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Title: 'Gleams from a brighter world, too soon eclipsed or forfeited' : religious orthodoxy in the Victorian novel.
Author: Lawrence, Karen Elizabeth.
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 1989
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Much critical attention has been given to the effects of the Victorian religious climate on the literature of the period, and on the novel in particular. Most studies, however, either focus on the numerous "Novels of Faith and Doubt" (to quote the title of a long series of novels republished in the mid 1970s), seeking simply to demonstrate that Christian belief continued to be an important clement in the cultural matrix., and often viewing the novel primarily as a historical document, or, alternatively, stress is laid upon the process of "sccularisation", by which the language of orthodox. religion is seen as being adapted, through the medium of the novel, to the purposes of the new humanism. This study challenges hath these approaches by asking specifically what happens to religious belief when it is voiced from within the realist novel. Because this literary form is, by definition, ill-equipped to describe a transcendent level of ex.perience, faith as held by characters in the novel is shown in this study to be limited and distorted as compared with historical records of Victorian religious ideas and feelings. The study also argues, however, that the persistent and positive accounts of Christian belief, even in novels by writers, such as George Eliot, whose personal allegiance is primarily to humanism, and in particular, the frequent demonstration of moral strength possessed specifically by characters whose religious faith gives them a spiritual, other-worldly perspective on human ex.perience, indicates that the so-called "secularising" novelists still retain, at the least, strong emotional tics with Christian belief. For them, faith offers not merely a uniquely powerful language for profound human feelings, but, agreeing here with orthodox. believers, a means of communicating with truth absolutely beyond the human world which is real in every sense. If the nineteenth-century novel transforms faith into a means of voicing humanist concerns, then, the study contends, this is the etTect not so much of the novelists' conscious desire to conquer new territories for secular morality as of the this-worldly focus of the novel form itself. The study opens by discussing two "Novels of Faith and Doubt" - Charlotte Yongc's The Heir of Redclyffe, and George Macfxmald's David Elglnbrod - in order to show how the novel form both distorts and is distorted by a religious content. The following four chapters undertake detailed ex.aminations of a number of novels, including tex.ts by George Eliot, Thomas I lardy, Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell and Mark Rutherford, looking at these works in the light of various specifically religious writings to demonstrate the relations within the Victorian novel between the individual's consciousness of his or her self, of the world of human ex.perience, and of both moral and other-worldly levels of being. Chapter Six., focusing primarily on Charlotte Bronte's Villette, ex.plores the difficulty of finding any means at all by which experience beyond the scope of secularised speech can be communicated in the social and cultural environment of the Victorian age. The study concludes with a brief look at nineteenth century religious poetry as an alternative literature which attempts to convey both the importance and the limitations of Christian faith in the period, suggesting that, by contrast with poetry, the novel has unique strengths and weaknesses in this area. Throughout, the Bible is appealed to as the standard of faith, but also as a central religious text for Victorian writers. Relevant quotations are used to provide a perspective from which to evaluate the transformations of doctrine in these novels.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Literature Literature Mass media Performing arts Philosophy Religion History