Enchanting Belief: Religion and Secularism in the Victorian Supernatural Novel
Date of Degree
Full text embargoed until spring 2017
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
In the nineteenth century, Great Britain experienced a crisis of religious faith caused by developments in philosophy, science, and culture that would forever change the nature of Western Christian belief. At the same time, innovations in literature were generating the now familiar genres of fantasy and science fiction novels. Grouping these two genres under the single term “supernatural novel,” my dissertation argues for a crucial relationship between these two events in Victorian culture. This project examines the ways in which novels like Frankenstein, Phantastes, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde speak to the anxieties and frustrations that many Victorians felt, caught between a staunchly traditional religious faith and an emerging agnostic or atheistic perspective. Sometimes these texts suggest ways to negotiate a compromise between these two viewpoints, while sometimes they voice a longing for the experience of religious belief in previous centuries. The supernatural novel has a unique ability to address these concerns: by combining a literary form that was strongly associated with realism with supernatural, imaginary content, the genre itself reflected the sense of being caught between belief and rationalism. This dissertation seeks to add to our knowledge of how literature can articulate our deepest questions and uncertainties, as well as how cultural events like the Victorian crisis of faith have shaped the literature that we read today.
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