Religion and the Contours of the Romantic-Era Novel

Religion and the Contours of the Romantic-Era Novel

Daniel Schierenbeck, University of Central Missouri

  1. At first blush, a course on religion may not appear as glamorous or provocative as a Gothic novel course or as attuned to popular culture as a seminar on Austen. In my experience at a regional, state university, though, I have found that students generally are deeply interested in religious subjects. I can only assume that such interest would also be generated at a range of institutions, especially at religious institutions, where the course might even be tailored differently. Furthermore, students who have lived through the events in our recent history are familiar with the intimate connection between religion and politics. Topics of religious enthusiasm and fanaticism weigh heavily in matters of international policy, and the importance of the Evangelical Christian Right has been in the headlines since the 2004 Presidential election. Engaging students on the topic of religious controversy, then, can help them to bridge some of the historical difference between now and the Romantic-era, but these religious debates also clarify distinct historical, cultural, and political differences between these eras. Moreover, this course also situates Romantic-era fiction within a growing field of criticism that deals with the importance of religion for studying this period's literature.[1] The course I outline here, geared toward senior-level undergraduates, is organized around representations of religious enthusiasm and toleration. In doing so, I explicitly draw upon the recent work of Jon Mee and Mark Canuel, and I will indicate below how I integrate these secondary texts into the course. By exploring such issues within these novels, I hope to give students a better sense of how a range of novels can respond to a specific, complex topic—a topic that reverberates through and indeed structures debates on gender, politics, colonialism, and a host of other issues.

  2. At the beginning of a Romantic fiction course, students benefit from some historical overview of the period, so I sketch the various revolutions at work in British society (political, industrial, aesthetic). However, it is also helpful to provide an introduction to the history and politics of the Anglican Church to heighten students' awareness of religion's social and political role throughout British history.[2] This survey of important religious controversies can be supplemented with a focus on particular events, such as the Gordon Riots and the Church and King Riots, which allow students to understand the interconnection of religion and politics within the revolutionary context of this era. Though Robert M. Ryan's Romantic Reformation centers on Romantic-era poetry, the first portion of chapter one (13-30) provides a useful supplemental reading. Ryan highlights the Dissenters' repeal campaigns and the evangelical revival and situates these movements in a framework that sketches how they emerged historically and became part of the revolutionary debates. Students might also benefit from "Christianity in England, 1790-1830," a short chapter in Alec R. Vidler's The Church in an Age of Revolution that provides an overview of contemporary religious denominations. The first week of class is also a good time to introduce students to Mark Canuel's treatment of the religious toleration (12). Chapter one of Religion, Toleration, and British Writing is particularly helpful because Canuel, like Ryan, also provides historical perspective, showing how "[t]he spirit of toleration . . . could be viewed as a series of legislative enactments extending from the Act of Toleration in 1689 to (and beyond) the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts and Catholic Emancipation in 1828 and 1829" (12).[3] Students need to be familiar with how issues facing Catholics, Anglicans, and the various Dissenting dominations have political ramifications. It may take students time to grasp fully the complexities of these issues, but by focusing on these important acts and by using a historical framework, students can begin to understand how political issues were marked, defined, and regulated through religious difference.

  3. After a brief foray into the historical background, students can begin to investigate how authors approach these issues, especially in regard to their depictions of religious enthusiasm and toleration. A good novel to start with is Charles Lucas's The Infernal Quixote (1801), a typical anti-Jacobin work. M.O. Grenby's introduction to the Broadview edition firmly establishes Lucas's anti-Jacobin style and substance, but Grenby also touches upon the idea that The Infernal Quixote can be viewed as a religious novel (15-16). Expanding on this point, I find that situating Lucas's novel within the framework of religious enthusiasm and toleration allows students to see the deeper contexts of conservative fiction. Such background enables students to consider how a novel's religious arguments may provide for different, and perhaps broader, categories through which to view Romantic-era fiction. Indeed, many novels are not easily categorized as Jacobin or anti-Jacobin, conservative or radical, but actually map out positions that run across this continuum. One of the most famous set pieces of this novel, Rattle's "Double Oration," provides a focal point that structures discussion of how this novel deals with unregulated religious enthusiasm and the utopian schemes of the new philosophers. Rattle gives a speech that, by substituting certain set phrases, could be used as a rousing oration for either religious enthusiasts (read Methodists) or atheistical democrats. I flesh out this debate about enthusiasm by providing students excerpts from the first two chapters of Jon Mee's Romanticism, Enthusiasm and Regulation. Chapter one of Mee's book is helpful, for he traces the "discourse of enthusiasm" (25) through the eighteenth century and discusses its philosophical, aesthetic, and religious deployments. Mee's second chapter is especially relevant for a discussion of Lucas's novel, since Mee traces how enthusiasm was deployed during the revolutionary debates of the 1790s and provides particular attention to "the problem of enthusiasm in radical and reforming circles" (83) such as the Corresponding Societies.[4] Mee thus provides context for reading Lucas's fictional account of a corresponding society meeting. Vivid accounts of religious radicalism in such debating societies can also be found in Iain McCalman's Radical Underworld, another potential supplement (especially his brief first chapter). Such historical accounts provide a deeper context for understanding Lucas's novel, but they also can give students an interesting detour into the fascinating radical subculture (and its religion) that Lucas was trying to guard against.

