British Romanticism and the Catholic Question: Religion, History and National Identity, 1778-1829, by Michael Tomko. New York: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2011. Pp. 224. $105.00. ISBN: 9780230279513

Reviewed by Mary Ann Rooks
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.9
Cite: Mary Ann Rooks, review of British Romanticism and the Catholic Question: Religion, History and National Identity, 1778-1829, by Michael Tomko, Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment 1, no. 1 (fall 2018): 28-30, doi: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.9

Michael Tomko’s British Romanticism and the Catholic Question: Religion, History and National Identity 1778–1829 analyzes historical events, cultural anxieties, and discourse related to Parliamentary considerations of acts addressing oppressive restrictions on Catholics (leading up to and including the 1829 passage of the Catholic Emancipation Act) to demonstrate the ways Romantic-era literature participates in the period’s politically charged conversations about religious tolerance and national identity. In the years spanned by this study, tensions between Britons who viewed Catholicism as a threat to the nation and those who took pride in the nation’s progressive values led to heated disputes, political upheaval, and bloodshed. Tomko’s comprehensive biographical, historical, literary analysis delineates how the key authors in the study—Elizabeth Inchbald, William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Sir Walter Scott—use fiction to proffer means of containing or moving forward from these tensions. Tomko highlights the following: (1) questions of British national identity (enmeshed in often paradoxical beliefs about religious tolerance, the valuing of England’s medieval Catholic past, enlightenment ideologies, and conceptions of progress, morality, and modernity); (2) British Romanticism’s celebrated “spirit of the age,” with its characteristic endorsement of the via media and the transformative power of the individual imagination, as informed by the hopes and failures of the French Revolution and fear of Catholicism (by some associated with primitivism, superstition, and the tyranny of the papacy); (3) the realized and continuing potential for violent eruptions attributed to religious enthusiasm (witnessed by, for instance, the Gordon Riots); and (4) the political, aesthetic, and cultural import of Romantic texts grappling with all of the above.

The introduction and first chapter adroitly set the stage for subsequent analysis of representative literary engagements with the Catholic Question in chapters two through five, and for a discussion of the reverberations of the 1929 passage of Catholic Emancipation in the conclusion. Building on a quotation from Leigh Hunt that highlights the contrast between celebrating the progress of an enlightened age and the failure of Parliament to comprehensively repeal anti-Catholic regulations (instituted by the Test and Corporation Acts), in the introduction Tomko illustrates the widespread impact of the Catholic Question, identifies key issues and tensions that inform the study, and situates his study in the field of scholarship. Divided into four sections (1778–1800, 1800–1807, 1807–1815,1815–1822), Chapter 1 uses historical markers to break down the “culture wars” surrounding sectarian tensions. Together, the segments create a detailed, carefully documented, complex portrait of the historical events and movements, important figures and polemicists, arguments and positions that inform literary and other engagements of the Catholic Question.

In his Chapter 2 analysis of Inchbald’s A Simple Story, Tomko compellingly argues that the marriage of Dorriforth and Miss Milner, part of a national tale, speaks to Protestant-Catholic tensions by offering a “model of social healing and reconciliation” (60) because the prospective pair, opposites in their personalities and backgrounds, find ways each to expand the other’s understanding and to address differences. As modeled here, the key to addressing conflicts is meeting often and talking through differences—keeping the lines of communication open—and learning to exercise sympathy, kindness, and forgiveness. In contrast, Part II of A Simple Story illustrates, in Tomko’s insightful reading, the “hardening effects of sectarianism and fundamentalism” (80) in the partitioning of the home and cruelty of Lord Elmwood. Resentment builds, and sympathy cannot penetrate it when parties do not encounter each other. Part II concludes, Tomko argues, with an open-ended optimism because Matilda and her father begin to heal wounds and practice “choosing sympathy over resentment” (85). Inchbald’s answer to the Catholic Question is, thus, not legislation, the burying of the past, or assimilation, but a recognition of mutual suffering, an acceptance of difference, and a choice to practice compassion.

Wordsworth and Shelley, Tomko points out in the third and fourth chapters, approach the Catholic Question from opposite sides and come to divergent conclusions, but both take a stance on the role of history and the function of poetry. Paying particular attention to The Excursion, Essays and Epitaphs, and Ecclesiastical Sketches, Tomko illustrates Wordsworth’s “aesthetic solution,” which promotes healing through the potentially unifying experience of regulated superstition in historically significant, often sacred, communal space. Though promoting superstition and dwelling on churches and abbeys runs the risk of raising fears of a return to papal ideologies, Wordsworth (staunchly opposed to Catholic Emancipation) mollifies this risk by, for example, consigning Catholic associations to memory and a fixed past as well as relying on Britons’ secure moral sense of sincere spirituality and longstanding national history of rejecting enthusiasm for the via media. In contrast to Wordsworth’s saturation in the past, Shelley promotes poetry that transcends historical specificity, avoiding the narrow perspective of the moment in favor of universals and the promise of stadial progress. Building on an engaging discussion of Shelley’s disappointing trip to Ireland and Irish influences in Italy, Tomko reveals in Shelley’s The Cenci a drama informed by the poet’s theoretical stance and the ambivalence he felt toward Irish Catholics after his fight to defeat religious persecution was shadowed by fears that historic grievances would not be left in the past but, instead, lead to violence. Catholics (in Italy and largely), in this line of argument, may be so mired in convention, bigotry, and corruption that they cannot embrace reform. Beatrice offers hope of transcendence in the play, with her potentially transformative gaze and opportunity to cut bonds with the society that permits her oppression and abuse. Her ultimate failure to break from the cycle of violence and the social system that supports it Tomko convincingly reads as a comment on the Catholic Question; Shelley’s support for Catholic Emancipation is evidently complicated by a conviction that emancipation is only available to those willing and able to let go of past grievances and cut ties to regressive, morally degraded social systems and religious ideologies.

Chapter 5 homes in on the tension between the Saxons, Normans, and English Jews in Ivanhoe, in which Tomko sees Scott’s exploration of the difficulties of a nation divided by tribalism. Scott, it becomes evident, uses his medieval historical tale to expose the dangers of sectarian loyalty and parochialism, particularly as buffered by shared memory of insult and injury. Despite patterns of violence and multiple setbacks in the exchanges between the particular communities, however, in this study the novel is shown to offer the hope of a new conciliatory ideal. Refining the national marriage plot, Ivanhoe and Rowena are ready to give up their historical identity (as Saxons) and embrace a new, progressive national identity; they embrace a rational, self-regulated via media. Tomko points out that this resolution is not without complications; it may reduce the impact of historic wounds and grievances, but it sacrifices to the new national ethos memories and practices that may be vital to groups’ or individuals’ particular ethos.

Throughout the text and into the last chapter, Tomko seamlessly draws together the many intersecting threads of his investigation, introduced in his first two chapters, essential to a richer understanding of select Romantic authors’ engagement of the Catholic Question. Competing conceptions of British national identity, biographical details, historical events, and cultural anxieties, and the interplay of political, literary, and other forms of cultural discourses negotiating competing ideologies, for example, richly inform his analysis of the character, plot, setting, form, aesthetic, and other choices of poets undeniably engaging in contemporary debates about religious freedom. Tomko closes the study by demonstrating that the debates in which Romantic-era poets engaged did not end with the passage of The Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829. He points out, for example, that works by Edward William Cox and J. M. W. Turner celebrate a new, post-Catholic Emancipation sense of British superiority that might be seen as feeding imperialist ideologies, while authors like Coleridge and Southey warned that this kind of religious reform could create an inroad for the papacy. As is reliably gratifying of Tomko’s writing, these polar responses are balanced by another perspective, that of John Henry Newman, arguing that Romantic ideologies and Enlightenment progress might, together, translate into an irenic valuing of secular, sectarian, partisan beliefs as parts of a complexly unified, healthy community. On the whole, British Romanticism and the Catholic Question is an engaging, thoroughly researched, richly informative study that rewards readers with a deeper understanding of the complexities of the era’s religious tensions and the cultural products that engaged them.

Empiricist Devotions: Science, Religion, and Poetry in Early Eighteenth-Century England, by Courtney Weiss Smith. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2016. Pp. 288. $40.81. ISBN: 9780813938387.

Reviewed by Robin Runia
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.8
Cite: Robin Runia, review of Empiricist Devotions: Science, Religion, and Poetry in Early Eighteenth-Century England, by Courtney Weiss Smith, Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment 1, no. 1 (fall 2018): 31-32, doi: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.8

In Empiricist Devotions, Courtney Weiss Smith offers an extended examination of the premise central to the work of Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment, that the long eighteenth century was not a secular age. Her specific focus applies this premise specifically to the world of science to conclude that natural philosophy in the early eighteenth century was not secular, and that, despite its empiricist methods, it was a science founded on Christian belief. She supports this conclusion by detailing the tendency of specific natural philosophers to engage in the practice of “occasional reflection,” or, in other words, examining particulars of the natural world as representatives of Providential creation capable of providing humans moral and ethical direction. This practice, which Smith also alternately calls “occasional meditation” and “meditative empiricism” is defined by the process of analogizing human behavior according to the truths of nature God has provided as model or manual. With this observation, Smith goes on to insist on the shared methodology of poetry and natural philosophy in her examination of a number of important thinkers and writers from the period.

In Chapter 1, Smith recontextualizes Robert Boyle, detailing how his Occasional Reflections (1665) “brought together serious science and Protestant devotional techniques to forge an empiricist method for reading ‘The Book of Nature’” (33). She also argues that just as Robert Hooke’s work with microscopes led him to examine the minutia of natural phenomena, correlate, and hypothesize skeptical application, his “meditative empiricism” led him to examine, analogize, and reach provisional conclusions about Nature’s suggestions for human behavior. The contemporary popularity of this kind of thinking and writing is suggested as evidence of a revolutionary power giving individuals the power to identify truths about the natural world, the moral world, and the God who made each.

Chapter 2, “Deus in Machina” provides a fascinating reading of the debate between Isaac Newton and G. W. Leibnitz. Smith returns to this debate in order to provide a compelling alternative reading of Newton’s analogy of the clockwork world. Instead of seeing in Newton’s analogy no role for an active God, Smith examines a variety of contemporary texts that insist on comparing Newton’s observed natural laws to an active Providential force in the world. Examining works by George Berkeley and George Cheyne, as well as a poem by James Thomson, Smith argues that Newton’s particular representation of God’s corrective hand as clockmaker defined the empirical thought of natural scientists and poets alike.

In the next two chapters, “Money, Meaning and a ‘Foundation in Nature’” and “Empiricist Subjects, Providential Nature, and Social Contracts,” Smith offers an exciting glimpse of the power of interdisciplinary work. She first refutes claims that the eighteenth century’s path to modernization involved increasing abstraction and alienation of human society from the natural world. By comparing Tory and Whig writing on the coinage crisis closing the seventeenth century, Smith proves the tendency of thinkers, regardless of their political views to invoke “empirical devotion” to justify their arguments. Her subsequent analysis of it-narratives convincingly explains the power of the natural world to speak to humans and suggest moral truths. Similarly, her comparison between the social contract theorization of Lord Bolingbroke with that of Alexander Pope illustrates the shaping of poetic work by a belief in the power of Nature to inform human relations and communities. Following this with a comparison between the social contract theorization of John Locke and Daniel Defoe further insists on the need for today’s scholars to nuance traditional narratives of Whig progressivism and Tory nostalgia through nuanced close reading of texts, poetic and otherwise.

