10 May 2017: Dr Mark Knight (Lancaster): George Eliot and the Key to Evangelical Mythologies
Evangelicalism is widely acknowledged to have played a major role in the socio-political life of Victorian Britain but little has been written about the influence of this pan-denominational religious movement on nineteenth-century literary culture. My talk will explore the methodological questions that face those of us who want to examine the influence of evangelicalism on the Victorian novel. For the limited number of scholars who have worked in this area, the starting point has often been George Eliot. But while characters such as Mr Bulstrode and Dinah Morris offer plenty of material and moments of insight, they lead, I argue, to a methodological dead end rather an interpretative key.
21 June 2017: Prof. Alison Shell (UCL): ‘Raiment of needlework’: ornament and the church in 17th-century English literature
The Reformation engendered radical uncertainty about the legitimacy and function of ornament. The Protestant desire to go back to basics, especially in its Calvinist manifestations, sheared away everything that was deemed unnecessary from the fabric of the church, modes of worship and the doctrine underlying that worship; often enough, superfluity was twinned with idolatry. The reaction from this way of thinking brought about Counter-Reformation appeals to the senses, and the liturgical fastidiousness of Laudians and other high-churchmen. Using a series of case-studies drawn from 17th-century English literature, this paper will explore how, against this background, the very notion of ornament became the focus of ideological instability, doublethink and unease.
5 July 2017: Prof. Emma Mason (Warwick): Kinship and kenosis: Christina Rossetti’s originary grace
This paper locates grace at the heart of Christina Rossetti’s writing, one she invokes as a way to shatter subjectivism to return the Christian worshipper to a primordial level of engaged existence in which subject/object have not yet been differentiated. I suggest this is an ecological move that posits grace as an originary state that gathers the universe into a corporate existence: grace is not an experience for Rossetti, but a calling in which all created things come into themselves by belonging together. As a Tractarian, Rossetti follows an Anglo-Catholic understanding of nature and the cosmos as always already graced, wherein all created things share an ontological kinship with a divine origin with which they participate through grace. With reference to her religious prose writing and final collection of poetry, Verses (1893), I show that Rossetti understands all creation as oriented towards God through grace, a movement broken only by the de-sacralizing logic of secularism in the guise of capitalism and empire. I argue for a specifically Tractarian reading of grace in her writing, one that promotes communion and fellowship through a disclosure of grace suited to poetry and art, which both track the gift of grace and give it back in a recognizable form.