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date: 13 November 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The nineteenth-century novel in English is frequently defined by a theological shape. Fiction was sometimes regarded with suspicion by Christian readers, particularly those shaped by the legacies of the Puritan tradition. Yet alternative understandings of the pervasive influence of evangelical culture emphasize a more complex relationship with the novel, even after the advent of the ‘Higher’ biblical criticism. The chapter builds on Callum Brown’s analysis of what he names the ‘salvation economy’: a matrix of evangelical sermons, hymnody, and popular narrative shaped British culture in the nineteenth century. Conversion, fundamental in evangelicalism, is also a frequent trope in popular fiction. The chapter examines the animating presence of Christian thought in novels by, for example, Charles Dickens, Mary Ward, Emma Jane Worboise, and the Brontë sisters. The chapter gives particular focus to George Eliot whose fiction challenges assumptions regarding the apparent binaries of faith and scepticism and sacred and profane.

Keywords: fiction, novel, realism, conversion, belief, scepticism, sacred, evangelicalism, Higher Criticism

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