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The Victorian Sermon Novel: Domesticated Spirituality And The Sermon’s Sensationalization

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Chapter Summary

In Margaret Oliphant's Salem Chapel (1863), a young dissenting minister finds his aspirations to compose well-researched and well-wrought sermons foiled both by his congregation's inability to appreciate his often obscure references as well as by his own social ambitions. This chapter first situates the fictional functions of sermons within representations of religion in Victorian literature. Next, an overview of doctrinally inspired novels at the midcentury that draws on a range of narratives to exemplify diverse forms of the "sermon novel" is given. Strikingly different novels, Amelia Edwards' Hand and Glove (1858) and Charlotte Yonge's The Clever Woman of the Family (1865) both employ a counterfeit, or would-be, clergyman who is ultimately exposed as an absconded speculator. The chapter concludes by looking more closely at the figure of the sensational and often fraudulent clergyman as an embodiment of cultural crises surrounding the sermon's popularity in Victorian culture.

Keywords: fictional function of sermon; Hand and Glove; Margaret Oliphant; Salem Chapel; sensational clergyman; The Clever Woman of the Family; Victorian sermon novel



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