a bit from reading Catholic fiction, which established itself by, in part, deconstructing a lot of Protestant narrative forms and tropes; similarly, things started going haywire in all sorts of interesting ways in the last quarter or so of the century, when not only do you have doubt exploding all over the place, but also more assertive Protestant denominational publishing (chipping away at the attempts to construct ecumenical Protestant texts at mid-century) and just some generally unusual/odd/experimental work.