The book’s last chapter finally provides the sustained focus on poetry promised by its title. Here, Smith contextualizes georgic poetry according to its seventeenth-century roots in the agricultural manual. She traces the transition of the agricultural manual tradition and its rejection of the imaginative or poetic elements of Virgil’s Georgics to an eighteenth-century fusion of empirical meditation complete with personification, periphrases, and allusion. For Smith, georgic poetry evolved to become emblematic of the empirical meditative method. Observation of the natural world is used to analogize, in increasingly complex ways, human truths.

Ultimately, Smith provides close and compelling readings of texts often overlooked by scholars as well as alternative readings of texts often relegated to opposite disciplinary or ideological corners. Unfortunately, the book has a tendency to exaggerate some of these oppositions, failing to acknowledge the recent larger trend of the field to nuance and reconsider the narratives of modernization and secularization that had dominated eighteenth-century studies for so long. In addition, University of Virginia Press’s use of endnotes, as opposed to footnotes, exacerbates this tendency, burying much of Smith’s informed scholarly engagement between the end of her argument and her index. Nevertheless, this book provides an exemplary model of thoroughly reasoned, impeccably researched, and insightful close reading valuable to anyone interested in natural science, religion, and literature during the British Enlightenment.

Popularizing Anti-Semitism in Early Modern Spain and Its Empire: Francisco de Torrejoncillo and the Centinela contra Judíos (1674), by François Soyer. Leiden: Brill, 2014. Pp. 346. $145. ISBN: 9789004250475.

Reviewed by Enid Valle
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.7
Cite: Enid Valle, review of Popularizing Anti-Semitism in Early Modern Spain and its Empire: Francisco de Torrejoncillo and the Centinela contra Judíos (1674), by François Soyer, Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment 1, no. 1 (fall 2018): 33-35, doi: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.7

The last few years have witnessed an increase in the number of publications in Jewish Studies that address topics in diverse disciplines, ranging from ancient art and history, to religion, to political analysis of the most recent events that have affected Jews around the world. The sensitive and ever-present question of the origin of anti-Judaism, and its related term of more recent coinage, “anti-Semitism,” is a subject that remains essential to scholarly inquiry, notably among historians and literary critics who specialize in the Iberian Peninsula. François Soyer’s volume Popularizing Anti-Semitism in Early Modern Spain and its Empire joins the best studies on Jews and Spain of the most recent decade. In it he provides an annotated English translation of Centinela contra Judíos puesta en la Torre de la Iglesia de Dios (1674), along with an introduction containing an extensive and valuable history and analysis of the work.

Centinela contra Judíos was published in 1674 in Madrid. By the end of the eighteenth century the work had gone through nine editions in Spain (1674–1736), four editions in Portuguese translation (1684–1748), and a partial publication in Mexico (1775). Its author, Francisco de Torrejoncillo, was a Franciscan friar from the southwestern region of Extremadura in Spain who in 1673 joined a missionary trip to the Philippines and remained there until his death in 1704. According to Soyer’s biographical reconstruction, the friar most likely never saw a published volume of his own work. Torrejoncillo himself acknowledged that he did not write anything new or original, but rather culled ideas and narratives from a variety of sources for his intended purpose: to serve as an ideological lookout, a sentinel in the Tower of the Church, from which to protect and defend the Catholic Church from the threat posed by conversos—Jews who, before and after the 1492 expulsion from Spain of Jews and Muslims, had been forced to convert or face persecution. Throughout the following two centuries, the converso population became sizable, and the perceived “judaizing” inclinations of those conversos became one of the Inquisition’s major concerns. As a result, between 1630 and 1730 persecution intensified. By the 1670s Torrejoncillo became convinced that “crypto-Judaism was rife amongst the conversos of Spain and Portugal” (Soyer 8) and composed the Centinela contra Judíos, which Soyer describes as “an apologia of the Inquisition and its activity against the threat of crypto-judaizing heretics” (14). Torrejoncillo believed that any Jewish ancestry in an individual, no matter how remote, meant that the converso still held secret Jewish beliefs, a widely held notion reflected in the test known as “limpieza de sangre” (“purity of blood”), which was designed to determine an individual’s heritage.

Other anti-Jewish treatises, as vitriolic as Centinela contra Judíos, had been in circulation before, but because they were not easily accessible their readership was more limited. According to Soyer, several facts make Centinela contra Judíos a volume worthy of study: this polemic/apology is the first of its kind written in vernacular Spanish (Castilian); its style and organization show that it was aimed at the lay person; and it was reasonably priced. Such factors made possible the book’s wider circulation in Spain and the colonies. According to Soyer, Centinela contra Judíos inspired a subgenre of works that not only imitated Torrejoncillo’s style but also even paid homage to the original by including the word “centinela” in their titles—to wit, the Centinela contra Franceses (1808) by the historian and politician Antonio de Capmany (Soyer, 73–74). It is befitting, then, that this influential work has now appeared in an annotated English translation and will be accessible to a wider scholarly audience.

This English translation of Centinela contra Judíos has been carefully thought out. Soyer succeeds in maintaining the tone and cadence of the original while correcting Spanish misspellings, breaking up long paragraphs, and enclosing in parentheses the Spanish translations that Torrejoncillo provided for his Latin citations. All of this, in addition to the uniformity of the typesetting, makes the English version much smoother than the Spanish original (the latter is not included in this volume but can be found online).

In this rigorous scholarly work, Soyer closely examines the scribe Torrejoncillo’s citations of multiple sources in advancing his arguments. Although many errors in those citations can be attributed to the typesetter (mistakes found in page and chapter references of sources, and in some of the sources themselves), Soyer also shows that the Centinela contra Judíos abounds in inaccuracies in chronology, the names of royalty, statistics, dates of events, and the identity of sources. For example, he elucidates how a direct reference to Eusebius was actually alluding to Gratian, whose work was cited incorrectly in Gonzalo de Illescas’s 1602 Historia pontifical, but which was correctly cited in its original 1589 edition (186, n.5).

One assumes that page limitations prevented Soyer from including, along with his substantial critical introduction to and English translation of Centinela contra Judíos, a copy of the Spanish original—an essential tool for Golden Age specialists. Even though the 1674 text is accessible via the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica of the Spanish National Library, a bilingual edition containing the original accompanied by a comparative study of all the editions is still needed and, one hopes, forthcoming; that is to say, a critical edition in the customary way.

Popularizing Anti-Semitism in Early Modern Spain and Its Empire is a handsome hardcover volume whose cover illustration is the 1728 title page of Centinela contra judíos. Maps of Spain, Portugal and the Philippines, and color plates related to Torrejoncillo and his work stir curiosity and invite readers to study the text carefully. Scholars from various disciplines and from subfields such as Transatlantic Studies, Diaspora Studies, and Inquisitorial history, as well as nonacademic readers, would benefit greatly from the extensive and detailed historical knowledge contained in this volume. With that said, the volume suffers from typographical errors both in English and in Spanish, inconsistencies in capitalization and spelling, and recurrent grammatical mistakes. Nevertheless, this study contains a wealth of information useful for scholars in diverse fields and remains accessible and enticing to a variety of readerships.

English Convents in Exile, 1600-1800: Communities, Culture and Identity, edited by Caroline Bowden and James E. Kelly. London and New York: Routledge, 2013. Pp. 336. $115.47. ISBN: 9781409450733.

Reviewed by Alicia Kerfoot
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.6
Cite: Alicia Kerfoot, review of English Convents in Exile, 1600-1800: Communities, Culture and Identity, edited by Caroline Bowden and James E. Kelly, Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment 1, no. 1 (fall 2018): 25-27, doi: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.6


“Who were the nuns?” asks an Arts & Humanities Research Council-funded database of the same name, put in place to identify those who entered English convents abroad after the Reformation ( The contributing authors of English Convents in Exile, 1600–1800, who often cite the database, ask this same question with an interdisciplinary lens in place. In his essay in the collection, Geoffrey Scott gives an example of an 1807 account in which “two seventeenth-century canonesses were reputed to have descended from their portraits as ghosts” (208), while Nicky Hallett observes that the nun Mary Xaveria “represents herself almost as a ghost-writer of her own life-story” (145); both observations speak to a complicated absence-in-presence question that the collection as a whole negotiates. Questions of visibility and invisibility, authority, and narrative construction of identity, permeate all of the essays. For many English nuns in exile, more absorption in the community meant less visibility (as Marie-Louise Coolahan notes in her chapter on Irish nuns in English convents), but practices of communal authorship and cross-border politics discussed in several of the essays make clear the delicate web of influence and interconnection that was part of convent life in exile and which often reveals a complexity of identity rather than obscuring it.

In their introduction to the fourteen essays, Caroline Bowden, James E. Kelly, and Michael C. Questier note that the English convents in exile have not been well-represented in histories of the post-Reformation English Church because historians make “the assumption that if there was . . . any kind of coherent Catholic residual presence within it [the English Church], then it was by and large a hidden one” (1). Bowden and Kelly’s collection does much to correct this oversight, as it offers valuable insights into the history of English convents in exile and the ways that nuns defined themselves both in relation to their English identities and those of the countries in which they settled (9). The book is divided into four parts: “Part I: Communities”; “Part II: Culture: Authorship and Authority”; “Part III: Culture: Patronage and Visual Culture”; and “Part IV: Identity.” Part II is the most cohesive of these, while Part IV seems the most disconnected (with two essays on national identity and one on emotional identity), but this is perhaps because the question of identity is, in fact, central to the entire collection.

In Part I, James E. Kelly discusses how powerful Catholic families in Essex controlled convent recruitment and had a political impact on spiritual disputes in convents abroad (51), while Caroline Bowden looks at those who left convent communities and concludes that “the existence of candidates who failed to take solemn vows, or who left after profession” indicates that convents were managing their own membership (68). Of particular note is Elizabeth Patton’s chapter on Dorothy Arundell, which traces her “transition from an actively apostolic Catholic community . . . operating [in] . . . secrecy in Post-Reformation England—to a cloistered convent in the heart of Catholic Brussels” (20); Patton does this by reading Arundell’s Life of Cornelius in order to understand how she brought her English experience abroad. This way of reading individual and communal written works continues in Part II, which offers several excellent readings of the relationship between individual and group authorship, as well of the responses that nuns had to representations of their communities in other early modern publications. Jenna D. Lay’s analysis of Thomas Robinson’s The Anatomy of the English Nunnery at Lisbon (1622) alongside Syon Abbey’s manuscript response to his pamphlet, offers an especially convincing argument about the way that the nuns were “participants in” and “shapers of” early modern book culture rather than victims of it (73). Lay argues that if we recognize the literary techniques the nuns used to assert their agency, then “we can begin to acknowledge the myriad strategies that early modern nuns used to intervene in contemporary religious politics and thereby prevent the erasure of female intellectual engagement from the historical record” (86). This is an important argument for a collection that is attentive to the ways in which nuns’ identities have been obscured in the historical record.