  4. Lucas's insertion of the "Double Oration" into the text, though, also points to the historical sources of the influential Anglican Evangelical Movement. Anglican Evangelicals sought to rescue religion from the rational principles and deistic tendencies associated with the Enlightenment and French Revolution, but they also wanted to distance their more emotional "religion of the heart" from the Methodists' enthusiasm. Thus, Anglican Evangelicals emphasized the importance of manners and taste as outward verifications of internally self-regulating mechanisms that attempted to prevent their religion from being perceived as lower-class and potentially radical and instantiated it as a deeply middle-class religion. In his introduction, Grenby rightly points to the Evangelical movement as a possible explanation of Lucas's choice of a lower-class hero, Wilson Wilson, and an aristocratic villain, James Marauder (15). Indeed, the Evangelicals sought to reform both the lower-classes and upper-classes in order to effect social and political change, and Wilson represents a pious lower-class subject, while Marauder represents the debased aristocracy in need of reform. This context can be fleshed out a bit more with excerpts from Hannah More's An Estimate of the Religion of the Fashionable World or Thoughts on the Manners of the Great or William Wilberforce's Practical View. The first two chapters of More's Fashionable World are brief but do a good job of showing the Anglican Evangelical emphasis on practicing religious principles, especially among the upper classes. Such context is important, for a similar emphasis on the principles of Christianity is woven throughout Lucas's novel. Wilson, for example, is able to convert Hamben to these principles through argumentation but also through example, such as refusing to duel Marauder (More herself wrote against dueling). Through the Anglican Evangelical context, I invite students to consider the ways in which the characters and their religious points of view represent specific class issues and how Lucas's emphasis on religion helps to define a specifically middle-class morality.

  5. What is also striking, though, about Wilson's arguments for Christianity is that he refuses to defend the verbal inspiration of every word of the Bible. Instead, he places his emphasis on the New Testament, and especially the life of Christ, in order to defend the spirit of Christianity. Such a view endorsed by the novel's hero, especially in a novel by a clergyman, is interesting because these views can be seen in much more radical thinkers and authors, like Percy Shelley, who saw Christ only as an example of a wonderful individual. This novel's view of verbal inspiration could be usefully contrasted with West's Tale of the Times (1799). West's novel engages the issue of verbal inspiration through the villain, Fitzosborne, who attacks the authenticity of the Old Testament with arguments from Higher Criticism. West's hero, Henry Powerscourt, though, defends inspiration and revealed religion by using the concept of providence, which she employs throughout to provide readers with a conservative way of reading the French Revolution. Yet she also justifies tenets of political economy through providence. She argues for an active sense of charity among the gentry and against government interference in poor relief, thus also calling for a reform of the upper classes but in a different manner than Lucas. West's novel, unfortunately, is not widely available, so it might be best covered by an individual research project or by a group report. This text does raise, though, the issue of how to integrate such novels in a course and highlights the need for affordable editions of more Romantic-era novels.[5]

  6. Lucas's novel is critical, or at least guarded, about religious enthusiasm. For example, Philip Harrety is an enthusiast who is later converted to a more moderate religion. Yet, this novel also tackles the theme of religious toleration through Marauder's involvement with the Irish Rebellion of 1798, a subject that occupies most of volume three. Marauder's father had turned Protestant in order to escape proscription under the Test and Corporation Acts, but his uncle remains Catholic. Marauder himself turns Catholic after his father dies, but only to try to ingratiate himself with his uncle. Indeed, Marauder's religious allegiance is governed solely by expedience. Later in the novel, he is able to parlay his Catholicism to political advantage as he enters into the Irish Rebellion. His sights are only set on financial rewards and personal ambition—he wants to be the Cromwell of Ireland—but he claims to be for Catholic Emancipation. Lucas's choice of depicting Marauder as one of the leaders of the United Irishmen raises interesting questions. Is he arguing that these claims for religious rights are just masquerades for political ambition? How may his representations square with the ideas espoused by Edmund Burke in his revolutionary debate with the Dissenter Richard Price? Through Wilson, Lucas presents defenses of the established church, but the narrator also declares, "If Religion were left entirely to herself, if every one were to propose articles for his own faith, and if these strange medleys were to be tolerated by the legislature, few vestiges would remain of the original institution of Christ" (225). Students can be encouraged to investigate what Lucas's precise claims are for the social role of religion and could compare them with the definition and significance of religious toleration that Canuel outlines. Furthermore, I prompt students to consider the following: what does the fact that Lucas, a clergyman, is using a novel to make these arguments tell us about the changing status and respectability of the novel or its use as a political/social tool?

