Catholicism, Controversy, and the English Literary Imagination, 1558-1660

Catholicism, Controversy, and the English Literary Imagination, 1558-1660

Catholicism, Controversy, and the English Literary Imagination, 1558-1660

Catholicism, Controversy, and the English Literary Imagination, 1558-1660

Synopsis

The Catholic contribution to English literary culture has been widely neglected or misunderstood. This book sets out to rehabilitate a wide range of Catholic imaginative writing, while exposing the role of anti-Catholicism as an imaginative stimulus to mainstream writers in Tudor and Stuart England. It discusses canonical figures such as Sidney, Spenser, Webster and Middleton alongside many lesser-known writers. Alison Shell explores the Catholic rhetoric of loyalism and apostasy, and the stimulus given to the Catholic literary imagination by the persecution and exile so many of these writers suffered.

Excerpt

My doctoral thesis on Catholicism in Tudor and Stuart drama, written between 1987 and 1991, was supervised jointly by a literary critic, a historian and a neo-Latinist–a state of affairs which, as I came to see, epitomised a deep uncertainty in early modern studies over the status of English Catholic writing. This book grew out of that early research; and as I write the introduction in the spring of 1998, Cambridge University Press is discussing how best to market the book to an audience divided between historians and literary critics. Not much has changed.

This is not a survey of Tudor and Stuart Catholic literature; such a book is badly needed, but for many aspects of the topic, far too little work has been done to make an adequate overview possible. My subject is a more specific one, the imaginative writing composed between the death of Mary I and the Restoration, which takes as its subject, or reacts to, the controversies between Catholics and Protestants or the penalties which successive Protestant governments imposed upon Catholics. This book comprises four essays, two subdivided, on aspects of this topic, with a bias towards poetry, drama, allegory, emblem and romance–though sermons and devotional and controversial religious prose have also been referred to on occasion.

It concentrates on imaginative writing, and also on writing where the internal logic of an argument is suborned to formal considerations, or considerations of genre: not necessarily decreasing its effectiveness, but enabling it to be effective in ways which have less to do with controversial rhetoric than with the expectations aroused by genre, or the mnemonic efficiency of a rigidly structured literary form. The idea of imaginative literature defines this book's main area of interest; but it is more of a convenience than a category, since many of the qualities one associates with imaginative writing–and . . .

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