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Title: The faith and theodicy of John Clare
Author: Houghton, S.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2004
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This thesis demonstrates that Clare’s faith is a highly personal and complex negotiation between the reality of the ‘religion’ confronting him in the world, a remarkable knowledge of literature and thought, and a reasoning and intelligent appropriation of influence. It begins by establishing that Clare’s love of certain aspects of Anglican orthodoxy was entirely compatible with his experimentation with alternative denominations. Its survey of ‘religion’ includes the Church of England and its adherents alongside other religious groups, insisting on an understanding of the Christian faith as an implicit presence (although one which was highly politicised, far from unchallenged, and certainly perceived as declining) within the quotidian life of Clare’s society. The thesis examines the importance of ‘alternative beliefs’ as phenomena coexisting with organised religion, assessing the extent of their coincidence, and thus offering a reassessment of what orthodoxy might mean to Clare’s village community. It goes on to acknowledge Clare’s intelligence and idiosyncratic learning (particularly his Bible reading), examining his attitude to ‘science’ and to such concepts as ‘Reason’, ‘Deism’, and ‘Revealed’ and ‘Natural’ religion. The second part of the thesis asserts that Clare’s religious conviction is reinforced by intense subjective spiritual experience. Having explored some ramifications of this, it goes on to reconsider Clare’s thematic treatment of ‘Eden’ and ‘eternity’, Concluding that, within a climate of religious enthusiasm, Clare interprets a sublime rapture repeatedly experienced in the presence of nature as the felt presence of the deity, it suggests that, even when intellectually he doubts his own faith, he is unable fully to relinquish a particular ‘knowledge’ of divinity. The thesis then analyses Clare’s representations of ‘evil’, demanding to know how faith in an omnipotent, benevolent deity is reconciled with a progressive and devastating sense of the predatory cruelty inherent in the natural world (this sense collides with Clare’s fervent love for his environment, coalescing with events emblematic of essentially theological ‘Falls’ which Clare believed, were perpetuated throughout his life). The thesis concludes by attempting to trace the elements of Clare’s creed, and by developing a new understanding of what his conception of ‘God’ might be.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available