Rethinking Surrender: Elizabeth Inchbald and the "Catholic Novel"

KRAMER, Kaley (2015). Rethinking Surrender: Elizabeth Inchbald and the "Catholic Novel". In: BARNARD, Teresa, (ed.) British Women and the Intellectual World in the Long Eighteenth Century. British Literature in Context in the Long Eighteenth Century . Abingdon, Ashgate/Routledge, 87-106.

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Published in the 1790s, but begun considerably earlier during the promise and upheaval of the 1770s and 80s, Elizabeth Inchbald’s A Simple Story (1791) negotiates the challenging terrain of religious difference at the end of the ‘Age of Enlightenment’. Inchbald’s experience of English Catholicism and her wide-ranging literary and cultural network inform her carefully-wrought narrative, which displays both the fond familiarity of personal experience and a clear sense of the complexity of religious doctrine and difference. A Simple Story is certainly not a sentimental defence of Catholicism – English or Roman – but neither does it attack Catholicism as threatening and foreign. Instead, Inchbald uses fiction to participate in debates about the future of religious freedom in Britain. The novel has been called ‘the first Catholic novel’, but little attention has been paid to how a novel might be ‘Catholic’ rather than Protestant. For a novel of such acclaimed originality, it is remarkable how little criticism (until recently) recognized Inchbald’s participation in traditionally masculine discourses of religious doctrine and legislation. Inchbald’s own Catholicism has long been the subject of dispute and only recently have critics begun to seriously explore the relationship between the eighteenth-century novel and Catholicism. While JMS Thompkins locates the ‘Catholicism’ of the novel in outward details, praising Inchbald for keeping it in check, Bridget Keegan’s recent article (2006) explores the complex depths of Inchbald’s knowledge of Jesuit doctrine via her close friendship with Philip Kemble. Focusing on the first half of the novel, this chapter explores how Inchbald participates in public and political debates through her focus on intimate, domestic spaces of the novel. Inchbald’s ‘dramatic’ style highlights the potential for gesture and body language to harmonize communities threatened by religious difference. The chapter concludes with a close reading of the pose of kneeling in the first half of Inchbald’s novel. The act of kneeling, common in eighteenth-century literature, opens and closes this crucial part of the narrative. A pose of surrender and of power, kneeling demonstrates the ways in which Catholics and Protestants struggled towards reconciliation.

Item Type: Book Section
Departments - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities > Department of Humanities
Page Range: 87-106
Depositing User: Kaley Kramer
Date Deposited: 16 May 2018 11:26
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2021 13:19

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