  7. Focusing on the religious arguments of Elizabeth Hamilton's Translations of the Letters of a Hindoo Rajah (1796) also allows students to view this anti-Jacobin novel in a broader context. Though Hamilton presents new philosophers as ridiculous figures towards the end of volume two—a standard attack method of anti-Jacobins—her novel is more complex than a simple, conservative polemic. One particular focus that allows students to engage this novel's complexity is an attempt to sift through her multi-level ironies, challenging them to define what in particular Hamilton is satirizing. As students dig into the text to answer this question, easy distinctions, such as conservative or radical, break down. For example, Hamilton's treatment of female education has great affinity with a radical writer such as Mary Wollstonecraft. It is key, though, that in the novel she argues for a better education for women from a Christian theological position: if women are the spiritual equals of men, then they should not be given a frivolous education in female accomplishments, nor should the end of education be to make them objects of beauty for men.[6] The ways in which conservative authors use religion to enhance women's role in society can be brought out by a supplemental secondary reading. For example, Anne K. Mellor's chapter on Hannah More from Mothers of the Nation describes how she was able to parlay her evangelical religious views into a means of reforming the nation. Finally, Hamilton's religious position and conservative stance allows her, paradoxically, to become a successful female author, and this conundrum deserves attention, especially in regard to how religion can be used to establish female narrative authority. Lisa Wood tackles this very paradox of how "the antirevolutionary text by women must be authorial, thereby necessarily transgressing its own ideological limits of the feminine" (86). Her chapter on narrative authority in anti-revolutionary female authors thus is quite a useful supplement for students on this issue.

  8. Hamilton's arguments about female education also point to the split between religious belief and practice that informs the entire novel. Hamiton's narrator, the eponymous Hindu Rajah Zaarmilla, becomes deeply interested in the virtues of Christianity through his conversations with Captain Percy, who is modeled on Hamilton's brother Charles, who served with the East India Company. From Percy's descriptions, Zaarmilla sees Christianity as a religion of peace, kindness, and liberty that is well suited to the needs of the state. Sheermal, though, tells Zaarmilla about the split between religious tenets and practice he has witnessed in England, and later Zaarmilla himself goes to England to find out how Christianity informs its social and religious practice. Hamilton thus uses Zaarmilla to highlight the difference between Christian doctrine and practice. I assign chapter six of More's An Estimate of the Religion of the Fashionable World along with this novel, for here she argues that a stranger who would observe fashionable life in England would never think that it was a Christian country. Hamilton's foregrounding of such a split between doctrine and practice can be seen as quite conservative, since, as mentioned above, Anglican Evangelicals like Wilberforce and More argued strenuously for a reform of manners and an active, practical Christianity. It is a bit dangerous, though, to paint a group like the Evangelicals as a monolithic, conservative group. Gerald Newman and Mellor, for example, have argued for a more complex view of view of Evangelicalism (another reason for including Mellor's chapter on More as a supplemental reading). Also, Evangelicals, along with some radical authors, advocated the abolition of the slave trade. Thus, Hamilton's use of religion in this novel is not automatically nor simply conservative.

  9. Certainly, Hamilton satirizes the hypocrisy of a religious nation that does not read the Bible, but she does not satirize the concept of religious toleration. In the preface, Hamilton extols the virtues of Hinduism and its "mild and tolerating spirit" (68), a spirit that meshes well with its civil function, and she contrasts Hinduism with the Muslims' "fury of fanaticism" (68) and "intolerant zeal" (69). This specific comparison can be seen, of course, in part, as a justification and defense of Warren Hastings, and students would benefit from background information on Hastings, the development of the East India Company, or the Rohilla War. In particular, selections from Thomas Macaulay or James Mill's The History of British India are helpful for students in clarifying for students how colonial policy had changed throughout the nineteenth century and how Hamilton supports a "defense of the version of colonialism which will work only if the English practice the Christian tolerance and mercy they preach" (Perkins and Russell 29).

  10. Hamilton's assertion of the importance of religious toleration in a colonial context, though, also can lead students to investigate how this position reflects back on domestic policy. Such a viewpoint allows students to see Hamilton in a more progressive light. Rather than advocating a solid Church and King position, like West or Lucas, Hamilton advocates a much more tolerant position, one that places her in a similar stance to radical Dissenters such as Joseph Priestley or Anna Barbauld. In Hamilton's novel, the British presence in India and their defeat of the Muslims allow the Hindus religious freedom, but the logical question is whether such toleration would work at home in England. Thus, the Hindu religion and practice and its potential as a state religion appear to come off better than Christianity, at least better than a narrowly defined, intolerant Christianity. Indeed, Hamilton's image of different religions mingling in Calcutta (167) seems to be almost ideal, but such mingling stems from Hindu rather than Christian tolerance (though there is colonial tolerance of Hindu religious tolerance). Furthermore, admirable characters such as Dr. Severan talk about the "pure precepts of Christianity" (272) as distinguished from the established church, and the Denbeighs do not teach their children the dogmas of any particular sect but only the Bible (289). The construction of Hamilton's novel, as a sort of reverse travel narrative, also deserves attention, for through it she is able to endorse British colonial policy while subtly questioning policies of religious toleration in Britain itself.

