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Theology and the Early British Gothic 1764 – 1833

Hirst, Holly (2019) Theology and the Early British Gothic 1764 – 1833. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This thesis seeks to investigate and outline the ways in which early British Gothic texts, from approximately 1760 – 1830, engage with contemporary theological discourse. Existing Gothic criticism frequently either dismisses the import of the theological due to a mistaken conception of the Gothic as a sceptical mode, focuses on the Gothic’s relation to Catholicism, or views the Gothic as a reflection of a monolithic Protestantism or Anglicanism in opposition to the Catholic. This thesis engages with contemporary theological debate and religious-historical context of the period to explore the ways in which the Gothic engages with diverse Protestant theologies from both Anglican and Dissenting traditions. This thesis suggests that Gothic depictions of the supernatural, engagement with popular aesthetic discourses and representation of various faith traditions is inseparable from contemporary theological discourses surrounding these issues. Furthermore, it suggests that Gothic works not only reflect these discourses but also more fundamentally, that important creative theological work is encoded in the Gothic, especially by those marginalised from contemporary theological debate, such as women. This thesis explores the existing criticism that focuses on the anti- or pro-Catholic nature of the Gothic. It offers an alternative paradigm for investigating the depiction of the figure of the Catholic based on contemporary theological and theo-political arguments surrounding toleration. The thesis then moves beyond the existing political readings of the aesthetic strategies of the Gothic. Instead, it looks at Gothic aesthetics as inherently theo-aesthetic, and investigates the way in which they engage with the sublime landscape as Divine self-revelation and depictions of the demonic sublime as indivisible from theologies of evil. The final sections investigate three different manifestations of the supernatural in Gothic fiction: Gothic dreams, ghosts and embodied immortalities. Moving beyond the prevalence of psycho-analytic readings of the Gothic supernatural, each chapter focuses on the theological debates surrounding these supernatural phenomena. Each chapter goes on to illustrate the ways in which the portrayal of the supernatural reflects contemporary theological understandings of the interpretation of miracles, providence, the relationship of the body and soul, immortality and eschatology.

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