Approaching Apocalypse: Unveiling Revelation in Victorian Writing

Approaching Apocalypse: Unveiling Revelation in Victorian Writing

Approaching Apocalypse: Unveiling Revelation in Victorian Writing

Approaching Apocalypse: Unveiling Revelation in Victorian Writing


A great deal of Victorian literature recycles themes, images, and language from apocalyptic literature, in what might be described as an affinity with the genre. With this affinity in mind, Approaching Apocalypse examines certain structuring oppositions that shape apocalyptic literature, and sets out to decode their significance for Victorian writing. They are: human/inhuman, desert/city, veiled/revealed, time/eternal, and this world/other world. The five main chapters of the book each deal with one of these opposites, reading a wide range of Victorian texts, including novels, poems, plays, sermons, and other less easily categorized texts. At the heart of each chapter is an extended reading of one or two texts selected for their particularly telling insights into the relationship between Victorian writing and the Book of Revelation.



The great book of God’s decrees is fast closed against the cu
riosity of man. Vain man would be wise; he would break the
seals thereof, and read the mysteries of eternity. But this can
not be; the time has not yet come when the book shall be
opened, and even then the seals shall not be broken by mortal
hand, but it shall be said: “The lion of the tribe of Judah hath
prevailed to open the book and break the seven seals

—Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Revival Year Sermons, 1859

On Sunday, march 6, 1859, in the surrey gardens music hall, the great evangelical preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon began his sermon with this appeal to the book of Revelation. His theme was predestination and the ultimate condition of the human soul. These opening remarks characterize the opacity, obscurity, and sealed condition of the Apocalypse as a check upon the hubris of an age obsessed with progress, ensuring that whatever the ambitions or pretensions of mankind, the quest for knowledge would always operate securely within divinely appointed limits and constraints. Through its strange visions, bizarre images, and cryptic locutions ran the impenetrable boundary of human aspirations that remained in place even for an age of dramatic and unprecedented expansion and development in science and technology. Spurgeon could not have known that the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species in that very year would open the sealed book of nature and begin the process of reading in its newly illuminated pages meanings which would have a profound and lasting effect on the way in which his chosen scripture, and the canon to which it . . .

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