Late Modern European -- the Lion and the Cross: Early Christianity in Victorian Novels by Royal W. Rhodes

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The Lion and the Cross: Early Christianity in Victorian Novels. By Royal W. Rhodes.

Studies in Victorian Life and Literature.

(Columbus: Ohio State University Press. 1995. Pp. x, 400. $49.50.)

Neither in the middle eighteenth century nor in the middle twentieth century would eminent churchmen think of spending their time writing novels. Yet in the Victorian age novels were published by an Archbishop of Westminster (Wiseman), the leading Catholic theologian (Newman), the Anglican Dean of Westminster (Farrar), one of the few best preachers (Boyd Carpenter), and Kingsley, who was soon to be chosen one of the chief professors of history. Beneath, or around, these eminent names was a host of minor novelists, usually second rate or worse, with one exception, Charlotte Yonge, who in two or possibly three novels bore comparison with the Brontes or George Eliot. This tribe of writers wrote historical novels about religion, not usually for entertainment only, but with a moral intention, to edify, or instruct, or warn. In the new world of near-national literacy the novel was accepted, and not despised, as a rightful instrument of popular education.

Apart from Charlotte Yonge only two of them could write, in the sense of being taken seriously by literature. These were the stout antagonists Newman and Kingsley. Even the novels from the pens of these two are now readable only by persons who want to know about the Victorian age. Callista is much more interesting because of Newman than because of Callista. Its defect is that it is not only quiet but pallid. Hypatia is very interesting because of Kingsley's extraordinary mentality and for a time it carries even a modern reader along by its biffs and bumps and zing; yet a modern reader tires of gusto after a time. …