  11. Sydney Owenson's The Missionary (1811) provides an interesting comparison to Hamilton's Hindoo Rajah, yet it also forces students to reexamine the issues of religious intolerance that informed the Irish Rebellion in 1798. Analyzing Owenson's arguments about religious enthusiasm and intolerance enables students to go back and reassess how Lucas framed these issues in The Infernal Quixote. Owenson, the daughter of an Irish Catholic father and an English Protestant mother, has a unique perspective from which to address concerns about religious intolerance, especially how the Penal Laws impacted Catholics. Julia Wright's highly useful introduction to the Broadview edition of this novel sketches quite nicely Owenson's concerns about religious intolerance. Furthermore, she shows how Owenson's representation of India functions as a way for her to address social and political concerns in Ireland, which could viewed as the testing ground for Britain's colonial policy. In particular, Wright points out how Owenson's novel demonstrates the dangers of using religion for colonial purposes (40-57), and this particular view opens the text up for a rich comparison with Hamilton's Hindoo Rajah.

  12. To help structure students' reading of this novel, I ask them how Owenson deploys the two poles of religious enthusiasm and toleration. In The Missionary, religious enthusiasm and zeal become the motivation for Hilarion's missionary trip to India, and this same fanaticism leads him to attempt to convert the Hindu prophetess, Luxima. Hilarion feels that the conversion of such a highly regarded religious figure will lead to many more converts among the Indians. While Owenson presents Hilarion's attempt to convert Luxima as a confrontation between East and West, Hilarion is not depicted as overtly concerned with political and colonial concerns. His policy is driven solely by religious zeal rather than a desire to govern India effectively. Indeed, the tolerant nature of the Hindu religion, which is emphasized throughout, seems to provide the most effective method of governing. At the end of the novel, though, when Hilarion is subjected to the Inquisition's auto-da-fe and Luxima attempts to commit sati, religious zeal pushes the Indian crowd into a rebellion. Using some of the same background materials from Hamilton's novel, students can examine how Owenson and Hamilton present the idea of religious toleration as necessary and/or helpful for Britain's colonial mission. Also, since Owenson mentions the 1806 Vellore Mutiny, a report on this topic, or even the Sepoy Revolt of 1857—which sparked a reissuing of Owenson's novel—could be quite helpful to students in showing how these historical events were fomented by religious issues. Finally, while Owenson uses India for a backdrop for these debates about religious toleration, students can be led back to the Irish context to see to what extent Owenson's depiction of religious toleration comments on Catholic Emancipation and to formulate the particular arguments she may be forwarding.

  13. While the colonial context provides students with a rich texture for this novel, I also have them focus on the connection between religion and love and the similarities between Hilarion and Luxima. Indeed, both characters are described throughout the novel as being consumed by zeal and enthusiasm. Luxima is so overcome by her ardent imagination and enthusiasm that she feels herself a prophetess (similar to Beatrice in Mary Shelley's Valperga, which is discussed below). Though Hilarion baptizes Luxima, her full conversion to his faith is not complete. This conversion is never quite successful because Luxima's desire to convert is driven only by her love of Hilarion. Though Hilarion attempts to use the language of love and passion to convert Luxima to Christianity, they end up instead only falling in love with each other. While this connection between religion and love (or even sexual desire) may not fit with the issues of religious toleration, it certainly captures the cultural perception of religious enthusiasts such as the Methodists as licentious, and it also emphasizes the danger of religious passions. Furthermore, this focus on love highlights that Owenson's novel, unlike the novels of Lucas and Hamilton, embeds and utilizes a romance plot. This particular plot device becomes especially important, for it foreshadows the way that authors such as Walter Scott and Mary Shelley similarly employ the romance plot in their novels about religious enthusiasm.

  14. Moving from Owenson to Scott foregrounds how the romance plot can be used to mediate political concerns. While the first two novels of the course can be seen in the context of the French Revolution and the religious debates that informed and framed representations of religious and/or revolutionary excesses, Scott's Old Mortality (1816) can be viewed through the political turmoil of the 1810s that led to the Peterloo Massacre. Indeed, McCalman's Radical Underworld provides useful context for this discussion. Especially helpful is his chapter "Blasphemous Chapels: The Preacher as Insurrectionary, 1818-20," for it elucidates the very real fears that the English government had about radical preachers' ability to mobilize the populace toward violent action. Though Scott's novel precedes Peterloo, I also provide students with a brief history of this event or have students present on this topic. Scott's novel, which is set in the violent West of Scotland in the late 1670s, dramatizes through his depiction of the Covenanters the potential violence of religious enthusiasm and its connection to civil discord. The history of the Covenanters and the Scottish church can be summarized briefly for the students: the Penguin edition, for example, provides a brief historical note that is quite useful. Or, students can just as easily present on this topic. With their historical background on the Anglican Church from the beginning of the course, students in presentations are capable of putting together this religious/historical puzzle through their own research.

