Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
First Committee Member
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Fourth Committee Member
This dissertation posits a crucial and profound relationship between the Victorian crisis of faith and the simultaneous emergence of fantasy and science fiction novels. Grouping these genres under the term "supernatural novel," the following chapters examine this relationship through close readings of novels published between 1818 and 1897, showing the variety of ways in which this new type of literature spoke to a Victorian sense of being caught between a staunchly traditional religious faith and a newly accessible agnostic materialism. At times, for example, these texts suggest ways to negotiate a compromise between these two viewpoints, and at others they voice a longing for the experience of religious belief in previous centuries. Charles Taylor's A Secular Age highly informs the readings of these novels in its articulation of the complexity of the Victorian religious crisis, emphasizing changes in the character and experience of belief, even for the majority of Victorians who remained devout Christians. Taylor's seminal work joins with histories of religion, biographies, reviews and articles from Victorian periodicals, and theories of genre to discuss how the supernatural novel can uniquely address the anxieties and frustrations inherent to the crisis of faith. Through combining the literary form of the novel, strongly associated with realism and secular ways of knowing, with fantastic and imaginary content, this expanding genre reflected the "cross pressures" of faith and rationalism experienced by a Victorian readership.
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.
publicabstract, belief, Christianity, fantasy, religion, science fiction, Victorian
vi, 237 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 224-237).
Copyright © 2015 Elizabeth Mildred Sanders
Sanders, Elizabeth Mildred. "Enchanting belief: religion and secularism in the Victorian supernatural novel." PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) thesis, University of Iowa, 2015.