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Chapter 6 - Muscular Christianity Unbound: Masculinity in Ardath

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 July 2019

Gareth Hadyk-DeLodder
Affiliation:
Currently a PhD candidate at the University of Florida
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Summary

Marie Corelli's Ardath: The Story of a Dead Self bears a remarkable similarity, at least superficially, to Charles Kingsley's Hypatia: or New Foes with an Old Face in its treatment of the “Muscular Christian.” In her widely popular novel, published almost 40 years after Hypatia, Corelli seems at pains to configure her protagonist as a Kingsleyan hero, often alluding to or explicitly referencing characteristics that Kingsley lauded years before. The good men in her novel enjoy a “perfect condition of health” (Ardath 279) and are “vigorous” (248) with a “dignity” (140) and spiritual responsibility that directly recalls much of Kingsley's rhetoric from Hypatia, Westward Ho! and others. As Donald Hall notes, “ ‘Manliness’ was synonymous with strength, both physical and moral, and the term ‘Muscular Christianity’ highlights these writers’ consistent, even insistent, use of the ideologically charged and aggressively posed male body as a point of reference in and determiner of a masculinist economy of signification and (all too potent) degradation” (9). Despite Corelli's appropriation of the “aggressively posed male body,” a closer examination of masculinity in Ardath reveals a number of cracks in its rigid construction throughout the novel. These gaps betray an underlying tension concerning men's adherence to the older standard: an anxiety that raises a number of questions as to why, even as she worked so assiduously to emulate Hypatia's depiction of manhood, Corelli simultaneously challenges some of Muscular Christianity's fundamental tenets. In responding to these questions, this chapter will explore some of the fault lines between the two novels’ visions of “manhood,” paying particular attention to how Corelli revises Kingsley's masculine formula and the implications of her new model.

The collocation of both novels is crucial to my argument: Reading Ardath through Hypatia brings into relief many similarities between two very different authors in their respective novels while simultaneously highlighting some of the changes in the characterization of Victorian masculinity between the years that Kingsley and Corelli were publishing. While bringing Corelli into conversation with Kingsley might seem an odd pairing at first glance, Ardath and Hypatia have enough in common narratively to support a dialogic reading. After a brief synopsis of both novels, I will examine Ardath's interpretation of “the muscular” as a reimagining of the desirable masculinity that Kingsley promotes in Hypatia.

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Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2019

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