The innate yearnings of our souls : subjectivity, religiosity and outward testimony in Mary Howitt's Autobiography(1889)

TWELLS, Alison (2012). The innate yearnings of our souls : subjectivity, religiosity and outward testimony in Mary Howitt's Autobiography(1889). Journal of Victorian Culture, 17 (3), 309-328.

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Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in women's involvement in nineteenth-century religious cultures. However, the overwhelming focus remains firmly on the role of religion in providing motivation, sustenance and justification for women's involvement in feminism and other public campaigns. Questions of faith and devotion, spirituality and Christian selfhood, and the relationship of spiritual freedom to other liberations – religious issues that are at the heart of many women's life histories – remain largely unaddressed. This article focuses on the life of Mary Howitt, the popular nineteenth-century English poet, journalist and campaigner for women's rights, whose Autobiography (1889) describes an extraordinary religious journey. Raised in a strict Quaker household, Howitt resigned from the Society of Friends in the midst of a Unitarian interlude in the 1840s, became deeply involved with Spiritualism in the 1850s and 1860s, and finally moved to Rome, both physically and spiritually, at the end of her life. The article explores Howitt's representation of the Quaker piety of her youth as stifling and oppressive in its concern with outward forms of religious observance, particularly an emphasis on a traditional style of dress and on resisting ‘worldly’ activities, including poetry and art. A reading of the autobiography alongside her earlier writing reveals how themes become ‘composed’ into a coherent, stable life story, one shaped by later nineteenth-century public discourses that allowed for a greater religious fluidity and a new reflection on childhood experiences.

Item Type: Article
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Humanities Research Centre
Identification Number:
Page Range: 309-328
Depositing User: Sam Wharam
Date Deposited: 27 Sep 2012 13:39
Last Modified: 18 Mar 2021 20:01

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