In her chapter titled “Naming Names,” Victoria Van Hyning identifies the first chronicler of St Monica’s Convent, Louvain, and considers the relationship between her and “several scribes, editors and authors who perpetuated her narrative” (87). She concludes “that the nuns were primarily responsible for the authorial and editorial construction of this work” even though they worked with confessors to produce it (108). In a chapter on Mary Percy, Jaime Goodrich similarly notes that “many of the texts produced in convents were cooperative ventures” (109), and a “recognition of multiple agents allows for a fuller understanding of [Percy’s] self-presentation” (122), while Genelle Gertz considers how Barbara Constable writes her own commentary on confession in order to assert “the abbess’ authority to provide spiritual advice” yet “hides this proposal deep within the text” (124). This hidden narrative that comes to light with close reading is again addressed in Nicky Hallett’s essay on anonymous authorship, in which she uncovers how editorial practices obscured the identities of women authors: “often these women only emerge as authors at their deaths, in retrospective testimony. And it is only then we see how much they shaped the preceding narrative and the historiography surrounding it” (141).

The communal and political motivations for different forms of authorship and editorial practice are themes that continue in the essays that analyze visual culture. Elizabeth Perry’s essay offers a contextual analysis of Syon Abbey’s collaborative creation of an illuminated book charting their exile, meant for presentation to the Infanta María Anna. The illustrated pages are reproduced in color in the collection, and Perry offers analysis of the ways in which these illuminations symbolically and politically narrate the history of the convent. The essays in Part III on book-making, music and portraiture demonstrate connections across borders and time periods that remind the reader of the themes addressed in Part I of the collection, and of how convents did not exist outside of English identity in the period, but rather responded to political and spiritual needs across borders. For example, Geoffrey Scott gives an extensive survey of how portraits of English nuns were influenced by, and in turn influenced, other kinds of visual culture; this includes wax nun dolls, which he notes were “designed either as aids to prayer or as mementoes of exiled daughters” (197). These portraits are reproduced in color in the collection, and give the reader a sense of the many forms that representations of nuns took in the period under study.

In Part IV, Carmen M. Mangion picks up the thread of multifaceted identity when she discusses English convents during the French Revolution, noting that “they relied on their English identities as well as their status as French subjects to meet their objectives; they did not seem to feel a tension between [them]” (263). Mangion also observes that the “experiences of the last of the nuns in exile” need to be explored further, and calls for “the remainder of this story” to be told (263). This call, which the entire collection seems to be both repeating and responding to, is an important one for all of the nuns whose voices and ways of constructing self and community are charted so carefully by the contributors. Who were the nuns, then? This collection offers many answers to that question and does much to undermine the idea that they were anonymous ghosts in the early modern English context.

John Wesley’s Pneumatology: Perceptible Inspiration, by Joseph W. Cunningham. Farnham: Ashgate, 2014. Pp. 173. $57.95. ISBN: 9781138274242.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Galbraith
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.5
Cite: Jeffrey Galbraith, review of John Wesley’s Pneumatology: Perceptible Inspiration, by Joseph W. Cunningham, Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment 1, no. 1 (fall 2018): 22-24, doi: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.5

Inspiration was cause for deep suspicion in eighteenth-century England, regarded as a threat to established religion and the social order following the Civil Wars of the mid-seventeenth century. Jonathan Swift registered his antipathy in A Tale of a Tub (1704). Swift caricatured radical dissenters who claimed private knowledge of the divine, drawing on the Latin root of the word “inspire” to depict them as zealots who fed on air, their minds and bodies distended from pumping each other full of wind. Although such criticism reappeared with the rise of the evangelical movement, inspiration developed more favorable connotations over the course of the century. In John Wesley’s Pneumatology, Joseph W. Cunningham contributes to our understanding of this shift in his interpretive assessment of John Wesley’s writings on the inward witness of the Holy Spirit.

“Pneumatology” is a term from academic theology that refers to the Christian doctrine of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the term’s first appearance in seventeenth-century metaphysics, where it referred to “spirits or spiritual beings” such as angels, demons, and, in general, the human soul (1a). Later, the term briefly became a synonym for “psychology,” reflecting the interest in the mind brought about by Lockean empiricism (1b). This history of usage, with its inflection of Enlightenment philosophy, is significant for understanding how Wesley understood his conversion experience. If Lockean empiricism supplanted the metaphysical study of the soul, Wesley appropriated the new empiricist terminology in continuing to focus on the dialogue between the human spirit and God’s spirit. In May 1738, Wesley received a palpable, spiritual sense of salvation while attending a religious meeting in Aldersgate, London. He recorded in his journal the now well-known sentence, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” Wesley would go on to explain the experience by adapting the Lockean view that knowledge was the result of input from the bodily senses. Just as, for Locke, natural birth marked the moment in which the physical senses began to operate, so for Wesley did spiritual birth mark the moment in which a person was given spiritual senses with which to gather sense impressions of the divine. As he explained in An Earnest Appeal to Men of Reason and Religion (1743), “Faith, according to the scriptural account, is the eye of the new-born soul.” Inward feelings of warmth and joy accompanied this new knowledge as the means of assuring an individual of his or her salvation.

Cunningham draws on sermons, pamphlets, and journal entries to offer a more coherent assessment of Wesley’s account of spiritual sensation. The result of this synthesis, he argues, is to clarify Wesley’s value for current postfoundationalist theology. The monograph begins by showing Wesley’s contribution to a pamphlet exchange with the pseudonymous “John Smith,” which was most likely the pseudonym of Thomas Secker, then Bishop of Oxford. Like many Latitudinarian clergy, “Smith” held the cessationist view that, unlike in the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit no longer communicated directly to the individual. Subsequent chapters build a case for Wesley’s challenge to rationalist epistemology. In chapter 2, “Grace as Pneumatological Operation,” Cunningham uses Wesley’s doctrine of the Holy Spirit to explain how God acts in the world. Grace, for Wesley, is a “prevenient” gift that works before the experience of conversion, such that “wherever goodness, charity and devotion to God are present, so too is the Spirit’s power” (46). In chapter 3, “Faith as Pneumatological Operation,” Cunningham explores the implications of pneumatology for thinking about faith. For Wesley, “[t]he Spirit empowers us to know God and imbues us with basic epistemic and moral faculties” (63). If, for Wesley, faith is a faculty of knowing that goes beyond reason, pneumatology is essential for understanding how faith is generated in the believer.

Whereas these chapters largely focus on the explication of key passages in Wesley’s writings, the fourth chapter is more interpretive in its method, examining how Wesley developed his claims about the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit over the course of his life. Cunningham shows that, although Wesley continued to emphasize the possibility of direct spiritual encounter, he was forced to qualify his claims in response to what he regarded as abuses and misunderstandings. Such was the challenge presented by the Maxfield-Bell controversy of the early 1760s, when two Methodist preachers prophesied that the end of the world was nigh. Cunningham draws an instructive distinction between Wesley’s understanding of the direct and indirect witness of the Spirit. Whereas the direct witness relies on subjective apprehension of inward feeling, the indirect witness is “a posterior cognitive response” mediated through reason, which “serves to confirm one’s religious experience through conscience and holy living” (80). As a form of self-awareness or reflexivity, the indirect witness of the Spirit helps to understand how “perceptible inspiration” involves much more than a moment-to-moment awareness of physical emotion. The fifth chapter, “The Fruits of the Spirit as Pneumatological Operation,” contributes to this understanding by examining Wesley’s pneumatology in light of the turn to virtue ethics. Scholars interested in Wesley’s approach to ethics have tended to focus on the account of perfect love, which the Methodist preacher regraded as the telos of the Christian life. Cunningham argues convincingly, however, that the Spirit’s prior, progressive influence on affect and disposition is more relevant for understanding Wesley’s approach to virtue. Cunningham’s language in this chapter reveals his interest in providing a more solid ground for Wesleyan pneumatology than what is suggested by the emphasis on inward feeling. The believer must sense God’s love but also practice it. Love becomes a process in which one “cultivates” practical wisdom, so that it “takes root in one’s heart and life” (115). This view of love “gives pragmatic steel to [Wesley’s] doctrine of Christian perfection or perfect love” (emphasis mine, 116). For Cunningham, the strange warmth experienced by Wesley at Aldersgate takes concrete, tangible shape in the form of the virtues known as the “fruits of the Spirit.”

Whereas Wesley’s writings are often regarded as pastoral in nature, John Wesley’s Pneumatology seeks to provide a theological interpretation of Wesley’s views on participating with God through the Holy Spirit. Cunningham meets this modest interpretive goal, though one wishes that he had done more to explain the relevance of Wesley’s epistemology for current academic conversations. Cunningham provides ample evidence for the claim that Wesley’s account of “direct religious experience challenges the very structure of knowledge itself as defined by foundationalist prescriptions for what makes a noetic structure rational” (104). Yet, given the wide swath cut by such a claim, we are left to wonder how the account of “perceptible inspiration” may illuminate specific debates in current academic theology. Many readers will perhaps find it sufficient, as Cunningham desires, to have gained from John Wesley’s Pneumatology a consistent, coherent, and more clearly drawn account of Wesley’s doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

John Eliot and the Praying Indians of Massachusetts Bay: Communities and Connections in Puritan New England, by Kathryn Gray. Bucknell University Press, 2015. Pp. 192. $44.99. ISBN: 9781611486919.

Reviewed by Brian Fehler
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.4
Cite: Brian Fehler, review of John Eliot and the Praying Indians of Massachusetts Bay: Communities and Connections in Puritan New England, by Kathryn N. Gray, Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment 1, no. 1 (fall 2018): 17-19, doi: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.4.

Scholars in fields such as colonial American history and literature, religious studies, and rhetoric will welcome Kathryn N. Gray’s John Eliot and the Praying Indians of Massachusetts Bay: Communities and Connections in Puritan New England. Eliot is best known to history as the “Apostle to the Indians,” a colonial missionary in New England, one who used his voice and sermons to persuade the Native population. Eliot was also a man of letters, one who used his pen to write letters to correspondents across the Atlantic and produce a grammar and Bible in the Massachusett language.

The first chapter of the book, “Private Petitions and Transatlantic Discursive Communities,” tells the story of Eliot’s correspondence with his patrons and supporters in England. Gray argues that “the promotional agenda of Eliot’s first surviving letter [of 1633] reveals something of the man who would go on to spend around fifty years of his life tirelessly promoting his missionary cause by petitioning friends, clergymen, and patrons in England for sufficient money and goods to allow him to devote his time to the conversion of Algonquins to Christianity” (3). Many of Eliot’s letters during those long years of correspondence were published as tracts, especially those written to the Corporation for the Propagation of the Gospel. In these published letters, especially, Gray persuasively argues, Eliot invented the image of the “praying Indian” an entirely “new cultural type” (22). The image of the praying Indian helped Eliot convince his readers that New England was, in fact, a fertile ground for conversions. The rhetorical power of the image of the praying Indian, as employed by Eliot, is convincing and adds to our understanding of Eliot’s rhetorical skill.

