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New Scholarship on Religion and Literature, 2000-2012 (November 2013): The Nineteenth Century and After

By Miriam Elizabeth Burstein

The Nineteenth Century and After

Several scholars have rejected the secularization or “disappearance of God” narratives of nineteenth-century literature, calling attention instead to the persistence of faith alongside doubt.  Mark Knight and Emma Mason’s Nineteenth-Century Religion and Literature offers a thematic overview of the major Christian movements in nineteenth-century Britain (as well as secularism) and their effect on literary form and content alike.  Carolyn Oulton offers a more narrow focus in Literature and Religion in Mid-Victorian England: From Dickens to Eliot, which emphasizes anti-evangelical (or, at the very least, revisionist evangelical) tendencies on topics ranging from salvation and damnation to charity to religiously authorized gender roles.  Although brief, Susan E. Colón’s Victorian Parables is an important manifesto for thinking about literary realism in tandem with religious narrative practices.  Colón argues that the “disruptive” quality of the parable prompts readers to think critically and self-reflexively about what she terms “cultural idolatries.”  Far from being anti-realist, parabolic narratives, such as those of the prodigal son, ask readers to think about social narratives in much the same way that purportedly secular texts do.  More generally but still polemically, J. Russell Perkin’s Theology and the Victorian Novel argues that modern critics have read their own secular, anti-religious preoccupations back into Victorian texts, and thus offers alternative readings that prioritize the theological implications of apparently areligious texts (e.g., Vanity Fair) and authors (e.g., George Eliot, Thomas Hardy).