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5 - Catholics and fiction during the Union, 1801-1922

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 January 2007

John Wilson Foster
Affiliation:
University of British Columbia, Vancouver
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Summary

Catholicism and the novel

During the funeral of Mrs Daly in The Collegians (1829), Gerald Griffin's narrator notes that 'two or three clergymen made their appearance and were, with difficulty, accommodated with places'. Griffin was a Catholic and was later to join a religious order, yet there is little direct reference to Catholic life in The Collegians. The novel's reticence about religious practice belies its theme of Ascendancy decadence and rising Catholic leadership in rural Irish society, but is typical of the treatment of religion by mainstream Catholic writers.

The nineteenth century witnessed a 'devotional revolution', an extraordinary growth in the institutional cohesion of the Catholic Church in Ireland and in the conformity of ordinary Irish Catholics to orthodox religious practice. However, this was not matched by an assertive advocacy of Catholicism in fiction, except by a number of literary priests who had international experience of the struggle between Catholicism and modernity. Ireland also experienced modernisation, largely as a result of changes to the land system, but it was of a special form which favoured the farming family rather than the urban individual. Its emphasis on collective - or at least family - identity rather than on individual identity created a favourable environment for the Church. The Irish Catholic cultural environment thus diverged from the European mainstream in which urban experience and the triumph of individual experience were prized, especially in fiction.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2006

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