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Victorian representations and transformations: sacred place in Charles Dickens's Bleak House and Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:26 authored by Aaron Adams
Victorian literary criticism has within it a longstanding tradition of inquiring about the degree to which literature of the period reflects the realities of nineteenthcentury Christian faith. Many of these studies are admirable in the way that they demonstrate the challenges confronting religion in this period of dynamic social, cultural, economic, political, and scientific change and growth. Similarly, this study will examine the critical intersections between nineteenth-century Christianity and literature. However, this project is unique by virtue of the methodology used in order to access both the expressed and latent perspectives on Victorian faith at play within a given text. I propose that that a spatial, place-based reading has heretofore been largely ignored in critical explorations of nineteenth-century faith and literature. While, literary criticism utilising concepts related to spatiality, geography, topography, and place have increased within recent decades, these critical works are largely silent on the issue of the narrative representations of “place” and the expression and understanding of Victorian Christianity. This project suggests a model for just such a reading of nineteenth-century texts. More specifically, this thesis proposes that by reading for sacred place in the Victorian novel one is able to explore the issue of Christianity and literature from a unique and neglected point of narrative and critical reference. Using Charles Dickens’s Bleak House and Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure as primary texts, this study demonstrates that a careful exploration of sacred place within a particular narrative reflects an author’s and, more broadly, a culture’s perceptions of a faith. Reading Victorian religion from the vantage point of place acknowledges that place is itself an inescapable and fundamental medium through which individuals and cultures mediate the most mundane and the most exhilarating of their personal and collective experiences and beliefs. Similarly, faith, especially in nineteenth-century England, is a dominant and pervasive metaphysical ideology that is connected to and possesses repercussions for virtually all aspects of individual and social life. A critical reading that unites place and faith – these two fundamental paradigms of human experience and understanding – will inevitably provide fertile soil for a productive reading of the texts under consideration.


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