The Novel and the Oxford Movement

The Novel and the Oxford Movement

The Novel and the Oxford Movement

The Novel and the Oxford Movement

Excerpt

The Victorian English left us, in the form of fiction, a picture of themselves more complete than any we possess for other nations or other generations. But historians have almost ignored this vast mine of humane knowledge, a source of insight, if not indeed of fact. The view of an intellectual movement presented by men of unquestioned honesty to a public too well acquainted with the subject to accept obvious misrepresentation, should be valuable--not only for what is stated, but also for what is unconsciously revealed of bias, assumption, of the spiritual atmosphere of the time. Moreover, the Victorians were tremendously concerned with religion, lest it vanish, and their chief instrument of propaganda (in fact, their favorite means of presenting serious psychological or social study) was the novel. It was, furthermore, their most popular art. Yet the nineteenth-century novel, like Elizabethan drama, was hardly considered serious literature by contemporary critics, and even in the succeeding decades met with patronizing tolerance among literary dogmatists. We understand Shakespeare, Jonson, and Marlowe much better after a century of humble research among the minor Elizabethans, but the same work has not yet been done for the Victorian novel. Both history and criticism might ultimately profit by some patient plowing of this ground.

My object has been to let the fiction throw light on the Oxford Movement, and conversely, to add to our knowledge of . . .

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