Chapter 2, “Dedicated Dignitaries and the Christian Reader,” presents, in its most fascinating parts, a picture of the work that took place between Natives and those colonials who took down in writing the Native oral religious confessions. Missionaries to the Indians, not only Eliot, realized that the Natives’ words needed to be presented in such a way that supporters were likely to be compelled by the accounts. Thus, Gray writes, the interpreters’ “own ideological motives are often thinly veiled by their apparent objectivism, and the written words become part of a cultural performance” (41). The cultural performance of a similar or different kind, of course, could certainly be traced back to the oral performance of the praying Indian, but Gray rightly recognizes the special performative nature of the written narratives.

Chapter 3, “Speech, Space, and Religious (Re-)Affirmation,” continues the discussion of speech acts, here with attention to the spaces, such as churches, and their relationship to speech etiquette. When Eliot spoke at the Cambridge Synod, an institution itself that was a “powerful and controversial feature of religious and civil governance in New England,” Natives were invited to listen (64). During these times, listeners were permitted to question the speaker, and agency was “given over to the Algonquin participants as they are granted the right to challenge and question their colonial interlocutor” (64). Other spaces, such as penitents’ own homes, provided less formal speech opportunities, yet Gray shows that the coming together of colonials and Natives in particular spaces shaped the interactions that occurred in those spaces.

In Chapter 4, Gray turns her attention, as the title suggests, to “Christian Indian Women in Seventeenth-Century New England.” In the accounts Eliot wrote of Native conversions, women were unnamed, but, as Gray writes, the “influence of women over their families’ faith is notable from the earliest of Eliot’s accounts of tribal life” (91). Gray shows that women had influence in their roles as mothers and healers, even though their conversion accounts were not recorded as often as those of the men of the tribe. Still, Eliot did give more than occasional attention to the work of the women, including providing in a letter an eyewitness account of one Christian Indian woman during the crisis of King Philip’s War. Gray successfully shows that, though “voices of Christian Indian women are buried deeply in the documents, letters, and narratives of colonial ministers and missionaries,” they appeared nonetheless (116). Gray especially contributes to our understanding of Eliot’s mission by showing that “women were consciously constructed as a separate and influential reception community for his religious teachings” (116). Women needed to accept his missionary message, Eliot rightly supposed, for his conversion efforts to be successful; therefore, Eliot “courted” the “unique influence” of women on the life of the mission (116).

In the last chapter, “A Reading Community,” Gray takes up the topic of Native literacy. Noting that some Natives attended school and others had developed a system of marks, Gray writes: “From the academic excellence of the college students to the marks of Narragansett leaders, the spectrum of literacy in Native communities in the Massachusetts Bay area was great indeed” (123). Natives had various opportunities to learn to write in English or their own language: using Eliot’s grammar as a guide, working as scribes, even attending Harvard’s Indian College. Gray effectively shows that the Native writers, once able to communicate in text and print, eventually learned to control their own messages; though John Eliot represented the praying Indians in his own writings for decades, they would eventually be able to take up the pen for themselves and in increasing numbers.

Kathryn N. Gray’s John Eliot and the Praying Indians of Massachusetts Bay provides a fresh insight into this famous missionary’s work. By concentrating on the communities involved in the mission work—his own religious peers in New England, sponsors in England, Native men and women—Gray allows us to appreciate the varied rhetorical negotiations achieved in each case. In doing so, Gray presents us with an Eliot who emerges as a skilled orator in New England, as we already knew, but also a persuasive writer who kept his varied audiences firmly in mind.

Textual Warfare and the Making of Methodism, by Brett McInelly. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. Pp. 256. $20.00. ISBN: 9780198708940.

Reviewed by Kathryn Duncan
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.3
Cite: Kathryn Duncan, review of Textual warfare and the making of Methodism, by B. McInelly, Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment 1, no. 1 (fall 2018): 17-19, doi: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.3.

Using a balanced mixture of canonical and non-canonical texts, Brett McInelly argues that the dialectical relationship between textual attacks on Methodism and Methodist responses did much to form the Methodist movement itself. While other studies have documented this “warfare,” as the title calls it, McInelly’s work moves beyond cataloging and historicizing to make a rhetorical argument based upon the theories of Kenneth Burke, thereby contributing new insight. The book clearly will appeal to those interested in Methodism, but it does not assume such a specialized audience, offering context, description, and definitions all while assiduously historicizing. Historians, literary scholars, rhetoricians, and sociologists all will find the text approachable and persuasive.

In his introduction, McInelly notes he will cover the period of 1732, the date of the first known printed account attacking Methodism, to 1791, the year of John Wesley’s death, as Wesley was both Methodism’s most important leader and most prolific defender of it in print. McInelly lays out typical eighteenth-century attacks against Methodism through a reading of the most extended fictional critique of Methodism: Richard Graves’s nearly 1,000-page work The Spiritual Quixote (1773). The most prevalent concerns for Graves were enthusiasm and itinerant preaching since both—particularly as combined in Methodism—held the potential to create a revolutionary movement designed to undermine the stable social order of the eighteenth century. The opening of the book also states McInelly’s central (and insightful) questions: “To what extent and in what ways did the anti-Methodist literature influence perceptions of the revival? In what ways did this literature shape Methodist religiosity and self-understanding?” (10).

Chapter 1, “Print Culture and the Making of Methodism,” lays the foundation for the rest of the book, describing the textual warfare as an attempt by anti-Methodists and Methodists to own the discourse describing the movement. McInelly states explicitly at the beginning of this chapter “that Methodism in the eighteenth century was experienced largely through conflict and the printed word” (24) and argues that Methodism ironically flourished thanks to the printed attacks against it. In addition to a thorough review of secondary literature, this chapter, like all others, engages with a wide range of primary texts as it explores the attempts by detractors to define the terms of the debate and Methodist refusal to be defined by detractors. The term “Methodist” itself is a prime example since critics coined it as a pejorative label while Wesley chose to embrace the name. This kind of thinking led to Methodists seeing themselves as a unified group under attack and feeling confirmed in their beliefs as a persecuted people. In addition, writing and reading were central means of creating a Methodist identity, once again a problematic aspect of the movement as it spread literacy among the poor.

“Rhetoric and Revival,” the next chapter, invokes Burke to frame Methodism as a rhetorical problem since Methodists wrote both to persuade others of their legitimacy and to confirm themselves in their beliefs. McInelly argues that “the appeal of Methodism rested, in large part, on what Burke refers to as an experience of symbolic identification, an inter-subjective experience in which individuals see themselves in and through the language of others” (64). Methodists used writing to create a sense of identification, something especially important for a mystical religious movement that relied so much on personal experience of spirituality. Reading accounts of fellow Methodists created community as well as serving as an affirmation of faith.

In “Performing the Revival,” McInelly extensively reads Samuel Foote’s play The Minor, an important critique given the genre, both because it reached a wide audience and because of the anti-theater stance of Methodism. What Foote demonstrated is that even as Methodists condemned theater going, its leaders appropriated theatricality to persuade. This was particularly true of George Whitefield, the object of satire in The Minor. Once again, such attacks did nothing to undermine Methodist community but rather confirmed members in their belief that they were, like early Christians, enduring persecution for their faith.

The fourth chapter treats hymn singing, another Methodist practice that invited scorn because of its bent toward what was perceived as enthusiastic: Methodists singing with great exuberance religious lyrics to popular songs. At the same time, John and Charles Wesley tried to use the Methodist hymnal to negotiate charges of enthusiasm and to check individual responses with group singing that coordinated emotional experiences. McInelly claims that the Methodist hymnal shaped Methodist experience unlike any other discourse of the time with the singing of hymns often becoming the moment of spiritual conversion.

The most damning charge against Methodism, sexual promiscuity, serves as the subject of Chapter 5. Critics accused Methodists of confusing spiritual and sexual impulses thanks to the enthusiastic, visceral nature of the religion; of Methodist leaders using their powerful rhetorical techniques to seduce women; and of forming improper relationships due to the close, soul-searching relationships Methodists formed. Contrarily, attackers accused Methodists of refusing sex to their spouses, thereby undercutting family structure; Wesley did, in fact, encourage celibacy. Of course, the discourse surrounding sexuality involved debates over women’s roles in the family and culture at large, particularly because Methodist women were active leaders in the movement. McInelly also grants that the physicality of the conversion experience and intimate Methodist meetings invited the charges of sexuality.

The book’s last chapter deals with the threat within, examining infighting over predestination with an extensive reading of Humphry Clinker. Both Wesley, who argued against predestination, and Whitefield, who argued for it, attempted to situate themselves within Church of England orthodoxy. Wesley feared the doctrine of predestination opened Methodists to accusations of antinomianism so that by carefully and publicly separating himself from Whitefield and Calvinist Methodists on this issue, he actually allied himself with Methodism’s critics. For the most part, Wesley’s attempts to distinguish his version of Methodism failed because the general public saw little difference between Wesley’s and Whitefield’s ideas. An exception is Humphry Clinker, in which the eponymous hero’s virtues align him with Wesleyan Methodism (with an emphasis on good works) while the critiques of Methodism (such as the doctrine adopted by Tabitha) are aimed at the Calvinist branch. Like the attacks aimed from the outside, doctrinal infighting, McInelly argues, served to cohere the Methodist movement.

McInelly’s conclusion emphasizes that Methodism is a product of print culture. He notes, “Even though Methodists represented less than 1 per cent of the total population during Wesley’s lifetime, print media gave readers a different impression entirely” (216). The print war exaggerated the threat of Methodism while providing a cohesion that could not have existed without it.

An impressive bibliography closes a book that will surely be seminal in Methodist studies yet accessible to readers less familiar with the religious movement. Textual Warfare is a well-researched and carefully argued work that will benefit all scholars interested in social movements, print culture, and rhetoric.

When The Dust Settles…

Double Review by Victor Sage
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.2
Cite: Victor Sage, double review of The Gothic and Catholicism: Religion, cultural exchange and the popular novel, 1785–1829 by M. Purves, and The Gothic ideology: Religious hysteria and Anti-Catholicism in British popular fiction, 1780–1880 by D. Hoeveler, Studies in Religion and the Enlightenment, 1, no. 1 (fall 2018): 13-16, doi: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.2

The Gothic and Catholicism: Religion, Cultural Exchange and the Popular Novel, 1785–1829, by Maria Purves. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2009. Pp. 228. $40. ISBN: 9780708320914.

The Gothic Ideology: Religious Hysteria and Anti-Catholicism in British Popular Fiction, 1780–1880, by Diane Long Hoeveler. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2014. Pp. 361. $140. ISBN: 9781783160488.

