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Writers, Readers, and ReputationsLiterary Life in Britain 1870-1918$
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Philip Waller

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780199541201

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199541201.001.0001

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Theology versus Sociology and Psychology

Theology versus Sociology and Psychology

Chapter:
(p.1002) 28 Theology versus Sociology and Psychology
Source:
Writers, Readers, and Reputations
Author(s):

Philip Waller (Contributor Webpage)

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199541201.003.0028

This chapter explores how writers dealt with religion. It shows how a long list of authors, led by Dickens and George Eliot, provided unsympathetic portraits of Nonconformists, fixing on their apparent hypocrisy, intolerance, philistinism, and sharp practice. A curious exception is noted in regard to treatment of members of the Salvation Army by Walter Besant and George Moore, who were otherwise antipathetic to much religion. It is argued that a general hostility to institutionalised Christianity, together with a propensity to analyse character in sociological and psychological rather than metaphysical terms, distinguish many of the writers whose work is still read today. Yet one reason for the success of many best-selling novels and stage hits of the late-Victorian and Edwardian period was their reverential attitude to religious faith; and this has opened up a gap in understanding and taste between our age and theirs. The religious faith so expressed may have been doctrinally unsophisticated and even downright ignorant or assumed for the occasion; but it was not mocking; and this accorded with majority opinion then. Writers whose work is scrutinised in this regard include Wilson Barrett, Arnold Bennett, Henry James, Jerome K. Jerome, Stephen Phillips, George Bernard Shaw, J.H. Shorthouse, W. T. Stead, ‘Guy Thorne’, Mrs Humphry Ward, H. G. Wells, and Charlotte M. Yonge. The book ends with an analysis of Virginia Woolf's first novel The Voyage Out (1915), which epitomises this shift in the focus of modern fiction.

Keywords:   religion, nonconformists, institutionalised Christianity, virginia Woolf

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