  15. Extreme Covenanters in the novel such as Burley, Macbriar, and Meiklewrath, all demonstrate the religious zeal dedicated to a political cause that Lucas raised in the Infernal Quixote. Yet Scott also depicts members of the loyalist army, especially Claverhouse, as just as dedicated to their cause and just as willing to inflict cruelty on the populace. In fact, Claverhouse admits to the hero, Henry Morton, that he and Burley are "both fanatics" (270), and, in the end, Burley and Claverhouse, former archenemies, are allies against the Glorious Revolution. This novel can be viewed as a study in the shared fanaticism and will to power that infected both government agents and insurgents during the bloody civil discord of the 1670s. I invite students to consider the extremes of military discipline and religious enthusiasm: whereas military discipline reduces the individual so far that the soldier is only an unthinking mechanism of the army, enthusiasm raises the importance of self too high and leads to egoism and ambition. Indeed, it is Burley's ambition rather than his religious beliefs that lead him to command the Presbyterian army, and such a depiction can be usefully compared and contrasted with Lucas's Marauder. Also, students can focus on the ending of the novel, which skips ahead to after the Glorious Revolution and points to the problem of men such as Claverhouse and Burley uniting to bring back James. Morton, though, survives and thrives in this environment. Students can analyze Morton to see how he represents the moderate way of the Whig succession, the basis of which are the principles of toleration and of unity rather than unbridled enthusiasm or rigid discipline that leads to cruelty. Not only does Scott thus endorse what he saw as the ameliorating effects of Protestant rule, but he also shows the delicate balance that needs to be maintained. The importance of this lesson for Scott's contemporary view of Scotland is also crucial, especially after 1819, when civil discord threatens Britain. Such internal discord draws Scott back to the lessons presented in this novel. He sees the threat inherent in enthusiastic reformers, but even though he is active in the volunteer dragoons, he also knows the danger of an overly disciplined military.

  16. I move from Scott's Old Mortality to Shelley's Valperga because Shelley, to help explain political and historical changes, also uses historical fiction to highlight the violent potential in religious discourse. Students will have already been introduced to Mee's argument about how Romantic-era poets attempted to regulate enthusiasm, but I encourage them to take this a step further and investigate how such an attitude toward enthusiasm played a key role during the transformation of popular radicalism in the late 1810s and 1820s. To clarify this context, I assign David Hume's "Of Superstition and Enthusiasm," but I also have students read McCalman's Radical Underworld. Chapter Nine, "The Ultra-Radical March of Mind: Politics, Religion, and Respectability" is especially helpful, for it demonstrates how during these specific decades lower-middle-class radicals increasingly distanced themselves from the more revolutionary, plebeian underworld by emphasizing "respectability and self-improvement" (McCalman 181). Radical preachers, such as Samuel Waddington and Robert Wedderburn, became embarrassments as their more respectable counterparts distanced themselves from their enthusiastic preaching, prophetic stance, and vulgar style (which McCalman traces in the chapter that goes with Old Mortality). With these readings in mind, I invite students to consider how Shelley embodies the concepts of enthusiasm and superstition in Euthanasia and Beatrice in order to critique religion's role in nineteenth-century radical politics. Students reflect on how her depiction of enthusiasm and superstition in these two non-historical characters might mediate such fears about radicalism and may offer a solution that demonstrates the importance of fostering gradual reform through literature and education.

  17. In his essay, Hume associates both enthusiasm and superstition with an ignorance that needs to be combated by philosophy and manners. I ask students to consider the extent to which Shelley recognizes this dangerous potential in superstition and enthusiasm and how she may explore different means of regulating the different aspects of these false species of religion. Indeed, focusing on Euthanasia's education is important, for through her classical reading, she develops a more secularized version of enthusiasm that is directed toward the cause of liberty. Shelley demonstrates how Euthanasia's love for literature leads to a regulation of her imagination and passions—a regulation that conforms to the goals of gradual middle-class reform. The necessity for such regulation of enthusiasm is highlighted by the contrasting figure of Beatrice, who represents the dangerous and violent potential of religious enthusiasm that stems from ignorance. Beatrice's enthusiasm is able to subvert priestcraft, but the crowd's reaction to her highlights the dangers of religious enthusiasm. Beatrice's enthusiasm, derived from ignorance and religion, does not promote middle-class values of restraint that lead to gradual reform; rather it engenders only a different sort of superstition that may foster violent revolution. The description of Beatrice's mother, Wilhelmina, situates her in the radical tradition of female mysticism and messianism. However, this association with popular culture also connects her to prophets like Joanna Southcott and the female Methodist preachers, whose popularity among the lower classes stemmed from their incorporation of folk culture elements, such as divination and astrology, into their religion. Though preaching did give these women outlets to make their voices public, they were also ridiculed by members of polite culture for their connection to superstition and ignorance. At this point, I lead students back to previous discussions about the role of religion in women's writing that we discussed with Hamilton, and they see firsthand the complicated nature of these issues.