These two books represent aspects of a fascinating contemporary debate in the field of Gothic studies about the role of religion in the formation of the language and textual forms of the Gothic. Maria Purves’s lively and articulate book (2009) presents a dissenting historical challenge to the prevailing critical orthodoxy on the Gothic, which she sees as rather unthinkingly and unhistorically dominated by the theme of Whig anti-Catholicism. She emphasises the influence of French sentimental pro-Catholic writing under the ancien regime—Mme de Tençin, Mme de Genlis, and Baculard D’Arnaud—and links the tone of that conventual, proclerical tradition (le drame monacal) to the influential poem “Eloisa and Abelard” of Alexander Pope. Purves argues that the sublime tone of this writing represents the cloister, not as a place of horror, but of female devotion and spirituality, an image that feeds into the counter-revolutionary popular Gothic of the 1790s via Burke’s spirited defence of Marie Antoinette and all she stood for, including the “old Religion” and the values of chivalry, in Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). Burke and then the Duke of Wellington gave great support to the emancipation of the Catholic Irish. Purves argues convincingly that a pro-Catholic Tory tradition was already influential amongst middle-class and aristocratic readers in the earlier eighteenth century and was reflected in The Gentleman’s Magazine. That publication had already appropriated the cult of sensibility to describe female responses to conventual life and would have supported the Catholic Relief acts of the 1780s and 1790s, feeling no alarm whatsoever, it seems, about the Gordon riots. Prompted by the clarion call of Burke to defend “superstition” against “democracy” (i.e., the atheistical mob in Paris), it sprang into action to support the 5,000 or so exiled Catholic clergy, including Jesuits, who fled to England after the suppression of their Church by the Revolution in France. In the end, this sentimental tradition, Purves argues, turns into hard pro-Catholic moral doctrine (“the antisecular Christian moral backlash”) in the era after Waterloo. She points to the later founding of the great public schools of Ampleforth and Downside from this era; and she argues that the earlier Catholic Relief Acts would not have been passed at all, unless Royal tolerance and parliamentary support for Catholicism had not already existed.

One of the test questions for a definition of the Gothic based on anti-Catholic rhetoric is, Can there in theory be a Catholic Gothic? Purves’s answer is a resounding “Yes.” She sets out to provide the evidence and, it should be said, she has a sharp eye for a text. Much of this book is useful, and it is thought provoking as an exercise of the reason. It is good to be reminded of some of the finer grain, and to have some of the details amplified, such as the content of each Relief Act (21–2, n.45). Some sense of the contestation built into the late eighteenth-century Gothic was already conveyed in the excellent The Rise of the Gothic Novel by Maggie Kilgour (1995), a book which saw the Gothic tradition as split between (and sometimes sutured, in Frankensteinian fashion, out of) the conservative and radical ideologies of Burke and Godwin respectively. But Kilgour is not mentioned.

The difficulties for the reader spring up at the point where Purves’s account of the details of this neglected cultural history is offered as the basis for adjusting the perceived bias of the secondary literature via re-readings of a relatively small amount of direct empirical evidence: some canonical Gothic novels (Sophia Lee, yes; and Ann Radcliffe, to an extent; but Matthew Lewis seems hard to make fit beyond a very superficial point, and Charles Maturin tantamount to impossible) and a relatively small number of pulp Gothic fictions and chapbooks (Eleanor Sleath [5], William Ireland, Catherine Selden [5], Charlotte Dacre, Louisa Stanhope [2], Richard Warner, Sarah Wilkinson, and a few more). There is sometimes a danger that “Gothic,” in Purves’s account, might ultimately have no more critical sense than something like the formula: “a narrative set in a Cloister which praises conventual life.”

But it would be unfair to Purves’s book, which has made a definite impact on recent criticism of the Gothic, to reduce its argument to an exaggerated empirical quibble, despite the misleading polemics of her introduction, and the homily she reads to the scholarly community about the need for “wide reading” in her conclusion. The main thrust of her discussion is not an argument about the nature or volume of evidence at all, but an impassioned defence of certain cultural values, and she inevitably raises some difficult questions on the way. Talking of the equivocal nature of Beckford’s attitude to Catholicism, for example, and reprovingly noting the “caution” of one past commentator, she asks, rhetorically, “Where does psychological appreciation end and spiritual response begin?” (79). Purves’s answer seems to be that, in questions of religious belief, aesthetics are subsumable under ideology, whatever the apparent contradictions.

Diane Hoeveler’s new book—provoked, at least in part, as she makes clear (28–9), by the challenge of Purves’s claims—specifically sets out to bridge the gap between an account of the Gothic as an aesthetic (Michael Gamer) and as “an ideology with specific thematic content and concerns” (Robert Miles), by “reading the Gothic through genre mutations and thematic ideology” (266, n.6). Hoeveler’s much broader, more inclusive frame is nothing less than the ambivalent nature of secularization itself, and the Gothic (with all its contradictions, which she calls ideological “bifurcation”) figures for her as “cultural work.” The Ideology of the Gothic is a pendant to her earlier prize-winning study of the Europe-wide “remediation” of the Gothic, Gothic Riffs (2010), and, within that conceptual frame, it offers a new, and potentially exhaustive, layer of archive trawl: 1,100 items. While the previous study selectively targeted a whole range of genres in the much larger field of Europe (opera, ballad, drama, melodrama, and chapbook), citing whatever traditions and contexts and debates in the relevant secondary literature were needful for analysis, this new book sets out to demonstrate, almost exclusively, in five long chapters crammed with new material, the consistent and continuous presence of the ideological level in the popular Anglo-Saxon Gothic over the range of the whole tradition (i.e., from Henry VIII on), together with French, German, and Spanish imports, up to 1880. Thereafter, she has no space, beyond a few sketchy but tantalising glimpses, to demonstrate the presence of Protestant propaganda in what she calls (in Gallic fashion) “the British lower-class imaginary” of the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries. I haven’t much doubt that she would be able to perform this feat too, since—incredibly, even as I write—we in these isles still live in a Protestant Monarchy. Some things never change; but that is precisely Hoeveler’s point, though she appeals to a rather utopian-looking historical end-point: “when the dust settled and the Protestant individual emerged, a bit the worse for wear . . . ” (5). Is this the dust of modernism, or the dust of the second World War? When did this dust settle? Has it indeed settled now?

Of course, there’s not much point in asking questions outside the limits that Hoeveler prescribes for herself. But it is fair to say that her contention in this book is that, through burrowing down into the undergrowth of the vast archive of truly popular Gothic, including pornography, she can demonstrate, through the very rationale of repetition (“remediation”) itself, the presence of a fundamental link between the apparently very diverse media of popular genres, the nature of their repeated tropes, and the contemporary pressure points, beginning in 1536, that historically determine the cultural agenda of anti-Catholic propaganda.

This intention is not new, as she readily admits in her numerous acknowledgments of debts to earlier commentators, but the intensity of concentration and the sheer scope of her account certainly is; I know no discussion of this subject as consistently informative or that displays such a lust for empirical evidence as this one. What’s new is its exhaustiveness: her (self-confessed) manic collector’s need to boldly go, the thoroughness of her desire, not to consult the archive, but to establish its extent and its authenticity, despite the repetitive nature of its materials.

For example, she announces the beginning of this tradition of anti-Catholic propaganda rhetoric in the pretext that Henry VIII’s lawyers drew up for him in 1536, the so-called, Compendium compertorum (“List of things ascertained”—curiously, Hoeveler does not translate the Latin for the reader), the report on what supposedly went on in the convents and monasteries that formed the moral basis (read “pretext”) for his Dissolution—namely, the sodomy of monks, the hidden passages facilitating sexual contact between monks and nuns, and the hundreds of tiny skeletons of babies reportedly found buried within the walls. Couple that with the recent work by Franz Potter and others on the “lowest” strands of all in this tradition—the humble bluebooks and chapbooks by authors like Sarah Wilkinson of Norwich (which Purves also draws on)—and Hoeveler’s self-confessed collecting mania is reflected in, or even fuelled by, the objective expansion of the archive itself. This winningly open account has an epic thoroughness that is designed, not only to surpass, but to put all previous commentary on the subject to shame.

So, do we have a bottom-up or a top-down definition of the Gothic genre? You would imagine it would be the latter. A key aspect, for example, is her emphasis on the frailty of the Whig/Hanoverian ascendancy; the Papacy, it seems, did not recognise the legitimacy of the regime until the death of the Old Pretender in 1766. But despite her emphasis on the volume of archival evidence she has been able to capture, Hoeveler is no blind empiricist: her intention is to further the agenda of “ambivalent secularisation” which drove her earlier book and to bridge the gap between Robert Miles’s 2002 Kristevan rationalisation of Hume into a version of ideology (Catholics in the eighteenth century are “screens” for the abjection of Dissent by [established?] Protestants) and Michael Gamer’s print-culture and market-led aesthetic approach (5), also published in 2002. These cast the Gothic as the “evil twin” of Romanticism, an inflammatory spectrum of hyberbolic and violent aesthetic effects, from which Wordsworth and Coleridge were obliged to distance themselves on the grounds of reputation and market-credibility. Hoeveler’s framing synthesis thus is an amalgam of these two discourses and a visibly eclectic construct:

a reactionary, demonized and feudal Catholicism is created in order to stand in opposition to the modern Protestant individual, who then alternately combats and flirts with this uncanny double in a series of cultural productions that we recognize as Gothic novels. (3)

The characteristic tropes of the popular Gothic are common elements of this demonizing propaganda recreated in the eighteenth century by a Whig and Hanoverian Protestant ascendancy nervous about its legitimacy, for the consumption of an expanding audience of almost illiterate working-class counterparts, whose links to (established?) Protestantism needed reinforcing. The remediation of the Gothic is thus an embodiment of the conflicts that a divided Protestant audience feels at different levels of its desires. Hoeveler quotes Linda Colley to this effect, too. This argument makes sense and provides the book with a recognisable garment in which to dress the profusion of empirical data that the author is (to do her credit) often, not just collecting, but reinterpreting.

One nagging problem which is not addressed in the book: Hoeveler, at different points in her text, gives the reader a different impression as to exactly what the truth content of Henry VIII’s Compendium compertorum actually might have been. Perhaps this cannot be known. Out of 17 references in the index, several indicate that these charges were not necessarily founded in truth. On page 202, for example, the phrase “purported discovery” appears to suggest a weakening of the charge of sodomy’s truth-content; at other times these charges are also said to have been “a scathing and substantially accurate series of reports” (201). The main point of this document, of course, is that its charges are repeated ad infinitum in the pornographic propaganda that stemmed from them in a number of “type-scenes”; but inevitably the question arises as to the degree to which the document is bogus.

Hoeveler’s very impressive book gets better as it goes on. For me, the chapter on the Inquisition, “The Foreign Threat,” has a European dimension that connects things up in the print landscape of European culture, not just in the Anglo-Saxon tradition. Little ripples of fresh connection appear on every page. The final chapter on the rhetoric of Protestant “bad conscience” in the sublime descriptions of ruined abbeys and the ideology of antiquarianism is one of the best things I have read on the Gothic for a very long time. It exposes the ideological contradiction at the heart of antiquarian discourse, which goes back to the Compendium compertorum and Henry’s dissolution of the Abbeys, and exposes some contradictions in the fetishism of, for example, Netley Abbey. Amid the welter of details to which one could draw attention, there are two marvellous passages quoted in support, one from Horace Walpole and the other from Anna Letitia Barbauld, that illustrate perfectly the contradictory nature of this rhetoric. The frame of Hoeveler’s discussion, we realise towards the end of her book, is also created out of a dialogue with Horkheimer and Adorno on popular culture. The question of anti-Semitism in Europe (replete itself with “bad conscience”) and the theme of the scapegoated Other lie behind her account of the complex discursive bifurcations of Protestant ideology. From now on, any editor of a Gothic text will need to consult this extraordinary book.

