McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
Daniel P. Watkins
Christina Rossetti, Graham R. Tomson, E. Nesbit, Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, Victorian women poets, Religion, Gothic
The relationship that the Victorians had with their God(s) was not an easy one. Despite the age's oft mocked attachment to religiosity, many individuals underwent profound re-evaluations of their faith, spurred by the combined forces of legislation that challenged the monolithic Anglican Church and the burgeoning fields of High Criticism, scientific inquiry, and technology. For some, religious introspection led to profound spirituality and a deeper understanding of their Christian faith. Others were drawn to alternative systems of faith characterized by a fluidness of belief. Most found the process of navigating their faith to be terrifying because religion was a high-stakes venture that not only affected their everyday lives but also the afterlife. Death and dying, as well as the trappings of funereal rites and burial practices, take on particular urgency for the Victorians because garnering a comfortable place in heaven was no longer a surety. In literature, gothic conventions give voice to the anxiety that, for the Victorians, characterized issues of faith.
In Goblin Market and Other Poems, Christina Rossetti engages the female corpse tradition to illustrate the misplaced fear that many of her contemporaries associated with death and the afterlife. While arguing for a renewed faith in God, Rossetti enacts a radical revision of the female corpse tradition that gives agency to the traditionally silenced, objectified dead. Mary Elizabeth Coleridge employs negative capability in Fancy's Following, where she fluidly combines religious and gothic discourse to demonstrate the necessity of tempering faith with a healthy sense of questioning and doubt, as humans are incapable of fully comprehending the divine. E. Nesbit's hybridizes socialism and Christianity in Lays and Legends, where she suggests that all people are divine and, thus, should be granted social, political, and financial equality, which will extend the peace and plenty of the afterlife to the physical life. In The Bird-Bride: A Volume of Ballads and Sonnets, Graham R. Tomson's posits that life has no divine purpose or reward; accordingly, all experiences, both positive and negative, must be embraced as ends in and of themselves.
George, S. (2011). The Pursuit of Divinity: Religious Faith and Fear in Late Victorian Women's Poetry (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/575