  18. Finally, Beatrice's religious enthusiasm and superstition make her especially vulnerable to and compatible with the ambitious tyrant, Castruccio. Popular radical leaders that Shelley distrusted, such as William Cobbett and Bristol Hunt, were often characterized by middle-class radicals as tyrants, whose appeal to religious enthusiasm and superstition likewise seduced the lower classes and led them to violence rather than reform. Euthanasia's lofty enthusiasm becomes a pattern for leadership, a model of a cultivated middle class who will lead the radical movement toward reform, while Beatrice represents the dangers of violent revolution led by the religious enthusiasm and vulgar superstition of lower-class radicals. The comparison between Scott's and Shelley's solutions to the potential violence of religious enthusiasm provides good fodder for student discussion. The discussion can be pushed even further when comparing how they use the romance plot differently (Euthanasia and Castruccio never marry while Edith Belleden and Morton wed) and looking at how Scott's view of the past is made to seem much less contingent than Shelley's.

  19. The Scott and Shelley novels present an interesting sub-unit on how historical fiction mediates political and social concerns stemming from religious enthusiasm, but this unit could be expanded further (or developed into a course of its own) by examining how concerns about religious enthusiasm and toleration are deployed in historical fiction as anxieties about conversion. Moreover, this concern about conversion also may reflect upon the changing status of the novel—how the plotting of conversion within historical novels reflects upon the generic changes of fiction. One of the challenges in going this route, though, is finding the novels for students to read. For example, the relationship between religious conversion and historical fiction can be found in two pre-Scott historical novels: Anna Maria Porter's Don Sebastian (1809) and Jane West's The Loyalists (1812). Though these novels are not readily available, they may provide a potential research project for interested students. Porter's plotting of Sebastian's conversion is intriguing because it points to the prominence given to religious conversion in early historical fiction, such as Owenson's The Missionary. Porter's novel focuses on the iconic sixteenth-century Portugese king, Don Sebastian, a figure who had an historical and legendary existence, though Porter focuses on his legend. Her Don Sebastian survives the Battle of Al Kazar, which was precipitated by his fanatic Catholicism. He becomes enslaved (twice), fights for the Persians against the Turks, travels to Brazil, and eventually returns to Portugal but never regains his throne. Throughout his travels, different Moors attempt to convert him, but eventually his wife, Kara Aziek, converts him to Protestantism. Students could explore why Porter rewrites Sebastian's history as romance and how her novel depicts the important role of a more tolerant Protestant Christianity and its potential for a global civilizing mission. They may also consider how her narrative may anticipate Britain's vision of itself as an imperial power that sought to conquer not through force but through education and the civilizing mission of Christianity. How does such a view contrast and compare with Hamilton and Owenson? Whereas in Porter's novel romance leads to conversion, for Owenson the logic of conversion thwarts the romance elements in the novel. What is the ideological significance of such differences? West's novel is also interesting because she uses the religious and political intolerance of the Puritan revolution to idealize the moderation of the established church. Indeed, her novel could be fruitfully compared to Scott's Old Mortality or even William Godwin's Mandeville (1817), which also deals with the Puritan Revolution.

  20. I close the course with James Hogg's Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824), and the historical and religious context covered in Scott's Old Mortality works well for studying Hogg's novel. Indeed, as Douglas Mack has argued, Hogg's novel can be seen as a response to Scott's novel. Mack's essay, in fact, is a good starting point for discussion of this novel, for it forces students to consider how his treatment of the religious fanaticism of the Covenanters may differ from Scott. Hogg, though, can be quite slippery for students to pin down because the multiple narrators that he uses increase the ironies of this text. The editor closes his account of the actions in the novel by concluding: "We have heard much of the rage of fanaticism in former days, but nothing to this" (116). Thus, in one sense, Hogg attacks religious fanaticism of a similar sort that Scott critiques in his novel. The protagonist, Robert Wringhim, guided by intolerance and fanaticism, is led to commit a number of murders. However, it is useful for students to compare the motives of Burley with those of Wringhim, for whereas Burley uses political fanaticism for political purposes, Wringhim genuinely appears to believe his actions are justified, especially as he is increasingly led astray by the dubious figure of Gil-Martin. A sharper theological edge in Hogg's text stems from his depiction of Wringhim's reliance on the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination, which leads him to believe himself one of the justified and thus above any laws. Moreover, Hogg's portrayal of Wringhim gains greater depth, since he shows how the logic of misreading religious texts can lead to acts of violence. Also, while Scott focuses on the political and historical ramifications of religious fanaticism in Old Mortality, Hogg appears to situate the effects more personally. The very fact that Hogg likewise focuses on late seventeenth-century religious fanaticism, however, indicates that these issues still had political weight and meaning.