Eve and her Daughters in England’s Long Eighteenth Century

Review essay by Laura Stevens
DOI: 10.32655/srej.2018.1.1
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Women Novelists and the Ethics of Desire, 1684–1814: In the Voice of Our Biblical Mothers, by Elizabeth Kraft. Hampshire, UK, and Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 2008. Pp. viii + 199. $74.64. ISBN: 9780754662808.

Engendering the Fall: John Milton and Seventeenth-Century Women Writers, by Shannon Miller. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008. Pp. viii + 280. $65. ISBN: 9780812240863.

Could there have been an archetype more powerful for the women of early modern England and its colonies than Eve? She was everywhere in discussions of what the first epistle of Peter termed “the weaker vessel” (1 Pet. 3:7), while debates over women’s moral and intellectual capacities tended to be waged through discussions of her merits, her flaws, her relationship with Adam, and of course her particular culpability in bringing about humanity’s expulsion from Eden. The notorious Querelle des Femmes, or quarrel over women, enlisted classical and English historical figures in a combat of example versus counterexample of female virtues and failings, but nothing surpassed the moral authority of biblical figures, the foremost of whom was Eve. The spiritual diary of Martha Gerrish, a New England Congregationalist memorialized in a funeral sermon of 1740, aptly summarizes the powerful combination of recrimination and consolation that surrounded this figure, especially when she was regarded as a synecdoche for all women: “There is no Affliction, which humbles me so much as the Consideration of the Woman’s being first in the Transgression. . . . But eternal Praises be to our merciful God, who . . . came down a few Minutes after the Fall of Man, and raised him up with a Promise of Salvation, in the Seed of the Woman.” Whether she was primarily or jointly responsible for the Fall, Eve simultaneously signified, for women like Gerrish as well as for countless men, humanity’s damnation and redemption, its disobedience but also its eventual salvation.

Her position was especially prominent in discussions of marriage. In the conclusion to A Wedding-Ring Fit for the Finger, a wedding sermon reprinted several times after its first appearance in 1658, William Secker proclaimed, “Every wife should be to her husband, as Evah was to Adam, a whole World of women; and every husband should be to his wife, as Adam was to Evah, a whole World of men.”2  While the first woman and man of Genesis stood as all-encompassing figures in the arena of marriage, constituting worlds to each other, Eve held a definitional status for women much more powerful than Adam did for men. Along with other women from the Bible, especially the Old Testament, she provided the origin point for a collection of scriptural precedents, even an abbreviated language of character types, for directing female behavior.

Positioning women firmly in the house, Secker cited “One of the Antiens” to assert that a woman “must not be a Field-Wife like Dinah; nor a Street-Wife, like Thamar; nor a Window-Wife, like Jezabel.”3  In sermons like this one the catalogue of woman, a genre going back to Hesiod, developed a highly compressed form with entirely scriptural examples delivered not just to assess behavior, but to shape it. In the wedding sermon A Wife Indeed (1624), Thomas Gataker warned, “Many a good Dauid is matched with a scoffing Micol. [2 Sam. 6:20]. Many a iust and religious Iob, with a foolish and unkinde Woman [Iob. 2:3,10].”4  With Eve as their foundation, and with the Virtuous Woman of Proverbs 31 as their unsurpassable ideal, the women of scripture comprised an informal shorthand of moral prescription and proscription, of misogyny and protofeminism, of poetic evocation and even seduction, pervading didactic writings but spilling over into a range of less explicitly religious texts.

To consider a few examples from a wider array of literary references, in Defoe’s Roxana or The Fortunate Mistress, the titular character cites biblical precedent when she compels her maid to have sex with her own lover. “Come, my Dear, says I, when Rachael put her Handmaid to-Bed to Jacob, she took the Children as her own.”5  In Samuel Richardson’s The History of Sir Charles Grandison, the recently married Lady Harriet Grandison praises her husband upon hearing that he turned down a last-minute dinner invitation so that he would not inconvenience her: “Tenderest of husbands! Kindest and most considerate of men!—He will not subject a woman to the danger of being a refusing Vashti; nor yet will give her reason to tremble with a too-meanly mortified Esther.”6  Decades later and an ocean away in The Secret History, a novel of domestic intrigue set against the bloody background of the Haitian Revolution, Leonora Sansay showed a seducer working his wiles through deft reference to both classical mythology and biblical narrative: “[H]e offered her an apple, which she declined accepting. Take it, said he, for on Mount Ida I would have given it to you, and in Eden I would have taken it from you.” One striking feature of these passages, both male- and female-authored, is the efficiency with which scriptural figures enhance character depiction while supplying rich undercurrents of emotional, political, and sexual intensity. Delivered with confidence in the scriptural literacy assumed of even the most remedial readers, these allusions provide a surplus of meaning that exceeds the moralistic import attributed to biblical figures, especially women, in didactic writings from this era. Even as biblical women comprised a language of social control and provided a nexus for debate over female failings and potential, they also subtly expanded the stories that could be told about ordinary women in their own place and time.

Scriptural women clearly were important to how women read, and how they were read, in England’s long eighteenth century. These biblical figures and their stories rarely have played a central role, however, in twentieth- and twenty-first century studies of actual women or depictions of them from the eighteenth century. In this way eighteenth-century English studies have lagged behind examinations of women and their writing from the late medieval period through the seventeenth century.8  To some degree this is to be expected, for while religion slips into the background of many writings from the Restoration and eighteenth century, with classical allusions upstaging biblical ones, it is a factor that simply cannot be overlooked in the texts that emerge from England’s protracted and bloody Reformation. The great exception to this trend of neglect is the vast scholarship that surrounds Milton’s Eve in Paradise Lost. It is arguably not an exception at all, as this poem stands on contested turf amidst the balkanization of literary periods, owned both by seventeenth- and Restoration/eighteenth-century specialists. But even if one disregards this poem’s liminal periodization, it is ironic that a topic of such apparent importance to feminist studies—interpretations of biblical women—would see the bulk of relevant scholarship on it cluster around the work of a male poet.

2008 saw the publication of two books in the field of English literary history that bucked this trend by considering—entirely or in part—how female authors from the long eighteenth century incorporated biblical women into their own writings: Elizabeth Kraft’s Women Novelists and the Ethics of Desire, 1684-1814: In the Voice of Our Biblical Mothers and Shannon Miller’s Engendering the Fall: John Milton and Seventeenth-Century Women Writers. These books are quite different in topic and approach, and they are positioned in noticeably different ways in relation to their fields. They also encompass different eras, with one spanning the seventeenth century and the other ranging from the aftermath of the Exclusion Crisis in 1684 to the Napoleonic Wars. They do not form an obvious pairing, but when looked at together, especially from the vantage point of hindsight some ten years later, they are suggestive of the ways in which attention to scriptural narratives centered on women as both inspiration and provocation for early modern writing can open up new veins of historical knowledge and literary insight. Most of all, these two studies compel us to acknowledge how important a place the Bible occupied in the mental landscape of English female authors as they sought to expand the arenas of activity and thought available to women, even in an era during which religion is often described as receding from importance.

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Engendering the Fall fits within the vast corpus of writing on Paradise Lost, but its focus is less on Milton than on the “sustained intertextuality” (3) that exists between his writings and those of several female authors throughout the long seventeenth century. Examining the work of writers including Aemilia Lanyer, Lucy Hutchinson, Margaret Cavendish, Mary Chudleigh, Aphra Behn, and Mary Astell, Miller seeks to develop a “much more multifaceted view of Paradise Lost as embedded in gender debates of the seventeenth century” (4). Along the way she shows Milton to be the recipient as well as the origin of literary influence, in an “an ever-widening circle” (6) of texts that “(re)plot the story of the Garden” (2).

The first of the book’s three major sections attends to Milton’s predecessors (some of them actual women, others female personae adopted by unknown authors) Amelia Lanyer, Rachel Speght, Ester Sowernam, and Aemilia Lanyer, whose texts, “Posing specific challenges to the gender ideology of the period, would prompt John Milton to engage aspects of this earlier debate in his account of the Fall” (19). The middle section, which looks at Lady Eleanor Davies, Margaret Cavendish, Lucy Hutchinson, Mary Cary, Anna Trapnel, and Elizabeth Poole, as well as Milton, considers “how quite varied writers negotiated the English Civil War and the consequence of the Stuart Restoration while simultaneously charting distinct flows of influence between writings by women and Paradise Lost” (77). The final section focuses on Mary Chudleigh, Mary Astell, and Aphra Behn, “who would have looked back historically onto Milton and his narrative of the Fall,” at a point when “[t]he Milton they were to engage would have been associated with, and in the eyes of many disgraced by, his regicidal republican politics” (171). All three of these writers in the last section, Miller argues compellingly, “deploy[ed] Milton’s own narrative of the first marriage” (172). Even as they did so, however—against the background of John Locke’s famous critique of Robert Filmer’s defense of absolute monarchy, a critique that advanced a Whig understanding of limited monarchy in the wake of the Glorious Revolution through its reading of the first family in Genesis—these women writers did so with the goal of protesting the tyranny inherent in marriage. Their feminist agenda supplanted his republican one, especially for writers with a Tory outlook such as Behn.

The contributions of this book are substantial and multiple. Miller gives much-needed attention to overlooked writers such as Hutchinson, Cavendish, and Chudleigh, even as she deepens our understanding of better-known figures such as Behn. Her close readings of the poems in particular are intricate, patient, and deft, with scrupulous observations of those instances of allusion or assertion when texts are shown to have intersected with each other. Through this attention to detail she follows the winding trails of intertextuality, mapping a century-long pattern of interaction between Milton’s epic poem and an array of female-authored texts. At the same time, most of her literary interpretations are deeply embedded in political history, especially surrounding the English Civil War and its aftermath.

However valuable the book is to women’s literary history and trajectories of literary influence, it also ranges beyond these areas. Most centrally, the project shows Eve to have been a hotly contested figure throughout the century, with vibrant debate surrounding her relationship with her husband and her degree of blame for the Fall. This debate basically entailed a break from the past, especially the Middle Ages, when it was not uncommon for illustrations of Genesis’s third chapter to depict the serpent with the face and breasts of a woman. The treatment of Eve in Paradise Lost was far gentler and more complex than in most preceding treatments, but Miller’s book shows that Milton’s portrayal of the first woman and first marriage did not spring fully formed, Athena-like, from the poet’s head. Rather, it was nurtured and shaped by years of dispute, debate, and freewheeling imagining by women and men. When Milton “place[d] into Adam’s mouth the argument for women as the last, and thus best, creation” (33), he was echoing both male and female supporters of women in the Querelle des Femmes ranging back for at least a century; he also drew upon these debates when he presented Eve defending her actions in Book 9. Miller delivers an especially persuasive argument for the influence of Civil War era prophets, many of them female, on Milton, who “is more like Eve than Adam in his reception of the nightly language of inspiration” (93). She additionally makes a strong case for the influence of Milton’s Eve on two late seventeenth-century narratives that do not explicitly mention this figure: Behn’s Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister and Astell’s A Serious Proposal to the Ladies. The argument in this closing chapter, one of the book’s boldest and most satisfying, shows these two authors to be engaging with a long tradition of gender critique focused on Eve through their depictions of women in prelapsarian or garden spaces. Asserting that “Behn’s and Astell’s texts thus model what I am terming ‘biblical subjectivity,’ a form of subjectivity that recursively engages the biblical text” (206), Miller gestures to a much wider horizon of Enlightenment-era responsiveness to scriptural narratives and figures than is explicitly demarcated by her study.

