Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Match Girl and the Heiress

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Match Girl and the Heiress

Article excerpt

The Match Girl and the Heiress. By Seth Koven. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2014, Pp. 464. $35.00.)

In The Match Girl and the Heiress, Seth Koven explicates findesiede Britain's socio-economic and political transformations through the unexpected prism of homosocial love between a nonconformist heiress and a Cockney match girl. Muriel Lester and Nellie Dowell's relationship allows him to connect individual choices with larger national and global phenomena (10). This is macro-history done on a mirco scale. Picking up at the intersections of social history, literary analysis, and queer theory- where he had left off with Slumming (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006)-Koven uses archival sources to argue that love transformed Muriel and Nellie into non-violent Christian revolutionaries who transgressed socio-economic hierarchies in order to create an egalitarian peaceable kingdom. Like Catholic historian Eugene McCarrather, Koven sees love as an active historical agent. Love drove Muriel and Nellie to immanentize the eschaton" through Kingsley Hall, beginning in 1915 in Bow.

Nellie's experience as a Poor Law orphan who became a "cosmopolitan" worker and Muriel's "New Girl" upbringing enabled both to subvert the Victorian model of cross-class friendship. Muriel's encounter with what Koven calls "God is Love" theology via R. J. Campbell, Tolstoy, and other sources fueled her desire to act on behalf of a more just society. This theology drove Muriel to Bow where she met Nellie, who then mediated between Muriel and slum residents (330). Spurning both Marxism and philanthropy alike, Muriel instead called on the state to provide for the poor on the basis of human dignity.

Through a close reading of Nellie's letters to Muriel, Koven determines that the pair were initially drawn together and across boundaries by the shared experience of bodily suffering and mutual care. Nellie devoted herself to Muriel and revolutionary work after an extended illness and designation as a pauper lunatic. Later, Muriel suffered a breakdown herself during World War I. As a result of her interaction with global spiritual movements such as Christian Science and mysticism, Muriel rejected "allopathic medicine" and developed a Prayer of Relaxation to heal her broken body. …

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