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« How I might learn to stop worrying and love Google Books | Main | Going mad »

March 22, 2007



Just out of curiosity, how does Browning fit into your view of the literary landscape? I know you focus on prose, but Ring and the Book is a really fascinating portrayal of Catholicism, to my mind, and seems to fit, however awkwardly, with your interest in historical fiction.

Ophelia Benson

Yes - I meant to do a follow-up post mentioning that I was limiting myself to the canonicals, and saying Yonge would tell a different story. I've actually even read a Yonge novel...found it rather interesting...


I was actually curious how you're defining "religious novel," and wondered to what degree Yonge qualifies. (She's the novelist I know best from the genres you discuss.) And while I agree that Yonge isn't a bestseller anymore, have you typed her name into a Barnes and Noble or Amazon search lately? All kinds of quick-published editions of her most obscure novels (a lot of them, interestingly, in easy-eye type) are available. She hasn't *quite* gone away.


I agree with Marya. When you say that 'we' no longer read Yonge, you mean 'we in the academy'. Yonge has always had a devoted following outside academia. (Here in the UK, there are currently two literary societies dedicated to her, the CMY Society and the CMY Fellowship.)

As to Ophelia's wider point .. surely religion is an absolutely central theme in nineteenth-century fiction? Of the novelists mentioned here, Eliot and Hardy (not to mention others, like Mrs Humphrey Ward) are fascinated by the crisis of faith; Eliot (though not an orthodox believer) is very sympathetic to Dissent, Trollope (though anti-evangelical) very sympathetic to Anglicanism, and Gaskell (though Unitarian) very sympathetic to Methodism. It is simply not true to say that you have to move outside the canon in order to find an author (like Yonge) for whom religion is a central theme.

Rather than saying that Christianity is not central to nineteenth-century fiction, it would be truer to say (as Miriam hints in her remarks above) that Evangelicalism is not central to nineteenth-century fiction. The reasons for this are complex and interesting, and discussed at length by Valentine Cunningham in Everywhere Spoken Against: Dissent in the Victorian Novel (where, incidentally, he singles out Eliot as the one novelist who really understood the Dissenting tradition).

Miriam, I'm also interested in your remark that most Victorian religious novels 'simply disappeared without a trace'. This may be true, but how can we know - how can we measure it? I don't think you can assume that a novel was a failure (whatever that means) just because it was never reprinted. One needs to go deeper into publishing history than that - and of course one must be wary of assuming that a novel sank without trace in (say) 1857 just because it happens to be invisible to us in 2007. (I know you know this, but I still think it's a point worth emphasizing.)

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