Engendering the Fall expands our knowledge of how and why debates over marriage and women—many of them conducted through depictions of Eve—were also, and more dangerously for their authors, about the legitimacy of the state. Because of the early modern dominance of familial analogies of governmental authority in England, in which the monarch’s rule over his people was like that of a patriarch over his family, talking about marriage in the seventeenth century never meant just talking about husbands and wives, women and men. Commentaries on this topic were taken and usually intended as a commentary on the state, especially the monarchy. The book’s insights into gender debates as they were waged through Eve thus also contribute to our understanding of arguments over the nature and legitimacy of governmental power. Tracing such discussions as they unfolded in print is especially important for the late seventeenth century, which, Miller observes, “has traditionally been understood to be the breaking point between a premodern state and a rationalist, secular subjectivity, the very benchmark of modernity” (16). Showing the political ramifications that embedded debates over Eve and marriage, she also, by implication, shows how many women writers from this era “were allowed a certain latitude to produce distinct types of texts by entering through the biblical story.” Although, as Miller notes, “That latitude was simultaneously self-containing,” so that “what I have called a ‘biblical subjectivity’ made a certain kind of female speech possible while aligning women to a story within which existed a powerful, and powerfully gendered, condemnatory impulse” (236), her study shows women in this century voicing opinions on political and theological topics usually marked as the purview of men. Writing about Eve, it turns out, opened avenues for women to write about much more.

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If Miller’s book straddles the early boundary of what is traditionally designated as the Enlightenment and, in England, the long eighteenth century, Elizabeth Kraft’s Women Novelists and the Ethics of Desire is fully situated in this era. The books differ in other striking ways: while Miller follows the path of influence and dialogue as it winds among male and female authors, Kraft’s focus is almost entirely on female literary history (Samuel Richardson provides the only exception). Miller was focused on responses to and debates over one biblical woman, Eve, but Kraft is attentive to a collection of women from the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament: Deborah, Jael, Esther, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hagar, Lot’s daughters, and the Shulamite woman from the Song of Songs. Their approaches to the Bible and its relationship to Enlightenment-era writings are also quite different, for Women Novelists and the Ethics of Desire is not a study of scriptural references as they appeared in novels, nor is it truly focused on eighteenth-century interpretations of the Bible. Kraft explicitly cautions her readers, in fact, that “the following discussion is not meant to argue influence or stand as a source study” (23), but instead is an effort “to bring [women writers] into dialogue with women of the biblical past” (11).

Biblical influence is less the argument itself than the starting point of Kraft’s argument, as she is guided by the awareness that “because of the pervasiveness of Christian practice in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the influence of biblical texts at this time was profound, if often unacknowledged” (23). The “unacknowledged” part of this premise is important, for the novels examined in this book rarely mention biblical women at all. Kraft’s approach to the Bible within eighteenth-century English literature might be described as an attentiveness to narrative echo and resonance, “see[ing] and, indeed seek[ing], connections between the women writers of the early modern period in England and the women who populate some of the best known narratives of western culture” (1). To shift metaphors, the book does not trade in the hard coin of textual evidence, but instead in the softer currency of narrative resemblance. Often Kraft’s method is to place the scriptural and eighteenth-century narratives next to each other, using the ancient writings to draw out overlooked features of the later ones. A reading of Hagar, for example, expelled from Abraham’s household to placate Sarah, and then consoled in the desert by an angel, positions Kraft to meditate on the prevalence of female figures in the Romantic era consigned to abandonment by patriarchal structures. Eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century novels emerge as elaborations on archetypes, so that “Hagar is the heroine of the Romantic age, epitomized nowhere so poignantly as in Frances Burney’s final novel, The Wanderer” (144), while “The Young Philosopher’s Laura Glenmorris experiences much of Sarah’s history and much of Hagar’s as well” (137). At the core of Kraft’s approach is the tacit acknowledgment that there are no truly new stories, just retellings of old ones.

What binds together these biblical and eighteenth-century narratives is a focus on female desire, for these stories share an inclination to depict women not just as objects of male desire but also as human beings constituted and driven by their own desires. This is, of course, a topic of great relevance for writers ranging from Aphra Behn in the late seventeenth century to Elizabeth Inchbald in the early nineteenth. As Kraft observes, “Much of the literary effort of English women writers of the long eighteenth century in particular was centered on the examination of the power, force, and meaning of sexual desire” (3). This project of interrogating desire binds together the different portrayals of romance, marriage, and sexuality that distinguish early eighteenth-century amorous fiction from sentimental and Romantic-era novels. Explorations of sexual desire also, though, were about much more, being “grounded in the questions and questionings about natural law that were opened up in England by the cataclysmic events of the 1640s” (3). While she probes the ways in which “women readers were treated to possibilities or at least fantasies of their own centrality” (6–7), developing new expectations, for example, of courtship and marriage, she is also attuned to how these narratives responded to macro-political issues such as the redistribution of power between crown and parliament.

Kraft’s ultimate purpose in exploring this topic is ethical—that is, to consider the ethical force and impact of narrative, especially the ways in which narrative prompts its readers to think about their treatment of and by others. As she writes, “I believe the central concern of all significant narrative is to explore and articulate the ethics of human behavior” (5). In declaring the guiding principle of Emmanuel Levinas, Kraft signals his importance to her project, especially his “discrimination . . . between a desire that is aroused by the ever-exterior other and a desire that demands to be satisfied by the other through possession and power” (15). She goes to the Bible and to narratives by Aphra Behn, Delarivier Manley, Eliza Haywood, Samuel Richardson, Sarah Fielding, Frances Burney, Charlotte Smith, and Elizabeth Inchbald (Jane Austen is a puzzling absence) in search of exactly how humans are described as wanting ownership of each other versus seeking true connection with each other, how they fulfill or frustrate each other’s desires, and most of all how they treat each other poorly or well. Her focus throughout the text is on “Heterosexual lovers who embody difference biologically,” because they “are in some ways the best representatives of the ethical relationship” (33), in which one human truly recognizes that the other, being radically other, cannot be fully encompassed by one’s own wishes.

After more fully explicating her theory of desire and her approach to eighteenth-century fiction through readings of Sarah and Rebekah, Kraft devotes three chapters to the English progenitors of amorous fiction: Behn, Manley, and Haywood, for whom “in particular the fundamental obstacle to female happiness was the institution of marriage” (33). She finds Behn’s Love Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister operating through “double allusion” to the Song of Songs and the Garden setting of Genesis 2–3 in ways that “sanitize, indeed idealize, the initial impulses between Silvia and Philander” (36) and that draw upon the genre of pastoral in ways that “reverse the ekphrastic impulse of objectification” (38). The story of Jael, who gruesomely murdered Sisera in the Book of Judges, frames readings of Behn’s “History of the Nun,” a story of another female killer, which Kraft presents as “an argument for monarchical stability as opposed to political exigency” (58). The stories of Jael and Rachav, the woman who switched sides as Joshua invaded Jericho, inspire Kraft’s reading of the women of Manley’s The New Atalantis, who “exercise a clear sexual agency” (71). The skill displayed by Esther and Zipporah at speaking in and reading subtle or coded communications resonates with the “hieroglyphic” communications that fill Manley’s Adventures of Rivella and Haywood’s Love in Excess, which “capitalize on secrets and mysteries” (96). In most of these female-authored stories from the first half of the long century “fantasies of female desire are not simply fantasies of sexual appetite or emotional longing. They are also fantasies of power, influence, and political agency” (51).

The book’s chronological midpoint, and the turning point in novelistic depictions of desire, is Samuel Richardson, the century’s “most important creator of narrative centered on women’s experiences” (104). Kraft approaches him through the analogue of Moses, who, “[w]hatever [he] says and does . . . is, in a very real sense, always singing Miriam’s song” (104). Readings of novels by Richardson and Sarah Fielding, inflected by the stories of Miriam, Zipporah, Eve, and (with a digression to classical sources) Pandora, explore the silencing effect of sentimentalism on the depiction of female desire, especially by women writers. The two closing chapters focus on archetypes and images of victimhood and exile: Hagar, as noted above, along with Lot’s wife and daughters, whose stories serve to highlight the harsh justice of God and patriarchy. Through reference to Lot’s wife Kraft examines “Elizabeth Inchbald’s own pillar of salt, Miss Milner,” whose transgressions are “difficult to decipher and whose punishment is likewise cryptically emblematic” (165). In the story of Miss Milner, her Roman Catholic husband, Lord Elmwood, and their daughter Matilda, Kraft sees women longing for mercy and love from a harsh and inscrutable patriarch. She also sees Britain’s struggle to come to terms with the alien elements it encompasses, especially Irish Catholics. On the whole Kraft’s feminist Levinasian perspective gives her a strong preference for the much bolder depictions of female desire seen in the earlier writings. By contrast, “In the severing of erotic attraction and ethical commitment, late-century moralists and novelists indicate a fissure has occurred in society” (167), with most women silenced and frustrated in the confines of marriage and home, and with others consigned to the even worse fates of abandonment and exile.

Women Novelists and the Ethics of Desire is a creative and compelling project. It calls its readers to consider how the Bible influenced early modern literature in ways beyond the most literal, inspiring the stories novelists chose to tell in an era usually marked as the one in which consciousness broke with a Bible-centered world view. Its readings of both scriptural and eighteenth-century texts are often beautiful, even lyrical, embodying the radical attentiveness called for by Levinas and searching for depths of intertextual resemblance that many other readers would miss. The book also can be confusing in its analysis, however, at times reaching for more than it delivers or suggesting without proving, evoking without demonstrating. Much of this confusion emanates from the nature of the claims Kraft makes about the significance of these texts and their connection through their stories about biblical women.

One of the most difficult aspects of reviewing this book is selecting the terms through which it should be evaluated, a task that in turn entails the challenge of placing this book within the field of literary study in its own era, the 2000-aughts. This was—and to some extent still is—a period of literary analysis characterized on the one hand by the intensive empiricism of archive-driven historical study, print culture, and the beginnings of digital humanities endeavors, and on the other by the theoretical approaches of late New Historicism, cultural studies, postcolonialism, emotion studies, and queer theory. This book is at odds with those approaches and, in that sense, is not of its time.

It would not exactly be accurate to term this book non-historicist, for at moments it is quite closely focused on how contemporaneous events, especially political conflicts, shaped fiction. In a rare point of overlap with Miller’s Engendering the Fall, Kraft’s Women Novelists and the Ethics of Desire is concerned with the profound political and social realignment that followed from the English Civil War and then Revolution of 1689, especially as these events pertained to narratives that shaped women’s horizons of possibility. “Bound by two periods of revolution, the period 1684–1814 is unique in British history as a period of rethinking, reshaping, and reformulating all categories of human social interaction” (31), Kraft writes, with implied connections between personal and political categories. Often this approach works: Kraft’s positioning of Aphra Behn’s story “The History of the Nun” in response to the Stuart dynasty’s dissolution is particularly strong.