  21. One way to structure a discussion of both Scott and Hogg is to focus on why these authors chose to focus on this particular historical moment and its religious controversies. What contemporary issues made the depiction of religious fanaticism so important to them? One direction to steer students is to lead them to the Scottish origin of both of these texts. Students should investigate the extent to which the Covenanting tradition is important to Scottish national identity and what particular nineteenth-century debates over the evangelical movement or even Scottish nationality may have contributed to Hogg's novel. How is Hogg mediating these contemporary political issues through his novel? Both writers tackle Scotland in the exceptionally turbulent years before the Act of Union. In what ways may they view the anglicizing of the Scots over the next one hundred years or so as positive? How can religious belief become a peg to national/ethnic identity? To what extent is Scott's depiction of the Covenanters balanced? Hogg's? To get at these issues, students can examine the complex narrative structure of this novel. The novel consists of three frames, and each of these frames cast doubt upon what precisely happened. Indeed, after the initial account by the professional editor, we get Wringhim's firsthand account of his life. Though clearly some of the same atrocious acts occurred, readers are led into a better understanding of and sympathy for Wringhim as they clearly see how he has been deceived or even deceived himself. Furthermore, readers can also see what sort of gaps, omissions, or even contradictions may have occurred in the supposedly objective narrator's account. This combination of looking at formal elements to explain ideological similarities and differences provides students with a balance of close reading and social and political context.

  22. From Lucas to Hogg, students in this course tackle a variety of issues connected with the topic of religion. Rather than seeing the novels in this course as moving in a linear, historical trajectory, I see them instead as wrapping around like a spiral staircase. For example, the context of the Irish Rebellion and the French Revolution leads to a consideration of how particular religious debates are deeply connected to ideas of nationhood. When we arrive at Hogg, it may appear that the debates about religious enthusiasm have been individualized and psychologized, but it is difficult to ignore the particular role of the Covenanters in creating a Scottish national identity. Indeed, such implications become even clearer if Hogg is read immediately after Scott. Hamilton, Owenson, and Shelley all project the problems of religious enthusiasm and toleration to other countries, but they appear to do so merely as a device for commenting upon the importance of religion for Britain's political situation as well as for its identity, especially as a colonial power. These novels, then, in dealing with different religious debates and political realities, all turn upon a concept of national identity. Moving from Lucas to Hogg, then, in some ways means treading the same ground but on a different level or in a different register.

  23. In providing the above narrative of this course in Romantic-era fiction, the particular discussion points I raised are intended to be descriptive rather than prescriptive. Students certainly will find their own particular connections or ideas, and these are welcomed. I do believe, however, that a focus on a particular political and/or social issue is a good way to show the ideological coherence and contradictions within Romantic-era fiction. Moreover, though students may not take up specific questions and/or problems raised by the course within their research, such a framework does provide students something firm to hold onto and even to argue against. Such a foundation, it seems, is necessary even in an upper-level course. This is not to say, of course, that religion is the only focus that would work. Yet starting with narrower issues such as religious enthusiasm or toleration can give students a way to access these novels while also opening them up to the broader debates that inform Romantic-era fiction.

  24. One area that I addressed specifically above only a few times but that I try to weave throughout the course is discussion of formal issues. A comparison of formal elements of these novels (such as narrative structure or even generic choices) allows students to begin mapping out their definition of the Romantic-era novel. Indeed, at the end of such a course, a final-exam essay could lead to that very question. Given what they have learned throughout the course, how would they define Romantic-era fiction? What are its concerns? What sorts of devices does it use to represent these concerns? In what ways do formal concerns mesh with ideological positions? Moreover, it is useful to combine analysis of formal and generic devices with political and ideological analysis to further interrogate how form and function are related. Also, a thread that runs through this course is how the novel changes throughout the Romantic era. I ask students to look for changes in how particular themes are represented and how the form of the novel itself has changed from Lucas to Hogg.

  25. Finally, by focusing on this particular course, I also want to emphasize the need for more scholarship in Romantic-era fiction. I believe historical context is important, and I hope that my suggestions are helpful for students, but this course might look very different if there were more secondary materials on specific novels. Also, I have pointed toward the necessity of using student reports or assigning research projects in order to cover novels that are not widely available. Though publishers like Broadview and Valancourt and online resources have greatly altered the landscape of what is available, this area of scholarly production appears to me the one that most affects how Romantic-era fiction is taught. As teachers, we need to support the venues that contribute to this field (I choose Broadview texts whenever possible) and to consider alternate ways of making this material available (possibly online). The result can be an even more vigorous debate about what defines Romantic-era fiction, and this debate certainly would help energize teaching of this subject.

I would like to thank the anonymous readers for their specific, helpful comments and my colleague Kathleen Leicht for her valuable suggestions on improving the critical introduction assignment.

Works Cited

Balfour, Ian. The Rhetoric of Romantic Prophecy. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2002.

Canuel, Mark. Religion, Toleration, and British Writing, 1790-1830. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002.

Colley, Linda. Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837. New Haven: Yale UP, 1992.

Godwin, William. Mandeville: A Tale of the Seventeenth Century in England. London: Longman, 1817.

Goldsmith, Steven. Unbuilding Jerusalem: Apocalypse and Romantic Representation. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993.

Hamilton, Elizabeth. Translations of the Letters of a Hindoo Rajah. Ed. Pamela Perkins and Shannon Russell. Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 1999.

