The Victorian Religious Novel: Conversion, Confession, and the Marriage Plot
Koh, Eun Young
Doctor of Philosophy
Victorian scholars of fiction have hitherto largely overlooked that fiction was an important site for Victorian authors and readers to engage in open discussion of religious issues in the Victorian period, often known, even to itself, as the "Age of 'Faith and Doubt.'" Along with sermons and religious tracts, which often directly addressed popular audiences, fiction became one of the most popular arenas for debating theology and religious practices. My project aims to revive interest in the religious novel genre by defining the genre, positioning it within its cultural context, and looking at how it engages in active and reciprocal conversations with other genres, fictional and nonfictional. This new approach reveals how the religious novel, long derided or ignored by critics, often leads the way with narrative innovations. Most interestingly, the religious novel, whose alternative name is tellingly the "theological romance," embraces and adopts one of the most popular plot lines of the Victorian novel tradition, namely the marriage/courtship plot, and develops it into the post-marriage plot, a plot that focuses on and examines marital life. The marriage plot serves, for many of these novels, in place of detailed theological arguments as a way of producing and embodying conversion. The religious novel actually anticipates changes in the nineteenth- century novel by expanding the plot beyond courtship and marriage.