Still, the book does not have the deeply empiricist immersion in historical events, archives, print runs, and circulations of texts that characterizes much work from the twenty-first century’s first decade. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the bridging of historicist concerns with an execution of the argument through Levinas-inspired deep reading is not always complete, so that leaps between the scriptural and eighteenth-century narratives are sometimes confusing. Exactly why Rachav should resonate with Manley’s partisan satire, for example, is not entirely clear, and the connections between A Simple Story and British attitudes to the Irish are not presented with enough specificity to be convincing. Occasional mistakes—Queen Anne was not, in fact, “constantly pregnant during the course of her reign” (65), as her last pregnancy in 1700 preceded her coronation—do not invalidate Kraft’s central assertions about these texts, but they do at times fray the edges of the argument’s historical components. That these stories were responding to political events is quite clear; that they resonate subtly but powerfully with biblical narratives also is made clear through her graceful readings. The precise relationship, however, among these three elements—eighteenth-century fiction, eighteenth-century history, and scriptural narratives—could have been charted in more detail, with the significance of this relationship more fully communicated.

The book’s form of historicism (if it is fair to term it that) operates at a macro rather than micro level, being engaged with the general outlines of vast change but less so with the details of biography, legislation, or battle. This is perhaps to be expected, because the study’s focus on the long eighteenth century exists in tension with more synchronic impulses, especially a vision of women’s fiction from this era as fitting within a continuum of female stories and voices from ancient times to the present day. Kraft sees the authors in her book as “the matriarchs of British fiction” (13) and as part of a female tradition of “voices that cannot be silenced for those who wish to hear them” (177). Tensions of course can be productive, but here the simultaneous gesturing towards and away from historical particularity creates some strain.

The book’s approach to chronology, history, and time, especially its closing focus on the present day with the assertion that “the echoes of [biblical women’s] spoken words . . . persist in our culture as evidence that women have always had voice, desire, subjectivity” (177), paradoxically marks it as something of a throwback. Its feminist aspirations evoke the Second Wave more than the Third in their focus on female traditions and voices, and in its immersion in French literary theory (Levinas most of all, but with nods to Irigaray, Derrida, and other postwar Continental philosophers and psychologists). Kraft describes her book as “challeng[ing] some of the received notions regarding the representation of women and desire that have dominated the field of cultural studies for the past few decades” (1). Most of all, she takes issue with Nancy Armstrong’s influential understanding of “eighteenth- and nineteenth-century female protagonists . . . [as] the embodiment of middle-class desire, desire that is not really sexual, but economic and political, sexualized, but neither driven nor satisfied by the longings or needs of the physical body” (8). Kraft is adamant that “Prose narratives by Behn, Manley, and Haywood do not participate in the definition of the bourgeois ideal” (9) and that the explanatory model provided by Armstrong gives short shrift to these three writers in particular.

That a book is at odds with its time is not necessarily a bad thing, for however valuable and compelling a given approach to textual interpretation may be (and Armstrong’s approach has powerful explanatory value), critical paradigms are always in danger of becoming moribund through unquestioning application. Kraft’s approach calls its reader to contemplate what has been neglected by the most contemporary critical models. She speaks powerfully to how a recent focus on sentimental literature—and especially its articulation of a rising middle class’s agenda—has resulted in neglect or mischaracterization of the major female authors who preceded this major shift in aesthetics and mores. She reminds us to understand Behn, Manley, and Haywood in particular as figures who resist a Whig sensibility, and provides an intriguing new way of thinking about the relationship among Richardson, his female subjects, and his female predecessors. In these ways, Kraft’s book anticipates some of the more recent work that has emerged on eighteenth-century fiction such as Toni Bowers’s foregrounding of Tory sensibilities in stories that revolve around the “collusive resistance” of young women to seducers.9  Most of all, she calls us to look below the levels of the literal and the explicit as we read eighteenth-century novels and as we consider the afterlives of scriptural archetypes, especially female ones, in the Enlightenment. Women Novelists and the Ethics of Desire is not in keeping with its scholarly era, and there are flaws in the execution of its argument, but there is value in the friction it generates with its own critical moment.

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The minimal overlaps between Miller’s and Kraft’s books, which are limited to a reading of Behn’s Love Letters and an attentiveness to the political ramifications of debates over Eve and the first marriage, indicate that there is no single lesson, no one obvious interpretation, to take away from literary responses to biblical woman in the Enlightenment. The seventeenth- and eighteenth-century English engagement with the women of scripture was wide-ranging, complicated, and thorough. The Bible continued to drive debates over the roles of women and men, but its portrayals of women also impelled discussion in areas apparently removed from considerations of gender. Some work touching on this topic has appeared in the interceding years, but many aspects of it remain to be examined.10  To name just a few, the response to New Testament women, representations of difficult biblical women who challenged the norms of didactic literature, the relationship between textual and visual representations, the placement of female scriptural figures in the Book of Common Prayer, all merit further study and promise to yield important insights into eighteenth-century literature and culture.

Recent years have seen some correction of the longstanding neglect that religious writings, especially commentaries on and retellings of the Bible, have suffered in studies of England’s long eighteenth century. In 2007 Jonathan Sheehan’s The Enlightenment Bible: Translation, Scholarship, Culture laid to rest any claim that the Bible’s importance diminished in England and Germany, as vibrant, substantive traditions of scriptural interpretation developed in these countries. Sermons in particular are receiving much more attention than they did even a decade ago, thanks largely to the publication of The Oxford Handbook of the Early Modern Sermon (2011) and The Oxford Handbook of the Modern British Sermon, 1689–1901 (2012). Didactic literature, both religiously oriented and not, has occasioned a good deal of interest, and the Methodists have received attention in studies such as Misty Gale Anderson’s Imagining Methodism in Eighteenth-Century Britain: Enthusiasm, Belief, and the Borders of the Self (2012). The more widespread availability of texts that fall outside the usual literary canon through Eighteenth-Century Collections Online and through Pickering and Chatto’s amply annotated anthologies of overlooked works also has done much to bring religious texts to the attention of more readers. Eighteenth-century English literature scholars are developing a more richly detailed and nuanced understanding of this century, integrating our longstanding view of this era of Enlightenment with an awareness of the many ways in which religious texts, traditions, and controversies continued to operate powerfully in the consciousness of both commoners and elite.

One especially exciting development over the past few years has been the intersection of feminist scholarship with work on religious texts and traditions in the British Enlightenment. To be sure, it is not as though work bringing a feminist awareness to religious literature and history in the eighteenth century is new, but the turn of the millennium has brought about an unprecedented flourishing of studies at this particular crossroads. Seventeenth-century scholarship arguably has led eighteenth-century studies in this area, especially with work on Civil War and Interregnum-era female prophets and religious radicals like Margaret Fell and Anna Trapnell. In eighteenth-century studies female authors who wrote from a religious perspective, such as Mary Astell and Anna Letitia Barbauld, have emerged from obscurity, with fuller attention paid to how their understandings of Christianity and the Bible informed their attitudes to gender. Scholars such as Susan Staves have illuminated the role of women in the Church of England as well as the intersections between theological and political debate as they related to women’s treatment and rights.11  That religious influences ranged well beyond orthodox Anglicanism in informing some women’s contributions to the Enlightenment has been made clear by Sarah Hutton’s excellent study of Anne Conway.12

Much more work has been done than can be cited here, but these selected references should make clear how rich a conversation has been developing over the past eighteen years around the place of women and religion together in the British Enlightenment. As subjects of theological debate women (whether fictional or actual) advanced philosophical inquiry; conversely, as writers, many women in this era drew upon theology and scripture to defend women from misogynist attack, to proclaim their rights, and to articulate their desires. It is increasingly clear that interrogations of women and religion together comprised crucial elements in the development of Enlightenment literature and thought. There is still a great deal to be learned about how the Bible influenced the lives of and attitudes to women in this era, especially as those lives and attitudes affected intellectual and political debate. Women Novelists and the Ethics of Desire, 1684–1814: In the Voice of Our Biblical Mothers and Engendering the Fall: John Milton and Seventeenth-Century Women Writers constitute important contributions to the expansion and refinement of knowledge on this topic. Hopefully these two books, accomplishments in their own right, will provide the building blocks for more such work in the future.


  1. Martha Gerrish, The Happiness of a Holy Life, Exemplified in the Sickness and Death of the Pious Mrs. Martha Gerrish, Of Boston in New-England, Who Died April the 14th, 1736. Aetat. 48. With a Collection of Very Pathetick Letters written by Her, during her Languishing Indisposition (London, 1740), 4–5.
  2. William Secker, A Wedding-Ring Fit for the Finger: Or, the Salve of Divinity on the Sore of Humanity. Laid Open in a Sermon at a Wedding in Edmonton (London, 1658), 31. The English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC) lists twenty-three editions, including a translation into Welsh in 1775.
  3. Secker, A Wedding-Ring Fit for the Finger, 20–21.
  4. Thomas Gataker, A Good Wife God’s Gift, and A Wife Indeed. Two Marriage Sermons (London, 1624), 61.
  5. Daniel Defoe, Roxana, The Fortunate Mistress [1724], ed. John Mullan (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 48. Italics in original.
  6. Samuel Richardson, The History of Sir Charles Grandison, ed. Jocelyn Harris, 3 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1972), 3:379. [Volume 7, Letter 37 in the original].
  7. Leonora Sansay, Secret History; or, The Horrors of St. Domingo and Laura [1808], ed. Michael J. Drexler (Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview, 2007), 81.
  8. See, for example, Christine Peters, Patterns of Piety: Women, Gender and Religion in Late Medieval and Reformation England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  9. Toni Bowers, Force or Fraud: British Seduction Stories and the Problem of Resistance, 1660–1760 (Oxford University Press, 2011).
  10. Recent publications on this topic include: Saba Bahar, Mary Wollstonecraft’s Social and Aesthetic Philosophy: “An Eve to Please Me” (Basingstoke, England: Palgrave, 2002); Michael Austin, “Bunyan’s Book of Ruth: The Typological Structure of the Seventeenth-Century Debate on Women in the Church,” in Religion in the Age of Reason: A Transatlantic Study of the Long Eighteenth Century, ed. Kathryn Duncan (New York: AMS, 2009), 83–96; John Morillo, “Editing Eve: Rewriting the Fall in Austen’s Persuasion and Inchbald’s A Simple Story,” Eighteenth-Century Fiction 23, no. 1 (Fall 2010): 195–223; Kathryn L. Steele, “Hester Mulso Chapone and the Problem of the Individual Reader,” The Eighteenth Century: Theory and Interpretation 53, no. 4 (Winter 2012): 473–91.
  11. Susan Staves, “Women and the Clergy of the Church of England,” Huntington Library Quarterly 65, no. 1–2 (2002): 81–200.
  12. Sarah Hutton, Anne Conway: Woman Philosopher (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).