Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Florence S. Boos
First Committee Member
Second Committee Member
Third Committee Member
Jeffrey L. Cox
Fourth Committee Member
The Poetry of Religion and the Prose of Life: From Evangelicalism to Immanence in British Women's Writing, 1835-1925&" traces a tradition of religious women poets and women's poetic communities engaged in generic and theological exploration that I argue was intimately intertwined with their social activism. This project brings together recent debates about gender and secularization in sociology, social history, and anthropology of religion, contending that Victorian and early-twentieth-century women poets from a variety of religious affiliations offer an alternative path into modernity that embraces the public value of both poetry and religious discourse, thus questioning straightforward narratives of British secularization and poetic privatization during the nineteenth century.
These writers, including contributors to The Christian Lady's Magazine, Grace Aguilar, Dora Greenwell, Alice Meynell, Eva Gore-Booth, and Evelyn Underhill, turned to social engagement and immanence, a theory of divinity within the world rather than above and apart from it, to bridge a widening gap between religious doctrine and poetic theory. Appropriating the growing interest in immanent theology within British Christianity allowed women to write about the small, the domestic, the human, and the everyday while exploring the divine presence in them, thus elevating and publicly revealing experiences traditionally allocated to women's private lives. Just as the women in this study questioned the distinction between the divine and the everyday, they also blurred the generic boundaries of poetry and theological prose. As lyric poetry was increasingly identified with private experience, they used literary experimentation across the genres of poetry and theological prose to engage public debates on a surprisingly large number of issues from factory reform, to mental disability, to urban poverty, to women's suffrage, to pacifism.
This project includes four chapters, each of which examines a female poet or a poetic community of women connected through the publishing world. The first two chapters focus on tensions among commitments to poetry, religion, and social reform within Anglicanism. Trapped between the desire to encounter a transcendent God and the desire to celebrate earthly ephemera and improve earthly conditions, these poets demonstrate the tension from which a poetics of immanence arose. My third and fourth chapters follow the extension of immanence in late-nineteenth-century Catholic verse and early-twentieth-century mystical verse. These writers used a growing theological emphasis on immanence to justify poetry that relied on female experience, to suggest that the divine was at home in the constantly evolving natural and social worlds, and to illustrate God's equal proximity to the mundane and the marginalized, inspiring challenges to social and institutional hierarchies.
Alice Meynell, Dora Greenwell, Immanence, Secularization, Victorian Religious Poetry, Women Writers
viii, 344 pages
Includes bibliographical references (pages 325-344).
Copyright © 2014 Anna Kristina Stenson Newnum
Newnum, Anna Kristina Stenson. "The poetry of religion and the prose of life: from evangelicalism to immanence in British women's writing, 1835-1925." PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) thesis, University of Iowa, 2014.