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New Scholarship on Religion and Literature, 2000-2012 (November 2013): The Victorians Read the Bible

By Miriam Elizabeth Burstein

The Victorians Read the Bible

The Bible haunted even the most secular of Victorian writers.  Michael Wheeler’s St. John and the Victorians argues that the fourth Gospel was at the core of Victorian Christianity, Protestant and Catholic.  Drawing on a wide range of sources, ranging from Biblical commentary to painting to the poetry of Robert Browning, Wheeler finds that John’s Gospel played a core role in the growing importance of the Incarnation to Victorian Catholic and Protestant theology (despite the ongoing conflicts between the denominations).  Charles LaPorte’s intriguing Victorian Poets and the Changing Bible sets five poets—the Brownings, Arthur Hugh Clough, Alfred Tennyson, and George Eliot—in the context of the volatile debates over just what the Bible was in the wake of the Higher Criticism.  In particular, LaPorte finds poets interrogating the meaning of inspiration: to what extent can modern poetry offer its readers access to divine truth?  Taking a different tack, Mary Wilson Carpenter’s Imperial Bibles, Domestic Bodies: Women, Sexuality, and Religion in the Victorian Market analyzes women’s religious experience in terms of the economics of consumption.  The most convincing and innovative section is part 1, which discusses the publishing phenomenon of the “Family Bible”: examining marginal notes, illustrations, and directions for reading, Carpenter shows how family Bibles were feminized and marketed specifically to female consumers.