Hogg, James. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Ed. Adrian Hunter. Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2001.

Hume, David. Essays: Moral, Political, and Literary. Ed. T.H. Green and T.H. Grose. Aalen: Scientia Verlag, 1964. Indianapolis: Liberty Classics, 1987.

Jager, Colin. The Book of God: Secularization and Design in the Romantic Era. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2007.

Lucas, Charles. The Infernal Quixote. Ed. M.O. Grenby. Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2004.

Macaulay, Thomas Babington. The Complete Works of Lord Macaulay. London: Longmans, 1898.

Mack, Douglas. "'The Rage of Fanaticism in Former Days': James Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner and the Controversy over Old Mortality." Nineteenth-Century Scottish Fiction. Ed. Ian Campbell. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1979.

McCalman, Iain. Radical Underworld: Prophets, Revolutionaries, and Pornographers in London, 1795-1840. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988.

Mill, James. The History of British India. 5th ed. 10 vols. Ed. Horace Hayman Wilson. London: J. Madden, 1858.

Mee, Jon. Romanticism, Enthusiasm, and Regulation: Poetics and the Policing of Culture in the Romantic Period. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003.

Mellor, Anne K. Mothers of the Nation: Women's Political Writing in England, 1780-1830. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2000.

More, Hannah. The Works of Hannah More. 5 Vols. London: H. Fisher, 1836.

Newman, Gerald. The Rise of English Nationalism: A Cultural History, 1720-1830. New York: St. Martin 's, 1987.

Owenson, Sydney. The Missionary. Ed. Julia Wright. Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 2002.

Porter, Anna Marie. Don Sebastian; or, the House of Braganza. An Historical Romance in Four Volumes. London: Longman, 1809.

Priestman, Martin. Romantic Atheism: Poetry and Freethought, 1780-1830. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999.

Roe, Nicholas. Keats and the Culture of Dissent. Oxford: Clarendon, 1997.

Ryan, Robert M. The Romantic Reformation: Religious Politics in English Literature, 1789-1824. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997.

Scott, Walter. The Tale of Old Mortality. Ed. Douglas Mack. London: Penguin, 1999.

Shelley, Mary. Valperga. Ed. Tilottama Rajan. Peterborough, ON: Broadview, 1998.

Ulmer, William A. The Christian Wordsworth, 1798-1805. Albany: State University of New York P, 2001.

Vidler, Alec R. The Church in an Age of Revolution. Rev. ed. London: Penguin, 1974.

West, Jane. The Advantages of Education. Ed. Gina Luria. 2 vols. New York: Garland, 1974.

---. The Loyalists: An Historical Novel. London: Longman, 1812.

---. Tale of the Times. Ed. Gina Lurie. 3 vols. New York: Garland, 1974.

White, Daniel E. Early Romanticism and Religious Dissent. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2006.

Wilberforce, William. A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Higher and Middle Classes, Contrasted with Real Christianity. New York: American Tract Society, 1850.

Wood, Lisa. Modes of Discipline: Women, Conservatism, and the Novel after the French Revolution. Lewisburg: Bucknell UP, 2003.


[1] For example, see Ian Balfour's The Rhetoric of Romantic Prophecy; Mark Canuel's Religion, Toleration, and British Writing; Steven Goldsmith's Unbuilding Jerusalem; Colin Jager's The Book of God: Secularization and Design in the Romantic Era; Martin Priestman's Romantic Atheism; Nicholas Roe's Keats and the Culture of Dissent; Robert M. Ryan's The Romantic Reformation; William A. Ulmer's The Christian Wordsworth, 1798- 1805; and Daniel E. White's Early Romanticism and Religious Dissent. Though these texts deal primarily with Romantic-era poetry, Ryan's book contains a chapter on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Also, Canuel provides chapters on Radcliffe's Gothic novels and Edgeworth's national tales that specifically deal with religious toleration. Though I do not include the books Canuel discusses in his study in the course I outline above, these novels would, of course, work quite well. I find his discussion of religious toleration especially helpful in framing a course on the Romantic-era novel and will show how I integrate his study into my class.

[2] For specific references that might be useful for instructors in creating such an introduction to the religious background, please consult the additional resources section.

[3] For a brief but helpful account of the movement toward Catholic Emancipation, see Linda Colley's Britons (324-34).

[4] To reduce the amount of reading from Mee, it also works to substitute his much shorter introduction for chapter one. Though certainly less detailed, Mee's introduction also provides an overview of the development of the "discourse on enthusiasm."

[5] I address ways of dealing with the paucity of modern editions of Romantic-era novels and provide an example of a research project in my assignment supplement.

[6] In fact, a good novel for individual student research that could help supplement this discussion is West's The Advantages of Education (1793), which contrasts the educations of Maria Williams and Charlotte Raby. West's providential worldview, her emphasis on duty and virtue, and her anti-romance stance all seem characteristically conservative, but these issues actually can reveal points of affinities with Wollstonecraft's texts on education.