Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Old Enemies: Catholic and Protestant in Nineteenth-Century English Culture

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Old Enemies: Catholic and Protestant in Nineteenth-Century English Culture

Article excerpt

The Old Enemies: Catholic and Protestant in Nineteenth-Century English Culture. By Michael Wheeler. (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2006, Pp. xvi, 352. $80.00.)

Michael Wheeler has written an important book about an important subject. Anti-Catholicism may seem esoteric nowadays, when evangelicals and Roman Catholics find common ground on sexual and gender issues. Yet, current Islamophobia and xenophobia should remind us that anti-Catholicism was a major source of political, cultural, and theological conflict as the English-speaking world constructed an urban and industrial society during the nineteenth century. Perhaps the subject of anti-Catholicism is not so esoteric, after all.

A lucky find in a used bookshop drew Wheeler's attention to the subject. Further investigation revealed that what had been written about Victorian anti-Catholicism either was by historians (including myself) or was literary criticism that focused on a few canonical novelists. What was lacking was a broader cultural analysis, and Wheeler has produced such an analysis.

Wheeler's book has ten chapters. The introductory chapter contrasts the symbolic hegemony, both evangelical and industrial, of the Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851 with the symbolic threat to that hegemony posed by the creation of a territorial Roman Catholic hierarchy. He groups the others into three parts of three chapters each. Part one deals with how competing Catholic and Protestant interpretations of the early church, of the English Reformation, and of eighteenth-century Jacobite and anti-Catholic disturbances have to do with early-nineteenth-century political controversies; part two, with disputes over doctrine, conversions, and ecclesiastical authority within the Church of England during the same period; and part three, with Roman Catholicism's influences on culture after 1850, especially to competing constructions of masculinity and femininity, the dissonance between theological liberalism and papal infallibility, and the late-Victorian critique of middle-class Protestantism by Decadent-movement poets, many of whom were converts. …

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