Daughters of the Church: Women’s Place and Religious Practice in Victorian Women’s Religious Novels
Moore, Sarah E.
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Using the lens of lived religion, I examine the religious novels of three Victorian women in order to contextualize their representations of religious practices and controversies. I extend prior work on Elizabeth Missing Sewell, Charlotte Yonge, and Margaret Oliphant. Close readings of a selection of their novels demonstrate the authors’ engagement with one of the period’s major religious controversies: the Oxford Movement. The dissertation counters previous suggestions that these women made anti-feminist statements and redundant claims about religion. These three authors confront the role of a daughter in the Church of England; they do not simply act as a mouthpiece of the male church hierarchy. Elizabeth Missing Sewell’s early major novels, Amy Herbert (1844), Gertrude (1845), and Margaret Percival (1847), emphasize the spiritual development of young women. Charlotte Yonge’s The Heir of Redclyffe (1854), The Daisy Chain (1856), and The Clever Woman of the Family (1865) suggest she acted independently of church authority and felt conflicted about the position of women. Margaret Oliphant’s Chronicles of Carlingford (1861-1876) address religious controversies. Understanding how religious women represented religious practices in their fiction helps to explain religion in works by canonical authors like Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell, and George Eliot. This dissertation concludes these three religious novelists make an important contribution to the history of women’s writing by presenting a religiously informed view of women’s power and autonomy.